St George Illawarra Dragons v North Queensland Cowboys
WIN Stadium, Wollongong
The St George Illawarra Dragons are sitting pretty atop the NRL Telstra Premiership after six rounds, but will be tested by the fifth-placed Cowboys at WIN Stadium, Wollongong this Easter Saturday.
Having only dropped one game in 2017, the Dragons will remain unchanged from their last start 35-10 win over the Sea Eagles meaning Josh Dugan (hamstring) is out for another week.
An injury crisis has hit North Queensland hard, and they'll have to make do without fearless leader Johnathan Thurston this weekend against the Red V.
Without Shaun Fensom (ankle), Lachlan Coote (calf) and Jake Granville (leg) too, the Cowboys have been forced to shift their team around in a big way with the likes of Corey Jensen and Blake Leary named to play.
The visitors will be boosted by the return of centre Justin O'Neill (knee) however.
Dragons: 1. Jason Nightingale, 2. Nene Macdonald, 3. Euan Aitken, 4. Tim Lafai, 5. Kurt Mann, 6. Gareth Widdop (c), 7. Josh McCrone, 8. Russell Packer, 9. Cameron McInnes, 10. Paul Vaughan, 11. Tyson Frizell, 12. Joel Thompson, 13. Jack de Belin. Interchange: 14. Tariq Sims, 15. Leeson Ah Mau, 16. Hame Sele, 17. Taane Milne, 18. Blake Lawrie, 19. Kalifa Faifai Loa, 20. Luciano Leilua, 21. Jacob Host.
Cowboys: 1. Kalyn Ponga, 2. Kyle Feldt, 3. Justin O'Neill, 4. Kane Linnett, 5. Gideon Gela-Mosby, 6. Michael Morgan, 7. Ben Hampton, 8. Patrick Kaufusi, 9. Blake Leary, 10. Scott Bolton, 11. Gavin Cooper, 12. Coen Hess, 13. Jason Taumalolo. Interchange: 14. Ethan Lowe, 15. John Asiata, 16. Corey Jensen, 17. Ben Spina, 18. Sam Hoare, 19. Enari Tuala, 20. Javid Bowen, 21. Braden Uele.
Key Match-Up: Cameron McInnes v Blake Leary – The Dragons have been relatively settled of late in their weekly make-up. The same cannot be said about the Cowboys who will only have one regular member of their spine (Michael Morgan) featuring against the Red V. Former Sea Eagles utility Leary will don the No. 9 jumper as a result in just his second game back in the top grade. He'll come up against the form hooker Cameron McInnes who sits high in the competition in terms of try assists (four – equal 10th) and tackles (269 – second).
The History: Played 28; Dragons 13, Cowboys 15. The Dragons have had an unhappy time against the Cowboys of late, winning two of their past seven games against their upcoming opponents. While that run extends back to 2012, the Dragons were last start victors against North Queensland when they played them during the Origin period last year.
Match Officials: Referee: Henry Perenara. Assistant Referee: Matt Noyen. Sideline Officials: Russell Turner and Rohan Best.
Televised: Fox League – Live coverage from 7:30pm
Radio: ABC and 2GB