The Cumberland Throw

Cowboys Analysis – Competitive Advantage


If ever there’s a place the Eels hate to play, it’s Townsville.

In fact it weren’t for a game played almost 7 years ago to the day (Round 7, Friday 23rd April, 2010) the Blue and Gold of Parramatta would have failed to register a win in North Queensland since the 90s.

Call it coincidence or laziness on the year-to-year draw, but more often than not, particularly over the last few years, the Eels have played the Cowboys between rounds 7-10, generally in Townsville. The few times it hasn’t been in between those rounds it’s been early in the season, with generally a round 4 game taking place up in the tropics (the one outlier was 2015 where we played them in round 20 on July 27th).

Regardless of the exact round it’s taken in, has anyone noticed the pattern that’s emerged here?

Every time we play the Cowboys, it’s still the hot parts of the year, which for a team based in the tropics, is a huge competitive advantage.

Now I’m not going to make excuses for our boys, fact of the matter is, the Cowboys also have to travel to Sydney during the colder parts of the year and we as a side have to be prepared and ready for any opponent in any conditions, but for once it would be nice to come against the Cowboys in colder weather when we travel north to somewhat negate this home game advantage they have.

Their big boys in that heat have, generally speaking, run over the top of us in the back end of halves as we fall prey to fatigue and the environment.

Tonight when the game kicks off it’s due to be between 23-26 degrees with 31% humidity. In Sydney it’s due to be 16 degrees at that same time. This is a monumental difference in both game preparation and game day conditions.

Pressure: Our forwards need to make Thurston’s night hell

Now a good team (or coach) never blames external factors or prepares for games with excuses in mind, but it does provide the Cowboys a competitive advantage over all their Sydney NRL rivals when they play them between Rounds 1-12 and 20-26 in Townsville and every year we’ve had to travel to Townsville, we have played the Cowboys there between those rounds where the temperatures vary greatly to Sydney’s.

I think moving forward that those who create the NRL draw have to factor this into their considerations so that some teams who do play in Townsville aren’t always coming up against the Cowboys in these rounds, because there are some teams who come up against them when this weather advantage is negated. I won’t mention who those sides are, but if you do your own digging over the last 10-15 years, I’m sure you’ll notice your own patterns and it does provide an opportunity for inequality in the competition.

That aside however, is not the competitive advantage I wanted to discuss pre-game today.

Today is going to be about the personnel advantage for both sides.

For our boys, it’s the very loveable man in the number 6 jersey tonight, Mr. Kenny Edwards!
(holds for applause).

Now I see a few of you readers there raising your eyebrows (yes, I do actually see through your computer screens. You’ve been warned). How on earth does a backrower playing five-eighth provide the Eels with competitive advantage in a place they struggle to win?

The answer?


Kenny Edwards is such a high energy player and does wonders for the morale of the team. His presence on the field not only provides great defence back to our right edge, but it gives us the energy we need when we might be feeling a bit flat.

Kenny is always the first person to high-five and congratulate excellence on the field, and also the first person to be in the ear of a player who’s made a mistake, providing support, leading the “One-set!” mantra across the Eels defensive line.

For anyone at the Panthers game last Saturday afternoon with Sports Ears on, Kenny Edwards voice (well supported by Kirisome Auva’a, who was also quite vocal) would have drowned out that of referee, Gavin Badger.

Vocal, energetic players make an incredible difference to a side. They lift you when you’re both down and when you’re doing well, instilling confidence in the players around them. We’re very fortunate to have Kenny and for a team that has been dipped in and out of matches throughout the year this far, Kenny could make a massive difference.

For the Cowboys, there’s two letters that come to mind – J & T. So with that in mind, let’s have a look at where North Queensland will possess the greatest threats this evening.

Competitive Advantage: Kenny Edwards energy is infectious to his team mates

Kalyn Ponga: He’s the U/20s prodigy who is just starting to find his feet in first grade. A double against his future club last week will instil plenty of confidence and he’s the type of player who can break a game wide upon if our middle third switches off for even a second. Beware of him as a support runner, because he can break tackles James Roberts style at his best. If we restrict him to completing donkey work, we’ll remove him from the game, but if we provide him a poor kick chase to return the ball against, he’ll live up to the hype that follows him.

Michael Morgan: You don’t make the national side without being a pretty good player, and while his form may not be as good as years gone by, Michael Morgan still posses one of the strongest running games going around. A dummy and a fend can see this man break even the most resolute defensive line, so our left edge better be prepared not to allow this guy to skip on their outside. A great link player who can be forced into error when pressured and rushed into split second decision making.

Jonathan Thurston: JT the first. Thurston’s inclusion in this game is pivotal and completely changes the scope and context of the match. After all, arguably the world’s greatest player is entering the frame. His long kicking game will help give the Cowboys territorial advantage, while his general presence will provide his team mates a lot of confidence and his pass selection will provide North Queenslands the attacking structure and fluidity they’ve become accustomed to. In recent seasons (when playing in Sydney) the Eels have become experts at pressuring this man and limiting his impact on the game. It’s been focused around strong line speed both on him and the players immediately either side of him. It’s by no means the complete and only approach to taking JT out of the game, but it sure helps a lot.  Nathan Brown, Beau Scott, Kenny Edwards, Manu Ma’u – you know what to do.

Overwork Him: Forcing Jonathan Thurston into a high tackle count can take the Cowboys captain out of the game

Coen Hess: To think this big bopper was almost ours at one point? A damaging ball runner on the fringe of the ruck, Coen Hess has earned many admirers in rugby league circles over the last 12 months. He can run over the top of opponents, generate second-phase play and is just generally hard to stop. It’s a fantastic challenge for our very own Manu Ma’u defensively, but some people may not have told Coen Hess, it’s a fantastic challenge for him defensively too. The best way to take any big, damaging runner out of the game is to make them rack up the tackles and the agile Manu has the feet and the skills to keep Coen busy. Drain him on one side of the ball to keep him out of the other side.

Gavin Cooper: Gavin Cooper has been an unheralded member of any side he’s been a part of for the better part of his career, but the people of Townsville know how important he is to their team. Whether it be running a good line, providing the link play, a strong kick chase or just making his tackles, Gavin Cooper gets the job done and is a vital cog in the North Queensland structure. Given some of the struggles of our right edge defensively and the return of his friend Jonathan Thurston, Gavin Cooper may just be the man to give us some grief on the back of some well-timed JT passes. Ball-and-all tackles on this man please!

Jason Taumalolo: JT the second (yes, there’s two of them!). I could more or less copy and paste everything I wrote for Coen Hess here and it’d be just as applicable, but I have to go one step further with Jason Taumalolo. This is a the current holder of the Dally M Medal. That’s the award that goes to the player of the year. Jason Taumalolo currently holds that award – that’s how punishing and dominant his attacking performances are. Our middle will have to work over-time to contain this man. Fortunately, unlike years gone by, his friends in the middle, Matt Scott (injury) and James Tamou (Panthers) are not there to help him. The pressure will be on him to be the leader and metre eater in the middle third, and that bodes well for our Eels forwards. We can pressure him and gang tackle him. Nathan Brown, Suaia Matagi and Kaysa Pritchard can also exploit is lateral movement with their feet, and we can tire this big guy out. We take him out of the middle contest and pressure Thurston’s kicking game, and we take the Cowboys.

Gang-Tackled: The Eels will have to make use of some of the tactics they implemented in their Round 2, 2016 victory to negate Jason Taumalolo

Following an impressive first half effort where we completed high against the Panthers, our Eels head into this game with some confidence on the back of two straight wins. For us to make it three, we’re going to have to replicate that first half effort against Penrith.

High completions where we keep the ball away from the Cowboys as much as possible should be the solitary focus of our first 20-30 minutes. Play the game down their end, generate repeats sets and force the Cowboys to kick from inside their own half. If we sustain that type of effort against North Queensland throughout this period, we can break our Townsville hoodoo, but it will require utilizing our competitive advantage.

Now while I cited Kenny Edwards in the personnel department as our competitive advantage, it’s not just he who contributes to it. He’s a strong leader and I think he infects and brings out that energy in everyone around him, but it is that, that we have to bring to the table this evening.

We need to be in every play, contesting every little battle and celebrating every little victory. It’s that type of energy that got under the skins of our opponents in early 2016 and why we were so damn effective throughout last year.

Last week was an insight into that energy. We saw some of it against the Panthers, and no surprises we defended the best we have all season on the back of it.

This week we have to build on it. Traditionally it’s been those types of performances that have frustrated the Cowboys against us. They hate to play against sides that pressure them with linespeed and get inside their head (in fact, which side doesn’t hate playing against that?).

Against an opponent at a ground we’ve generally struggled against and at, it’s our competitive advantage.



All images courtesy of the Parramatta Eels, and Getty Images

If you liked this article, you might consider supporting The Cumberland Throw.

3 thoughts on “Cowboys Analysis – Competitive Advantage

  1. Anonymous

    Quality analysis! Your comment about contesting every play rings true for me. When you drop out of plays you gift your opponent an advantage and let your teammates down. Our competitive attitude kept us in nearly every game last year and we need to find that for 80 minutes against Thurston & co!

  2. JJ

    Great analysis Clint, I was actually up in Townsville for that game back in 2010. We had a great 4 days up there and combined it with ANZAC day. Went to Magnetic Island the day after the game and all the Cowboys were there enjoying a pub lunch as well. First time I really appreciated who big & thick Matt Scott really is.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.