While North Queensland grapple with how to win without talisman Johnathan Thurston, St George Illawarra have to deal the loss of their influential back-row.
With Tyson Frizell striving to be a late inclusion, Will Matthews suspended, Joel Thompson out with a hamstring injury and Trent Merrin in State of Origin camp with NSW, the Dragons’ back-row stocks are looking thin.
Their cause has not been helped with Jason Nightingale – due to fill in for NSW fullback Josh Dugan – ruled out after failing to overcome an ankle problem and will be replaced by Justin Hunt or Peter Mata’utia.
As well, prop Rory O’Brien, named on the bench against the Cowboys, will be sidelined after suffering an ankle syndesmosis injury at training during the week.
Such is his influence, Frizell (back) has been given until the 11th hour to prove his fitness for Saturday’s clash with the Cowboys at WIN Stadium.
The Dragons are fourth going into the weekend but are in a slump after losing three straight and notching two wins from their past six.
And coach Paul McGregor said their injury problems in the forwards was taking a toll on the side.
“(Frizell) is a very big part of our football team – both of our back-rowers (as well as Thompson) are at the moment,” he said.
“They were playing 80 minutes regularly for the first eight to 10 weeks but haven’t been able to do that in the last four or five and it’s affecting our football team.
“Frizell is a really important part of us; Will Matthews being suspended doesn’t help things which is disappointing as well.
“You usually have one back-rower out but, having all three, it means our middle has got to play more minutes.”
The Dragons’ back-row crisis has opened the door for recent recruits Luke Page and Mark Ioane – after their mid-season switches during the week from Canberra and Gold Coast respectively – to debut for the Red V.
On paper, Saturday’s clash between the No.2 and No.4 teams looks like a blockbuster, however it is heavily affected by Origin.
The Cowboys’ halves of Thurston and Michael Morgan will also be missing as will their front row of Matt Scott and James Tamou.
Questions are being asked about whether the Cowboys can win without Thurston following their second-half capitulation last week against Cronulla.
They have won just five of 15 matches without their skipper in the past five seasons, according to Fox Sports Stats.
Robert Lui moves into the side at halfback and has a chance to prove his value as he comes off contract at the end of the season.
“You can see (Lui) is buzzing and excited to get out there and play some footy and show his worth,” Cowboys five-eighth Ray Thompson said.
STATS THAT MATTER:
* The Cowboys have had the upper hand in recent encounters between the two teams, winning seven of 11 since 2007
* Since 2004, North Queensland have won five of eight matches in Wollongong
* The Cowboys’ past nine matches have all been decided by 11 points or less, with all but one decided by eight points or less
* The Dragons are in a point-scoring drought, tallying just 42 points in their past three matches