Season 2019 continued the Cowboys’ dramatic fall from grace after their 2015 premiership.
With the State of Origin decider just around the corner, the second reduced NRL round takes place this weekend, and it starts on Thursday night with a decimated St George Illawarra side hosting the Melbourne Storm in Wollongong.
Other matches see the Roosters step foot onto Bankwest Stadium for the first time when they face the Wests Tigers, while a Knights outfit also expected to be affected by Origin will play host to a near-full strength New Zealand Warriors side in the Steel City.
Finally, the round concludes on Sunday with the Brisbane Broncos spending a third straight match on the road when they tackle the Cronulla Sharks in the Shire.
Here is your preview to Round 16.
Dragons vs Storm
With their most important players Corey Norman, Ben Hunt, Tyson Frizell and Paul Vaughan on Origin duty, the Dragons will face a tough task against a Storm side led by Cameron Smith in Wollongong on Thursday night.
Last week, the Dragons came from behind to defeat the North Queensland Cowboys by 22-14 in front of a crowd of just over 7000.
They will also be without Tariq Sims regardless of whether he beats a dangerous contact charge on the Cowboys’ Michael Morgan at the tribunal tonight, as he is almost certain to be selected for New South Wales in the Origin decider in Sydney.
It has been a disappointing season for the Red V, with injuries and the indefinite suspension of Jack de Belin being major factors, but the win over the Cowboys could be what they need if they are to remain alive in the finals race.
Meantime, the Storm continue to go about their business as usual, opening up a six-point lead on top of the NRL ladder thanks to a 14-12 win over the Sydney Roosters at the Adelaide Oval last Friday night.
A Cameron Smith penalty goal in the second half was all that separated them from the Chooks, who beat them in golden point extra time in Round 6.
It is one of just two defeats Craig Bellamy’s side has suffered all season, the other being against the Sharks in Round 8.
With Smith available following his retirement from representative football at the end of 2017, the Storm should take the points in this one.
Prediction: Storm by 10 points.
Wests Tigers vs Roosters
Coming off the back of a huge win over the Rabbitohs last week, the Wests Tigers will be out to do it again when they welcome the Sydney Roosters to the new Western Sydney Stadium this Friday night.
After scores had been locked at 8-all for most of the second half, the Tigers fell behind 8-9 before Michael Chee Kam stepped up to be the hero once again, scoring inside the final six minutes to give his side a 14-9 victory.
Now the Tigers will get the chance to settle a score when they face the Roosters, who handed them a 42-12 hiding at the Sydney Cricket Ground in Round 8.
On that occasion, Latrell Mitchell was the chief destroyer for the Chooks as he scored a hat trick of tries and seven goals for a personal haul of 26 points.
But since then, the defending premiers’ form has suffered, having lost four of their past five matches to fall off the pace set by ladder-leaders Melbourne, with their only win in that period being against the last-placed Bulldogs at the SCG.
Last week, they were unlucky to go down by 14-12 to the Storm at home, with Mitchell’s return of two from three shots at goal being the difference between the result and potentially extra time.
But if there is ever a time for Trent Robinson’s side to bounce back, it’s this Friday in what will be their first visit to Bankwest Stadium.
Prediction: Roosters by 14 points.
Knights vs Warriors
The Newcastle Knights will be out to continue their impressive resurgence when they welcome the New Zealand Warriors to McDonald Jones Stadium on Saturday night.
After crashing to five straight losses following their win over the Sharks in Round 1, many thought fourth-year coach Nathan Brown would be lucky enough to see out the season, with the playing list he had rebuilt failing to deliver on the field.
However, seven wins in their past eight matches have seen them rocket up to fifth on the ladder, their resurgence being led by fullback Kalyn Ponga and captain Mitchell Pearce, who remains in contention for a New South Wales Origin recall.
Last week they led from start to finish to defeat the Brisbane Broncos 26-12. The win was made all the more impressive by the fact that Ponga was a late withdrawal due to a calf injury, which has all but ruled him out of the Origin decider in Sydney next week.
Meanwhile, the Warriors’ season took another turn for the worse when they was beaten by the Penrith Panthers in golden point last week, the gut-wrenching defeat all but putting a line through the club’s finals hopes.
Now they will spend a fortnight away from home. Following their trip to Newcastle, they will then head up to Brisbane for the second time this season to face fellow strugglers the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium.
Perhaps the time away from New Zealand might be what the Warriors need, but at home it’ll be hard tipping against the hosts.
Prediction: Knights by 18 points.
Sharks vs Broncos
Round 16 concludes with the Brisbane Broncos playing their third consecutive match in New South Wales, this time facing a Cronulla Sharks side that are just sitting inside the eight.
Under new coach Anthony Seibold, the Broncos have struggled as a whole this season, only managing five wins from 14 matches to be sitting third last on the table.
Despite this, they have managed impressive wins over top eight sides the Sharks, Sea Eagles and Roosters, and it appeared that after the win over the Warriors in New Zealand, they were finally starting to get something going.
But since then, the Broncos have dropped their last three matches, going down in embarrassing fashion to the Titans at home, followed by the Eels at Bankwest Stadium and the Knights in Newcastle.
Seibold has copped some flak for playing Anthony Milford and Darius Boyd out of position, at fullback and five-eighth respectively in the loss to the Knights last Saturday night.
On the other hand, the Sharks will be smarting after going down to the Bulldogs 14-12 at ANZ Stadium last Sunday, despite scoring one more try than the last-placed boys from Belmore.
John Morris’ men fell behind 14-0 early, and while they were able to work their way back into the match, they were left to rue that poor start as well as poor goal-kicking, which could have seen them win 18-14.
Instead, they are in seventh place on the ladder but will fancy their chances against a Broncos team that beat them 29-6 at Suncorp Stadium in Round 7.
However, at home I think they can turn the tables.
Prediction: Sharks by 12 points.
Byes: Bulldogs, Cowboys, Eels, Panthers, Rabbitohs, Raiders, Sea Eagles, Titans.