Canterbury Bulldogs v North Queensland Cowboys @ Belmore Oval
The Bulldogs return to their spiritual home when they take on the Cowboys in a blockbuster clash at Belmore Oval on Thursday Night. A win would elevate the Cowboys above the Bulldogs into the Top 4 and put themselves in the pole position for an all important double chance in the finals series. The Bulldogs will be looking to bounce back from a error ridden loss to the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium a week ago. The Cowboys snapped a 3 match losing run with a convincing 34-6 win over the woeful Warriors however will face a much sterner test at Belmore. These 2 team met just 5 weeks ago at 1300 Smiles Stadium where the Cowboys thumped the Bulldogs 36-0 in a one sided rout. Canterbury will be smarting from that performance and with the lure of quick revenge I expect this game to be far different.
The Bulldogs have named Danny Fualalo to replace the suspended Sam Kasiano as they replace one big bopper with another. Kasiano's lash out with the boot could prove costly as the Bulldogs choose not to fight the charge and instead cop the 2 weeks on the sideline. The Bulldogs will be looking to rectify their puzzling poor poor form at Belmore Oval of late. The Dogs have lost their last 2 starts at Belmore including being thumped by the Raiders on a Monday Night earlier this season. The likes of James Graham and Josh Jackson are really going to have to lead front the front here against a big and strong Cowboys pack. The Cowboys were far too dominant when the sides met a month ago and I expect captain Graham to make it his personal mission to ensure that does not happen again. The Bulldogs will need to execute far better with the ball in hand if they are to trouble the Cowboys. They have had trouble scoring points of late and that is because of a vast amount of unforced errors and a lack of control from their playmakers.
The Cowboys welcome back veteran Origin front rower Matt Scott which pushes Scott Bolton back to the bench. The Cowboys were far more impressive last week all be it at home and against poor opposition. Their forwards went back to running with aggression and getting over the advantage line. Michael Morgan took some pressure off Thurston last week with a couple of nice grubber kicks and a late try. The Cowboys have won 4 of their last 5 clashes against the Bulldogs but only 13 of 34 overall. The Cowboys have scored over 20 points in all of their last 5 clashes against the Bulldogs and may well need to do that if they are to get the chocolates tonight.
Verdict - Going with a bit of a gut felling here and the Bulldogs. They only get 2 chances a year to play at their spiritual home and they have let themselves down badly their on their last 2 occasions. I think they went in expecting the crowd to get them home and lost concentration against Cronulla and Canterbury. With the Top 4 riding on this clash and with their recent hiding at the hands of the Cowboys on their mind I think Canterbury might come out and ambush the Cowboys a little here. I'm not overly confident in this tip as I believe North Queensland at their best are a better side then Canterbury, they have way more strike power and more upside then the Bulldogs. However they do struggle at Sydney suburban grounds like Leichhardt where they have lost 8 from 9 and are not the same side they are at home or in big stadiums. They are also on the road on the back of a 5 day turnaround. Bulldogs by 6.