Round 21: Roosters v Cowboys preview
Two sides who started the year with lofty expectations head into Round 21 of the 2018 season on opposite ends of the ladder.
Both the Roosters and Cowboys were automatic selections in the top four by many pundits at the beginning of this year. In fact, it wouldn't have surprised if the duo battled it out for the top prize.
However, what eventuated was anything but that with North Queensland currently sitting just two points ahead of the last-placed Eels.
Trent Robinson's men are tracking along quite nicely, sitting in third position on the ladder despite a shaky start to 2018.
It appears as if they have timed their run towards September well, having won seven of their past eight games, with their only loss being a one-point defeat at the hands of Melbourne.
With so many new combinations, the Roosters struggled early in attack. They have recently overcome that issue, with Cooper Cronk and James Tedesco both complementing each other nicely, as evidenced in the try scored by the former in last week's win over the Dragons.
Having toppled Paul McGregor's men last week, complacency is the only genuine obstacle standing in the Tricolours' way this week.
The Cowboys may be out of finals contention in 2018, but they will be equally desperate this week as they look to take a big step away from wooden spoon contention.
They sit two points ahead of the last-placed Eels after downing the Knights 20-18 last week off the back of a Jonathan Thurston masterclass.
With a try, two try-assists and three line-break assists to his name, Thurston finally guided his struggle teammates to what was just their fifth win of the season.
Last Meeting: Preliminary Finals 2017 - Cowboys 29 Roosters 16
The Roosters will be looking for revenge after the Cowboys knocked them out of the competition with a 29-16 win in the Preliminary Finals last year.
Who to watch: Latrell Mitchell is quickly establishing himself as the most damaging ball runner in the competition. The New South Wales centre was at his best last week against the Dragons, scoring three tries, busting 11 tackles and breaking the line twice. And that was against one of the best defensive sides in the competition. In contrast, North Queensland have conceded the sixth-most points in 2018. Against a far weaker opposition, Mitchell will pose an even greater attacking threat.
Meanwhile, having only managed more points than the Eels, Bulldogs and Tigers so far, the Cowboys will need something special in attack if they are to topple the Roosters. And that may come from hooker Jake Granville. The 2015 Premiership winner hasn't been at his best in recent years and seems to have lost the zip and speed out of dummy-half that made him just a dangerous proposition. If he is able to rediscover that it won't only improve his game though. It will also allow his big men to roll forward easier which is critical given the potential strength of North Queensland's forward pack.
Favourite: The Roosters are strong favourites to cement their spot in the top four.
Tip: The Cowboys got out of jail last weekend but they won't stand a chance against a rampaging Roosters outfit. Superior in both attack and defence, attitude is the only factor that stands in the way of the home side. Roosters by 16.