Dragons v Cowboys preview

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St George Illawarra Dragons v North Queensland Cowboys Sunday 4:05pm at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Carlton

Every week a finals contest for the Red V

After upsetting Manly last Friday, the Dragons suddenly have appeared to put their season back on track following back-to-back losses which helped tumble them out of the eight, in what's shaping to be one of the most competitive races for the final finals spot in years.

We all know what happened with the Cowboys - but with so much focus on the controversial finish, there hasn't been a lot made of the fact the team running second came within a whisker of losing to the last-placed Wests Tigers.

These sides met just six rounds ago where North Queensland comfortably ran away with a 19-point victory at Queensland Country Bank Stadium. Since then both teams have faltered somewhat.

What it means to each team and the stakes are huge. For St George Illawarra, a loss will have them playing catch-up with the Sea Eagles, Raiders and Roosters in the race for that last finals spot. If the Cowboys falter, the Sharks and Broncos are nipping at their heels and look ready to knock them out of second place over the coming weeks. Cronulla only recently took care of Todd Payten's men, who have looked weaker since the Origin period wrapped up a fortnight ago.

Working against the Saints the most is their points differential. The Roosters and Manly are in positive territory, while the Raiders are just the wrong side of zero... while the Dragons' is bad. At -98 (a big chunk of that sustained in a 54-26 loss to the Roosters a fortnight ago), they will almost certainly need to rely on wining more games than their counterparts on the same number of points between now and the end of the 2022 season.

In team news - Cody Ramsey and Jayden Sullivan are out of the St George Illawarra side after sustaining injuries in Round 19. Mbye moves to fullback for Ramsey, Bird shifting back row to centre for Mbye, and Sims joins the starting side at lock. Sloan and Woods are the new faces on the interchange.

The Cowboys are lucky enough to be taking the same lineup into this week's game, with Jordan McLean still a little while away after his hamstring issue saw him miss out on Origin III a few weeks ago. There is one potential positive in the reserves list though, with Reuben Cotter listed for a possible return.

Last meeting: Round 14 2022 - Cowboys 31 Dragons 12

Who to watch: Anthony Griffin has shuffled the decks after losing Cody Ramsey at fullback, and the net result sees Jack Bird in the centres. Bird has had a decent season for the Red V, largely performing well in the back row. Shifting further to the edges will be a challenge, but one Bird is no doubt up for.

North Queensland could do with another forward on the bench - having a back-up hooker in Jake Granville and a backline force like Tabuai-Fidow taking up two spots has arguably not helped the Cowboys in recent weeks. If Cotter returns that may well change, but as currently listed, it's a lot to ask of the forward pack, along with bench forwards JTB and Neame.

The favourite: The Cowboys are second for a reason, and despite being on the road, are well-backed for victory.

My tip: The Wests Tigers made the Cowboys look second-rate for much of Sunday's match, while the Dragons appeared to have turned a corner. I'll stick with the Cowboys here but it'll be close and a Dragons win won't be a surprise, especially at Kogarah. North Queensland by 6.

1. Moses Mbye 2. Mathew Feagai 3. Jack Bird 4. Zac Lomax 5. Tautau Moga 6. Talatau Amone 7. Ben Hunt 8. Jack de Belin 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Blake Lawrie 11. Billy Burns 12. Jaydn Su'A 13. Tariq Sims 14. Tyrell Sloan 15. Aaron Woods 16. Francis Molo 17. Josh Mcguire 18. Michael Molo

1. Scott Drinkwater 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Valentine Holmes 4. Peta Hiku 5. Murray Taulagi 6. Tom Dearden 7. Chad Townsend 8. Coen Hess 9. Reece Robson 16. Jamayne Taunoa-Brown 11. Tom Gilbert 12. Jeremiah Nanai 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Luciano Leilua 14. Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow 17. Griffin Neame 20. Reuben Cotter 15. Jake Granville

Referees: Chris Sutton; Sideline Officials: Belinda Sharpe, Phil Henderson; Video Referees: Gerard Sutton;

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