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Preview: North Qld v Melbourne

Dairy Farmers Stadium will host Sunday night rugby league for the first time since 2007.
Preview: North Qld v Melbourne
by NRL

Dairy Farmers Stadium will host Sunday night rugby league for the first time since 2007. On that steamy afternoon in September, the Cowboys destroyed the Warriors 49-12 to advance to the major semi-final. Although that weekend was a must win match, this week the Cowboys will be looking to win to establish themselves as premiership contenders against the heavyweights, the Melbourne Storm. The Storm are the only side to remain undefeated, while the Cowboys are coming off their best showing this season and are sitting in fourth position.

The teams: The Cowboys have named an unchanged line-up to the team that beat Canberra last weekend, with Tariq Sims keeping his bench spot over teenage sensation Jason Taumalolo. James Tamou and Ashton Sims will be looking to lay the same platform they did last week to help Johnathan Thurston and Ray Thompson set up numerous attacking play for their outside backs. The Melbournians have two changes this week with injured back rower Sika Manu replaced by Ryan Hinchcliffe in the starting side with utility Rory Kostjayson moving onto the bench. Suspended wingers Anthony Quinn is replaced by Sisa Waqa, while Maurice Blair and Jaiman Lowe have been included in the travelling squad but are unlikely to play.

Past Stats: Recent matches between these teams prove that Melbourne have the upper hand, having won 8 of the last 10 matches, although Cowboys won the only clash last year at Dairy Farmers Stadium. Only one game of the last ten have been separated by less than twelve points, with the average winning margin being over 24 points. The Storm have scored the first try in all five matches this season, with four of those coming inside the opening five minutes.

Danger men: The Cowboys may have been feeling confident when they heard Billy Slater was likely to miss this week with a foot injury, but the in-form fullback has been cleared to play. The custodian has scored nine tries in five games this season and is on track to chase down Nathan Blacklock's record (27) of most tries in a season. Slater will be looking to score his first try in Townsville this weekend. The Victorians also boast the form halfback in Cooper Cronk who will be leading the charge in attack, trying to add to his nine try assists already for this season. His combination with Cameron Smith and Slater has been slick so far this season, the Cowboys will have to nullify this three-pronged attack to have a chance in securing the two competition points. In the forwards, the Cowboys will have to watch former New South Wales back rower Ryan Hoffman who has scored two tries in the last two games in a successful return to Melbourne.

Barnesy's Bet: Although recent matches have not been close contests, I am predicting a Cowboys victory by a betting margin of 1-12. Again going against history, James Tamou is my pick for first try scorer, rewarding him for his early season form, which will see him vying for an sky-blue Origin jersey.

- NRL Stats: North Qld v Melbourne
- NYC Stats: North Qld v Melbourne
- Live Blog: North Qld v Melbourne
- North Qld Forum
- Melbourne Forum
- NRL Betting: North Qld v Melbourne
- NYC Betting: North Qld v Melbourne
- Round 6 Teams, STATS and Predictions
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