NEWCASTLE KNIGHTS v NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS
Round 5, 2014 NYC Premiership
Monday, April 7 Kick-Off: 4.45pm
Venue: 1300SMILES Stadium, Townsville
Last Time They Met:
North Queensland claimed both matches against the Knights last season. The Cowboys won 30-22 in Townsville in round 24, while they also recorded a 26-20 victory at Hunter Stadium in round 3.
Mamo, Donovan, S.Mata'utia, Peni, Birch, Gagai, Feeney, Pakau, Levi (c), Yates, Tapine, Pondekas, Fitzgibbon. Bench: De Saxe, Smith, Boyce, Koopu, Lo Monaco.
NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS
Grant, Crowley, Magey, O’Neill, Schulte, Solari, Ashby, Harris, Chudleigh, Munro, Kelleher (c), Cullen, Niemoeller. Bench: Clarke, Jensen, Brock, Barclay.
On the back of their strongest ever start to a season, the Club's Holden Cup side are riding high on confidence.
NRL assistant coach Rick Stone says it's been a pleasure watching the next generation of Knights strut their stuff.
They face a tough road trip to Townsville on Monday, but Stone has no doubts they can continue their winning ways away from home.
"They've started off terrific and they are playing a great brand of footy our NYC team," Stone says.
"They are also playing with some confidence and it's a big challenge to head up to North Queensland, particularly for our under 20s side.
"But I think they are ready for it having a look at what they've done in the first couple of weeks.
"There are some really good players there.
"Obviously Jake Mamo we've spoken about a bit before already this year.
"Sione Mata'utia has also got his raps and he has been going terrific again.
"But there are plenty of other players in the team that haven't got the same sort of profile as some of our top players, but are doing a tremendous job for coach Mick Crawley."
Jaelen Feeney vs Delayne Ashby
Feeney has consistently been one of the Knights' strongest performers in the opening four rounds.
The team's major pre-season purchase has provided plenty of class and Stone is looking forward to watching him maintain that form against North Queensland.
Standing in Feeney's way will be Cowboys No.7 Delayne Ashby, a Kiwi-born playmaker who emulates NRL star Johnathan Thurston.
"Obviously Jaelen has had a massive influence on the start of our season," Stone says.
"He has some nice composure and some good touches and running the footy himself.
"He has got a good mixture at the moment and he has got a fair kicking game as well, so he is guiding our team around."
Joe Tapine vs Jack Kelleher
Tapine was outstanding against Cronulla last Sunday, scoring a try and making plenty of metres in his first official match for 2014 after an off-season hernia injury.
Stone admits the New Zealand junior was a bit rusty last week due to lack of match fitness, but will only improve with time.
Tapine takes on Cowboys captain Jack Kelleher, a local Townsville product with plenty of punch in attack and defence.
Stone insists Joe will be ready for the challenge.
"Joey was strong last week," he beams.
"He is probably a little bit short of a run and he'll be the first one to say that, but we know he is a player of the future.
"His tackling breaking ability in the NYC comp is a massive bonus for the team and he definitely showed some of those glimpses on the weekend and he'll only get better for the run."
Player to watch:
Bryce Donovan. The goal kicking winger was brilliant against Cronulla last Sunday, scoring a try and kicking eight goals for a personal tally of 24 points.
Stone is a huge fan of the underrated Wests Newcastle junior.
"Bryce hasn't done anything too wrong yet on the wing," Stone says.
"He is a versatile player who has played a lot of different positions like fullback and even in the halves for his club side here at Western Suburbs in Newcastle.
"His goal kicking was impeccable on the weekend. Watching him in the first half, he nailed a few from the sideline and didn't look like missing."
Where it will be won:
Newcastle failed to beat the Cowboys on both occasions last season, but the 2014 NYC side are a different team.
Combine new recruits like Jaelen Feeney, Harry Pondekas with a host of consistent performers who have matured considerably and the Knights are a top team.
If they can maintain their strong form from the opening rounds and mentally prepare for the tough road trip, then Newcastle should prove too strong again on Monday.