It wasn't that long ago that the Cowboys looked like wooden spoon material but now sit outside the eight only on points differential.
They seemed to turn the corner in round nine against the Rabbitiohs. The Cowboys lost that game 32-16, yet they showed promise in areas that had been lacking and have since won three straight for a 6-6 record.
Manly also sit 6-6 but have lost three of their past four games and will be hoping Daly Cherry-Evans and Jake Trbojevic can back up after Wednesday's Origin.
Cowboys: Michael Morgan will line up at fullback after getting through Origin unscathed. Ditto for Maroons teammate Josh McGuire. Jordan Kahu is out with a shoulder injury, while winger Gideon Gela-Mosby (collarbone) is also unavailable, replaced by Enari Tuala. On the bench, 20-year-old hooker Reuben Cotter has been named to make his NRL debut in place of the suspended Kurt Baptiste. Peter Hola and Emry Pere were trimmed from the reserves on Friday. Javid Bowen and Corey Jensen were the last two men omitted an hour before kick-off.
Sea Eagles: Big news for Manly with Tom Trbojevic returning from a long injury layoff, while Origin stars Daly Cherry-Evans (No.19) and Jake Trbojevic (No.18) will both back up from Wednesday night. Moses Suli is back at centre, with Reuben Garrick returning to the wing. Brendan Elliot drops back to the bench to make room for 'Turbo' Tom. Jack Gosiewski was named at lock on Tuesday but drops back to the bench to accommodate Jake Trbojevic. has been promoted to start at lock in place of Corey Waddell (suspended). Lloyd Perrett and Haumole Olakau'tau were omitted on Friday. Kane Elgey and Brendan Elliott dropped out an hour before kick-off when DCE and Jake Trbojevic were confirmed starters.
If DCE and Michael Morgan are both good to go after playing for the Maroons, their clash will be crucial. But it might be up front where this game is won and lost, with Cowboys brutes Jason Taumalolo, Josh McGuire and Jordan McLean up against Addin Fonua-Blake, Marty Taupau and Jake Trbojevic.
For the Cowboys to win
They showed they could win without Michael Morgan last week - but only just. And that was against the Titans, a team that sure knows how to lose a very winnable game. Paul Green will be banking on Morgan to pull through Origin, especially if DCE lines up for Manly. The Cowboys have won just three of six home games this year and owe it to their fans to deliver a performance they can truly get excited about.
For the Sea Eagles to win
Regardless of who's in and who's out, Manly need to rediscover that winning edge after a drop in form over the past couple of games. Defence isn't a huge issue but they have to improve their attack after their scoring average dipped to 16.4 points over their past five matches.
Brett Kimmorley says
The Cowboys are finding some form – John Asiata is the biggest five-eighth since Olsen Filipaina and he’s going great. That team has really settled in with the players they’ve got. I think they’ll go on a winning streak. You can see Manly are missing a bit of class. They need both the Trbojevic brothers and also Daly Cherry-Evans back. Cowboys by 8
Manly lead the NRL in tackle breaks (390) but also have a league-high 215 ineffective tackles. Sea Eagles prop Addin Fonua-Blake had another high impact performance last week against Penrith, finishing with the impressive numbers of 221 metres from 25 runs, including 92 post-contact metres, 25 hit-ups and 27 tackles in 65 minutes.
And another thing ...
The Cowboys have gradually worked their way into top-eight contention but they need to find more ways to score points or they might struggle to stay in the hunt. They have scored 192 points in 12 games and conceded 241 and they need to turn that negative points differential into a positive one. On the plus side, the Cowboys aren't afraid of the road, being one of only seven teams to have won at least half of their away games.