The Cowboys can no longer boast of how travelling to the tropical north Queensland capital of Townsville is one of the hardest gigs in the NRL.
Based on the fact North Queensland have conceded 84 points in one win (v Dragons) and two losses (Sharks, Raiders) at their home ground, it would seem the fortress has well and truly been breached in early 2019.
Their fourth home game in five rounds won't be any easier. The Storm are on their way and they come with a 28-10 record from the 28 meetings with the Cowboys, including the past five straight. They are also unbeaten after four rounds in 2019.
The difference in fortunes for these teams since they met in the 2017 Telstra Premiership grand final is quite stark. The Storm went on to another GF in 2018, while the Cowboys slumped to 13th with just eight wins from 24 rounds.
Certainly, the Cowboys did beat Storm 14-6 in a pre-season trial in Mackay six weeks ago. But it would be brave to bet against Craig Bellamy's men this time around.
Cowboys: In a late change, John Asiata (No.14) will start in the second row, with Coen Hess dropping back to the bench. Shane Wright and Mitchell Dunn were the two players to drop out an hour before kick-off. Jordan Kahu will play his 100th NRL game.
Storm: Sandor Earl will end a 2056-day absence from the NRL and start on the wing. Ryan Papenhuyzen moves back to the bench, with Marion Seve to start in the centres after Centre Curtis Scott was withdrawn from the side on Thursday suffering a virus and carrying a shoulder injury. Josh Addo-Carr remains in the squad at the 24-hour mark despite a serious illness in the family. Patrick Kaufusi and Billy Walters were the two players left out an hour before kick-off.
Micheal Morgan has made no secret of his desire to play in the halves for Queensland. That would mean dethroning incumbent No.7 Daly Cherry-Evans, or No.6 Cameron Munster, who he meets in this Friday night match. And Morgan is second in the NRL for try assists and line break assists.
For the Cowboys to win
Apart from keep giving the ball to Morgan, maybe the match struck by coach Paul Green in his post-match spray after the Canberra loss will light a fire under a few Cowboys backsides. Just to remind everyone of Green's sentiments: “If guys just aren’t doing their job, we've got to find some blokes that can." Forwards like Matt Scott, Jordan McLean, Coen Hess and Josh McGuire should strike fear in any opponents, but probably not Storm when they can roll out Nelson Asofa-Solomona, the Bromwich brothers Jesse and Kenny, Felise Kaufusi and Dale Finucane. The Cowboys are sixth highest in the number of runs they make, so maybe the key is to amplify the footwork and run the Storm forwards ragged.
For the Storm to win
The Storm are kings for not missing tackles - best in the NRL - whereas the Cowboys are fourth highest in most missed, behind Broncos, Titans and Panthers. So Storm don't need to adjust their defence one iota. The Storm are also top-three in the NRL for completing sets, so controlling the ball doesn't seem to be a problem either.
Brett Kimmorley says
Melbourne were a little bit lucky to win last week and I don’t think you get two bad performances in a row out of the Storm. Cameron Smith will probably break the record for most points this week. They are saying Cowboys star Michael Morgan is lacking confidence, maybe what he needs to say is ‘’look boys, I am going to win us this game, jump on my back”. Storm by 4
Cowboys Stat Attack
The Cowboys just can't build momentum and confidence in games and it shows in the numbers. Last week they completed 64%, missed 29 tackles and finished with 15 errors - and some of those errors proved costly in the 30-12 loss.
Storm Stat Attack
Fullback Jahrome Hughes will never be Billy Slater but he's putting up some impressive numbers. Hughes leads the NRL in kick return metres (314) and is equal-third in support play (77).
And another thing ...
Depending on how you look at it, the Storm were lucky to escape against the Bulldogs or they toughed it out and found a way to win a game they could've lost. Either way, the Storm are now the only unbeaten team and boast the best for and against points differential in the competition. The Cowboys need a massive form turnaround to stop Melbourne from making it five straight wins.