Laughter Is The Best Medicine

As much as the Cowboys like to publicly suggest otherwise, it’s no secret that in recent years the fate of their season tends to ride on the fate of their sheriff, Jonathan Thurston. Blessed not only with incredible skills on the footy field, JT’s laugh is legendary, widely regarded as the best in the business.


In Thurston’s 250th game, where the Cowboys will be handing out replica headgear at the gates, the great man will attempt to amuse the crowd one more time as he tries to lasso up the Warriors on his way to another two competition points at the appropriately named 1300SMILES Stadium.

But if it’s a giggle-fest you’re after, the Warriors are bound to play their part. The Beast, fresh from celebrating his own milestone in style last week, can chuckle with the best of them, and the return of Konrad Hurrell from injury has clearly made for a much more jovial atmosphere in the Warriors’ camp.

It won’t be all smiles in Townsville, though, as the Cowboys are notoriously territorial, losing only one game at home in 2014. Any Warrior worth their salt knows that a Cowboy will always fight to protect his turf.

And, although that solitary loss last season was against the Warriors, current form suggests it’s a particularly bad time to visit North Queensland. After a slow start to the season, the ranchers have hit form, herding up competition points for the last three weeks and knocking off the Storm, Panthers and the defending champion Bunnies in the process.

Thurston ran his own masterclass last week against Souths. It’s just remarkable how much time he seems to have. The greats always make it look easy, and Thurston’s best skill is his ability to convince defenders into making the first move. Once they commit, he’s able to spot that gap, see that pass or notice the space in-behind for a kick, and then execute. If the Warriors continue to gift the opposition the ball in good areas, as they have done in recent weeks, there’s no doubt Thurston will make them pay.

As much as we’ve mentioned JT, the battle of the forwards is set to be a great watch. There are internationals and Origin representatives littered throughout both teams, with Matt Scott and Jason Taumololo leading the way for the herders. If the likes of Ben Matulino and Jacob Lillyman can get the edge there, they’ll not only go some way to shutting down the Cowboys’ danger men, but in Shaun Johnson and the ever-improving Chad Townsend, the Warriors have plenty of ammunition in the halves to fire a few shots of their own. Warriors’ fans will be hoping to see more of Johnson’s elusive running game and, after a patchy start to the season, there are signs that ‘Magic’ Johnson is regaining his confidence.

The Warriors do look to have the edge in attacking threats out wide, with Vatuvei, Hurrell and Solomone Kata all particularly hard to stop. The Cowboys’ most damaging runner generally comes in the form of Jason Taumalolo, who’ll be eager to have a big game, not only to assure himself a spot in the Anzac test, but also to show the Warriors what they missed out on by not securing his signature.

If both teams show up, this game’s got the potential to be a classic. Two sides who can pile on the points, with giant forward packs that are steered around the paddock by some of the most talented horsemen in the NRL. One side is driven by a legendary laughing Cowboy — a great of our game — and the other by a young man trying to prove he’s next on that list of superstars. Who knows, maybe this fixture will be so great that rugby league fans all around the globe will re-enact it with the same kind of delight and commitment shown in the clip below, another classic Warrior v Cowboy match-up.

What to watch for: The defensive work of Konrad Hurrell and Solomone Kata. There’s no doubting the immense talent these young Warriors possess on attack, but it’s also clear both are still learning at the defensive end. They have a tendency to rush up out of the line and, while it looks brilliant when it comes off, against a wizard like Thurston, that’s a tactic that can go horribly wrong. The way these two young centres are able to shut down the Cowboys’ outside backs will play a significant role in determining the outcome of this match.

NRL Warrior prediction: As painful as it is to say, this really looks like the wrong time for an away game in Townsville. The cattle-herders are close to hitting top-form, with the forwards setting a great platform for the halves to finish the job. While the Warriors’ pack is well-placed to match the Cowboys’, the men from Mt Smart simply haven’t shown the necessary ball security required to win against quality opposition. They’ll fight hard, and certainly have points in them, but unless they can bring their best for 80 minutes as opposed to the 40 or 50 they’ve been delivering in recent weeks, the Warriors look set to suffer the same fate as their namesake the Ultimate Warrior. Cowboys by 8.

Highlights from the last meeting

Teams

WARRIORS

1 Tuimoala Lolohea

2 Jonathan Wright

3 Konrad Hurrell

4 Solomone Kata

5 Manu Vatuvei

6 Chad Townsend

7 Shaun Johnson

8 Jacob Lillyman

9 Thomas Leuluai

10 Ben Matulino

11 Bodene Thompson

12 Ryan Hoffman

13 Simon Mannering (c)

Interchange

14 Nathan Friend

15 Dominique Peyroux

16 Sam Lisone

17 Albert Vete

18 Raymond Faitala-Mariner

Coach: Andrew McFadden

COWBOYS

1 Lachlan Coote

2 Justin O’Neill

3 Tautau Moga

4 Kane Linnett

5 Antonio Winterstein

6 Michael Morgan

7 Johnathan Thurston (c)

8 Matthew Scott (c)

9 Jake Granville

10 James Tamou

11 Gavin Cooper

12 Ethan Lowe

13 Jason Taumalolo

Interchange

14 Rory Kostjasyn

15 John Asiata

16 Scott Bolton

17 Ben Hannant

Coach: Paul Green

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