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The Storylines: After a 34-14 toasting of Manly in Christchurch, the fourth-placed Warriors are aiming to break a win-loss-win-loss pattern that stretches back to Round 5.

North Queensland really are in do-or-die territory now – sitting 14th with a 4-9 record – but they bottomed out with a dismal loss to last-placed Parramatta in Darwin last Friday.

The Cowboys have reacted by dropping premiership-winning backline trio Lachlan Coote, Antonio Winterstein and Justin O’Neill, with Michael Morgan returning at fullback and Kane Linnett and Javid Bowen joining the three-quarter line.

The Warriors are boosted by Roger Tuivasa-Sheck’s likely return in the only change to last week’s line-up.

Their attack, sparked by the dazzling comeback of Shaun Johnson, was arguably the best it’s been all year against the Sea Eagles, with Issac Luke and hat-trick hero David Fusitu’a also terrific. But as with every game they’ve played in 2018, it’s all about getting quality go-forward and middle dominance through Paasi, Gavet, Harris, Afoa and wing weapon Ken Maumalo.

The Cowboys’ pack has underperformed as a unit this year but with Jason Taumalolo and Matt Scott headlining, they can’t be taken lightly.

The Warriors will hope their superb away record in 2018 cancels out a dreadful past decade in Townsville. If they truly are contenders, these are two points they have to bank – particularly with the potentially taxing Denver Test just around the corner.

This also looms as the last time the Warriors will ever face Johnathan Thurston. They’ll be looking to blot him out as effectively as they did in Round 5 in Auckland.

The History: Played 38 – Warriors won 19, Cowboys won 19.


The Stats

-Seventeen of the teams’ last 20 clashes have been won by the home team.
-The Cowboys have won 11 of their last 12 against the Warriors in Townsville.
-Five of the teams’ last seven encounters were decided by 1-12 margins.
-Kyle Feldt has scored seven tries in five career games against the Warriors.
-The Warriors are 5-1 on the road this season after winning just one of 13 away from Auckland in 2017.
-The Warriors have not won back-to-back games since Round 5.
-Only one of the Warriors’ games this season has been decided by less than eight points.
-The Cowboys are a miserable 2-5 at home this season, losing their last three at 1300SMILES Stadium.
-The Cowboys’ last four losses were by eight points or less.

3 Key Match-ups

Shaun Johnson v Johnathan Thurston: The Warriors’ stagnating attack came to life with Johnson back at the helm last weekend. A try, two assists and a line-break tells only part of the story of his virtuoso display – the Warriors need him to stay healthy. It’s been a decidedly unhappy year for Thurston, but he still has 11 try-assists to his name and his trademark never-say-die spirit. If his teammates finally click around him, JT will be ready to capitalise.

Agnatius Paasi v Matt Scott: Jason Taumalo made twice as many post-contact running metres as Adam Blair made overall running metres last week – we know who wins that middle battle. But Agnatius Paasi has warmed to his role as the Warriors’ front-row powerhouse and is getting better with each outing; the visitors need him bending the Cowboys’ line back. Matt Scott is gunning for a Queensland recall while also setting a platform for his desperate Cowboys side.

Issac Luke v Jake Granville: Granville was one of the game’s most dangerous attacking hookers when they won the comp but his dummy-half spark has generally been a rank disappointment over the last year and a half. Luke, meanwhile, is reborn and his combination of sharp ball-running and crafty ball-playing have made him arguably the NRL’s most valuable No.9 of 2018. The increasing likelihood of the club not being able to retain him for 2019 is gut-wrenching and an unwanted distraction, however.

Last Time They Met: The Warriors scored a grinding 22-12 win over the struggling Cowboys in a historic Mount Smart double-header in Round 5 this year (the Tigers edged the Storm in the other NRL encounter), with David Fusitu’a bagging a double and Ken Maumalo also crossing in front of a rapturous 25,600-strong crowd. The victory extended the Warriors’ watershed start to the season to 5-0.

The Punt: NZ TAB Odds – Head to Head: Cowboys $2.00, Warriors $1.75 (Line: Cowboys +1.5 ).

The Cowboys have won just 1 of 8 as a home underdog with three covers. The Cowboys have covered their last four as an outsider. The Warriors have covered just 2 of 11 interstate at night. The Warriors have covered just 1 of their last 5 as a road favourite. FULL TAB PREVIEW

Tips – Warriors Win @ $1.75
-Over 39.5 Points @ $1.87
-Warriors 13 & Over @ $3.50
-Warriors/Warriors @ $2.30
-1st Try Scorer – Ken Maumalo @ $14
-Warriors 11-20 @ $4.50
-To Score 2 or More Tries – David Fusitu’a @ $5


The Verdict: It’s difficult to not fear the Cowboys at least just a little still, particularly in Townsville with their backs plastered against the wall. But then, they’ve only shown anything like their best form a couple of times this season. The Warriors have lacked consistency of late but they came out of the by looking fresh and they have thrived on the road during their 9-4 start to the year. If the Warriors get anything like the platform they were afforded last Saturday, Johnson, Luke and co. will take the flailing Cowboys to the cleaners. Warriors by 20


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