Cowboys, Tigers seek to halt march to the bottom

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North Queensland Cowboys v Wests Tigers Friday 6:00pm at Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville / Wulgurukaba

A clash between a side that's won one of their last 6 and a club that's lost 7 straight never generates much excitement, but this clash between the Cowboys and Tigers at least has the privilege of serving as an Origin audition.

The Cowboys win over South Sydney at Magic Round brought an end to a five game slide that had seen the teams season completely flip on its head. While a 28-22 win over the worst team in the NRL is about as convincing as a speech from a politician, it gives the team a crucial two points. Most importantly, they're still not completely out of finals contention if they can somehow bring the form they showed to start the season back to the table.

The Tigers weren't so lucky against the Dolphins, and now stare at the barrel of a truly season ending streak. What's even more heartbreaking is that the average sum of all 7 losses has been just 12 points. By no means have they been played off the park week in week out, but it's a far fall from grace for the team that made their supporters believe in miracles two months ago.

Last year saw the most lopsided season split in rugby league history, with a 66-18 win by the Tigers canceled out by a 74-0 thumping by the Cowboys. If the Tigers were to score 66 points again this week, they would be posting 5 and a half times what their season average has been to date.

The Cowboys aren't a lot better, as shutting out the Tigers doesn't feel realistic at all. They've only conceded less than 20 points once this season, and that was in Round 1. Truly the best way to summarise this game would be a man with no hands trying to punch through a wet paper bag.

Last meeting: Round 18 2023 - Cowboys 74 Wests Tigers 0

Who to watch: In probably the least surprising news of the season, Todd Payten has opted to name an unchanged 17 after a win. The good news is this means an encore for Brandon Burns who marked his return to first grade last week with a double. It was a great moment for the 27 year old, who has always had a talent that his body simply hasn't been able to support. Cowboys fans will be hoping he can replicate that performance in this one.

Probably the only player anywhere near a bright spot for the Tigers in this run of losses has been Jahream Bula. The loss to the Dolphins was the first time he ran for less than 100 metres all season, so expect a strong bounce back game from him.

Tigers fans have also been excited by the decision to name Justin Matamua at lock. In his only game of the season against the Dragons, he didn't get much of a chance in attack, but was brilliant defensively with 22 tackles in 33 minutes. The 21 year old has struggled to nail down opportunities to date, so hopefully he's able to take this one with both hands.

This is also a match that will have Origin implications on both sides. Most notably, Tom Dearden will be seeking to impress after an injury to Cameron Munster opened up Queensland's five-eighth jersey. Murray Taulagi, Reece Robson and Stefano Utoikamanu will make their last bids for Origin selection. And a notable performance from Valentine Holmes and Jeremiah Nanai would be a good look too, even though their spots are practically secure.

The favourite: Despite their run of form, the Cowboys are heavily favoured in this one.

My tip: It's a tough knock for the Tigers who are dealing with injury and suspension, and while the Cowboys aren't a beacon of health themselves, they're just better across the board. Cowboys by 14.

1. Scott Drinkwater 21. Kyle Feldt 3. Valentine Holmes 4. Viliami Vailea 5. Murray Taulagi 6. Tom Dearden 7. Chad Townsend 8. Jordan McLean 9. Reece Robson 10. Griffin Neame 11. Heilum Luki 12. Jeremiah Nanai 13. Reuben Cotter 14. Sam McIntyre 15. Thomas Mikaele 16. Kulikefu Finefeuiaki 17. Jason Taumalolo 20. Harrison Edwards

1. Jahream Bula 2. Charlie Staines 3. Declan Casey 4. Josh Feledy 5. Solomon Alaimalo 6. Lachlan Galvin 7. Jayden Sullivan 8. Stefano Utoikamanu 9. Apisai Koroisau 10. David Klemmer 11. Isaiah Papali'i 12. Samuela Fainu 15. Alex Twal 13. Justin Matamua 14. Jake Simpkin 16. Alex Seyfarth 17. Fonua Pole 19. Alexander Lobb

Referees: Belinda Sharpe; Sideline Officials: David Munro, Tyson Brough; Video Referees: Matt Noyen;

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