Schick Hydro Preview: Canterbury Bulldogs v North Queensland Cowboys
Belmore Sports Ground
Bring your sound metres and your seismologists… Thursday night's blockbuster at Belmore Sports Ground is set to shake the earth to the core.
Raincoats will also be in order with bleak and breezy conditions expected in Western Sydney through Wednesday and leading up to kick-off.
This will be a game with noise and intensity unmatched by any other this season, and it should give the hosts a much-needed shot in the arm after a far-from-convincing past two weeks.
Meanwhile the Cowboys appeared to get their groove back in last week's 34-6 drubbing of the Warriors. However, road form is a completely different discussion for this club, and you simply won't find a more 'away' type of atmosphere than a wet Thursday night at Belmore.
The Bulldogs have named a big body in Danny Fualalo to replace the suspended Sam Kasiano, while Ben Spina makes way for the returning Matt Scott, who will push Scott Bolton back to the bench.
Watch out Bulldogs: The Cowboys look to have their mojo back in the nick of time after a 28-point thumping of the Warriors last week. Johnathan Thurston marshalled his men well as we saw something of a return to trademark execution, but it was more about the impactful involvements of Michael Morgan and Lachlan Coote to help balance the field. Statistically, the two players did not get their hands on the ball much more than previous weeks but they were more dangerous with it.
Last Saturday turned out to be little more than a tune-up game for the Cowboys, which is exactly what they needed to re-ignite their top-four push.
Watch out Cowboys: The interstate game, the crowd, the five-day turnaround, the weather... the Cowboys have it coming from all angles on Thursday night, and it will require a top-shelf effort to win their way back into the top four by the end of 80 minutes. Their road form has been poor and they rarely play games in the wet, which spells bad news with decent downpours forecast around Western Sydney leading up to kick-off. Whoever is more willing to get down and dirty will walk away with the two points and likely sew up a double chance in the finals. No one relishes these types of games and conditions more than Canterbury half Josh Reynolds, so expect the No.6 to come up with the kinds of hustle plays that can ignite a crowd and turn a match.
“For the last month we haven’t been on our game for 80 minutes and that’s the issue we have at the moment.” - Des
Key match-up: James Graham v Matt Scott. Both pack leaders should stamp extra authority on this one, with the Dogs losing Sam Kasiano for a couple of weeks and the Cowboys facing a five-day turnaround. Scott's rest against the Warriors last Saturday means he should be the freshest starting forward on the field, which will come in handy as both sides crank up the contact in such a significant game. Not lost on us is that these men are two of the game's best passing props, which is key in dismantling each other's defensive lines. Expect the likes of Jason Taumalolo, James Tamou and Ethan Lowe to push up ready to receive the ball and hit a hole either one or two passes away from Scott, while Graham will help the home side generate effective shifts. Thursday night should feature a decent level of support play in the middle to spread the defence to lessen the harshness of contact, and tire the opposition forwards.
The history: Played 34; Bulldogs 21, Cowboys 13. It would appear that North Queensland have been getting the better of the Dogs' pack recently, having won four of the past five games. The Cowboys have been scoring plenty of points over that time, posting 20 points or more (and averaging 26) in every one of the five games. Generally speaking, recent games have been low-scoring.
Match officials: Referee: Jared Maxwell. Assistant Referee: Chris James. Touch Judges: Michael Wise and Rohan Best. Senior Review Official: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live coverage from 7:30pm; Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 7:30pm.
The way we see it: Picking a winner here is like splitting hairs, but we do expect a very low-scoring affair. Neither side has a discernible advantage in such games, but we think the difference will be the Dogs' higher desperation levels in front of an expectant crowd that was let down in their Round 5 clash with Canberra. Their desperation will be too much for the Cowboys; Bulldogs by 6.