Opposing North Queensland in the National Rugby League paid off last week and one is going to employ a similar strategy as the Cowboys line up against St George Illawarra in Round 17 of the world’s top domestic rugby league competition.
North Queensland had won 11 National Rugby League matches in a row before Cronulla fought back from 0-18 after 27 minutes to triumph 24-18 over the Cowboys at 1300SMILES Stadium last week. North Queensland got off to a dream start without its star player, Johnathan Thurston, but the Cowboys lost their way badly once Cronulla awoke from its early slumber and there was only going to be one winner after the Sharks hit the front through a Ricky Leutele try with 14 minutes left.
It is worth repeating North Queensland’s abysmal record in recent National Rugby League games without Thurston, who is odds on to win the Dally M Medal given to the tournament’s best and fairest player. Thurston has sat out nine National Rugby League matches for North Queensland since the start of the 2012 competition and the Cowboys have stunk in all nine matches. In 2012, North Queensland scraped to a 30-28 home win over Penrith before losing 18-35 to the Warriors in New Zealand. In 2013, North Queensland lost 12-31 at Gold Coast before succumbing at home to Canterbury (26-36) and Manly (14-34). In 2014, North Queensland lost 12-42 at Canberra before losing 24-27 at St George Illawarra. This year, North Queensland won 8-0 at Wests Tigers in what was the worst game of the season and lost 18-24 at home to Cronulla. So North Queensland is 2-7 without Thurston over the last three and a half National Rugby League tournaments and the Cowboys really could be 0-9. And, to make matters worse, Thurston is only one of four key North Queensland players unavailable to play St George Illawarra at WIN Stadium on Saturday – State of Origin commitments mean that Michael Morgan, Matt Scott and James Tamou are away with their respective state sides as well. North Queensland coach Paul Green has named Robert Lui and Ray Thompson at halfback and five-eight respectively and that is a halves pairing that is extremely vulnerable.
St George Illawarra, which has been the surprise packet of the National Rugby League competition, has a couple of State of Origin-related absentees but Trent Merrin has not been a key figure for the Dragons and Josh Dugan has an able deputy in Jason Nightingale, who has turned out at fullback for New Zealand. One thinks that the key team news is that St George Illawarra has its regular halves, Benji Marshall and Gareth Widdop, plus its usual starting hooker, Mitch Rein, whereas North Queensland has Lui and Thompson standing in for Thurston and Morgan respectively – advantage Dragons.
Bookmakers have installed St George Illawarra as the clear favourite for Saturday’s National Rugby League match and rightly so. But one thinks that there is some mileage in backing St George Illawarra to beat North Queensland by a wider margin than bookmakers are expecting. PaddyPower is offering odds of +230 that St George Illawarra beats North Queensland by 19 or more points and, when one considers how the Cowboys have performed on the road without Thurston, it is far from outrageous to suggest a one-sided scoreline.
Most of this article has focused on Thurston but one is keen not to downplay the importance of Morgan, who has been great alongside JT since locking down the five-eighth position, Scott, who is Queensland’s premier prop and Tamou, who is back to something like his best form in the front row.
North Queensland will push for the National Rugby League premiership provided that Thurston is fit at the business end of the tournament but the Cowboys are crying out to be opposed while he and some of his mates are away on State of Origin duty – the final game of the series is next week.
St George Illawarra to beat North Queensland by 19+ points
4th July 10:30 GMT
Where to Bet: PaddyPower
Once or twice per month we will provide you with the latest sports tips and keep you updated about the biggest events.