TEAMS: NSWRL Sydney Shield - 2020 Round 1
4 hours ago | New South Wales Rugby League
Both the Cowboys and the Titans have plenty to play for as North Queensland is still searching for their first win at their new home and the Gold Coast is yet to win in 2020.
In what comes as a surprise both Gavin Cooper and Michael Morgan will not be lining up for the Cowboys, while Titans coach Justin Holbrook has rung the changes for just his third NRL game in charge of the club.
In the first week back at Cowboys training since round two Gavin Cooper strained his calf, and with limited time for him to train before round three North Queensland coach Paul Green has declared Cooper's "not worth the risk" to play this week. Morgan continues to recover from shoulder surgery.
Mitchell Dunn slots into the second-row and the Cowboys will look to their new captain Jordan McLean and the likes of Josh McGuire, Kyle Feldt, Valentine Holmes and Justin O'Neill to replace the experience Cooper and Morgan bring.
For the Gold Coast, the Phillip Sami at fullback experiment is over with Tyrone Roberts shifted from the halves to cover the long-term absence of the injured AJ Brimson.
Ash Taylor becomes the five-eight and Holbrook has turned to 26-year-old Jamal Fogarty to fill the halfback spot.
With Kallum Watkins having left the Titans to return home to UK to deal with family concerns, his centre position is filled by Dale Copley.
Kevin Proctor missed round two and is slated to make his return against the Cowboys in the second-row, along with Keegan Hipgrave who hasn't played a game in the NRL since round 13 last year due to repeated concussions.
Shannon Boyd is to get his first taste of NRL in 2020 off the bench and promising young forward Moeaki Fotuaika returns to the starting side at prop. Bryce Cartwright and Brian Kelly have been demoted to the extended bench. Utility Erin Clark becomes Titan No.153 off the bench.
This will be the first time for both teams to show how they'll adjust to the latest NRL rule change where, put briefly, a defensive ruck infringement such as holding down, hand on the ball, crowding at the play-the-ball or a leg pull will result in an immediate restart of the tackle count.
With one less referee on the field from now on and an emphasis from the NRL on faster play and fewer stoppages, just how much will these players feel encouraged to test the limits? Is Jason Taumalolo now officially unstoppable? In a year will Taumalolo rack up 450 run metres from one match and we'll consider it normal? The time for questions is just about over, finally!
North Queensland got their only win this season against the Bulldogs at ANZ Stadium, where they raced to a 22-6 half-time lead and hung on for a 24-16 result.
The Titans have stood under the posts more than any other team in 2020, as they conceded 24 points against the Raiders in round one and 46 points against the Eels in round two.
Last meeting: Round 12 2019 - Titans 4 Cowboys 6
The Cowboys were without Morgan once again, this time due to State of Origin selection, and were lucky to come away with the win after Taylor and Roberts combined to miss two penalty goals and a conversion on the day. Fotuaika and Taumalolo went toe-to-toe, with Taumalolo coming out on top with a try, 204 metres, 41 tackles, eight tackle breaks and four offloads.
Who to watch: In what might be a silver lining for North Queensland from the forced break due to coronavirus, it's given Valentine Holmes almost an extra two months to adjust his training and body to rugby league. Back in March we saw some brief flashes of the Valentine Holmes we all saw flourish in 2018 and the Cowboys will need to see more of that high level of play to stake their claim at a return to the finals and premiership contention.
It's taken a while for Moeaki Fotuaika to get ready to unleash for the 2020 season, but the gap between round two and three should have him ready to show more of what has made his name earmarked as a player of the future. The last time he took on North Queensland he was on a mission to be the best forward on the park and the prop's 20 runs for 217 metres and 39 tackles justified his effort. Named to make his first start of the 2020 season, now we get to find out just how much better this 20-year-old from New Zealand can be.
The favourite: Despite missing Morgan and Cooper the Cowboys have been heavily backed to keep the Gold Coast winless after three rounds. With this being their second match at the new Queensland Country Bank Stadium after a loss to the Broncos in the 2020 season opener, the club will be keen to get that first win at home on the board.
My tip: This contest could come down to whether North Queensland will produce some high-quality football given the break, a new spine combination and the absence of two key veterans. One thing the Titans have that can't be game planned for is unpredictability, as the shakeup given to the team is bound to produce a different style of play. If the Titans can stay in the contest after 60 minutes, whichever squad has stayed in the better shape since round two could go a long way to winning this match. I'll back the Cowboys, as even if they can get some flashes of brilliance from Taumalolo and Holmes it's hard to think the Titans will be able to top that in their current state. Cowboys by 4.
1. Valentine Holmes 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Justin O'Neill 4. Esan Marsters 5. Ben Hampton 6. Scott Drinkwater 7. Jake Clifford 8. Josh Mcguire 9. Jake Granville 10. Jordan McLean 11. Mitchell Dunn 12. Coen Hess 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Reece Robson 15. John Asiata 16. Shane Wright 17. Francis Molo
5. Phillip Sami 20. Brian Kelly 3. Dale Copley 4. Tyrone Peachey 21. Jonus Pearson 6. Ashley Taylor 7. Jamal Fogarty 8. Moeaki Fotuaika 9. Nathan Peats 10. Sam Lisone 11. Kevin Proctor 12. Keegan Hipgrave 13. Jai Arrow 14. Erin Clark 15. Jai Whitbread 16. Jarrod Wallace 17. Shannon Boyd
Referees: Henry Perenara; Sideline Officials: Tim Alouani-Roby, Drew Oultram; Video Referees: Steve Clark, Ben Galea;