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THE TEAM NEWS
NORTH QUEENSLAND COWBOYS
Head Coach: Paul Green
Starting 13: Kahu, Macdonald, O’Neill, Opacic, Bowen, Martin, Morgan, Scott, Granville, McLean, Cooper, Hess, Taumalolo – Interchanges: Asiata, McGuire, Dunn, Molo – Reserves: Hampton, Clifford, Gela-Mosby, Tuala
Unavailable: Kyle Feldt, Murray Taulagi, Corey Jensen, Scott Bolton
North Queensland Cowboys face a tough test to overcome the retirement of Johnathan Thurston with the future immortal hanging up his boots at the end of last season to leave a huge hole in their side.
The Cowboys will hope new signing Jordan Kahu can fill in at fullback after they sacked fellow new recruit Ben Barba for a breach of contract following an off-field discretion with the former Brisbane man named in the #1 jersey for this game.
Josh McGuire has also arrived from the Broncos to add to an already impressive pack and they will hold the key to the Cowboys’ success with their three-quarter line looking like one of the weakest in the NRL.
ST. GEORGE-ILLAWARRA DRAGONS
Head Coach: Paul McGregor
Starting 13: Widdop, Pereira, Aitken, Lafai, Ravalawa, Norman, Hunt, Graham, McInnes, Vaughan, Host, T. Sims, Frizell – Interchanges: Latimore, Dufty, Lawrie, Leilua – Reserves: Lomax, Kerr, Robson, Pearson
Unavailable: Jack de Belin, Korbin Sims
St George topped the NRL ladder for most of last season but fell away towards the end of the campaign with the Dragons able to learn from that experience as they compete for a top 4 spot.
The Dragons have added playmaker Corey Norman to their squad and they will be hoping he can improve their attacking options in 2019 with the ex-Eels man lining up in the halves for the first game.
That sees Gareth Widdop reverting to the fullback position as the Dragons look for an extra ball-playing pivot with Matt Dufty more of a running threat with the latter set to be introduced from the interchange bench in this first game at least.
North Queensland have the biggest void to fill in the NRL in 2019 with Johnathan Thurston hanging up his boots meaning the Cowboys will have a new halfback combination. This opening test against the Dragons might answer some lingering questions for both teams. The Cowboys have a pack to mix it up with anyone but look light in the backs whilst the Dragons have plenty of pace and power across the pitch with a lack of consistency their biggest problem towards the end of the season. This should be a closely-fought contest but the Dragons can edge it with them having superior quality in the backs.