Manly's underrated forward pack enjoyed a fiery battle with South Sydney's high-profile forwards in Round 2, and after coming up trumps then is looking forward to more of the same at the famed Sydney Cricket Ground on Friday night.
Back in Round 2 at Gosford, the giant Rabbitohs pack stacked with Burgesses was coming off a powerful 28-8 win over defending premiers the Roosters. Manly had crumbled at home in the second half of Round 1 against the Storm after fullback Brett Stewart left the field injured at half time. Its thrown-together mob of forwards, most of whom were barely household names in their own households, wasn't expected to get close to winning the battle in the middle.
Former Rabbitoh Josh Starling was starting up front in just his ninth NRL game against the pack he hadn't been able to force his way into the year before, which had prompted his shift to Sydney's northern beaches in hopes of getting a start.
On the bench, Penrith junior Jesse Sene-Lefao was in his fourth NRL game and Sharks junior James Hasson was in his 14th. Then there was former Bronco Dunamis Lui, who had scraped together just 32 games in four seasons at the Queensland club before seeking greater opportunity down south. And with them, then-32-year-old club veteran Jason King, playing his first game in almost 12 months after a season-ending shoulder injury suffered in Round 7, 2013... against South Sydney. Brenton Lawrence, starting alongside Starling, was the lone thread of continuity from Manly's 2013 prop rotation.
And in the red (and green) corner? A pair of Test incumbents in Sam and George Burgess, along with their older brother Luke.
From the outset it was clear Souths intended to bully Manly's patched-up pack off the park. But Manly were having none of it, and what followed over 80 minutes was remarkable.
In an inspiring a display of leadership as you're ever likely to see on a footy field, King rallied his troops who got up in the face of the Souths pack, stood up to them, repelled them, and as a team beat them.
The match was virtually decided in a fiery five minutes about 20 minutes out from full-time. It started with a monstrous shot from Souths' nuggety hooker Issac Luke that sent bulky Manly three-quarter Cheyse Blair flying in a classic driving tackle.
Manly back-rower Justin Horo then lost the ball in a huge tackle from Ben Te'o and Luke Burgess, and copped a spray from Sam Burgess and Luke for his troubles, causing a flare up with several players joining the fray.
King, packing down in the scrum opposite Sam Burgess, stared down the English Test forward and gave it back to him.
Later in the set he put a huge shot on Luke Burgess. Continuing to put his body on the line for his side, he wore an equally big return shot from the same man barely a minute later. Seconds after that, off the back of King's huge charge, Jamie Buhrer sliced through a gap and put Daly Cherry-Evans over for a crucial try that levelled the scores as 12-all.
A 75th minute penalty goal to Manly was the only addition to the scores from there, and an unlikely and hard-earned victory in the forwards had been earned.
"That was good – we enjoyed that," Horo said this week of the fiery contest and verbals from each side. King's response following Horo's error still clearly stands strong in Horo's memory.
"That was after I made an error and Kinga come to my aid and I appreciated that. I'm pretty sure if we get over them it will be a tough battle through the middle again."
Horo described the clash as a gruelling contest. "It was tough all game – then in the 75th minute Foz [Kieran Foran] got a penalty and Killer [Jamie Lyon] knocked it over and we defended that two point lead."
He conceded it would be a big task to back up the Round 2 effort against the South Sydney pack.
"They're known as an elite pack, they've proved over the last couple of years they're tough to handle when they get going. We're confident within ourselves as a pack. We've just kind of been doing our job and we feel like we've got the backs to finish the job if we can hold our own," Horo said.
Winger Peta Hiku – who played fullback for the injured Brett Stewart in Round 2 – tipped another fiery battle.
"It should fire up a bit, because it's the battle of the top sides I think there will be a lot of firing up on the weekend," he said.
"They're second on the table and they've been in good form. [Round 2] was the first time I'd played against them. It was just a real tough game, their forward pack is one of the biggest packs in the comp."
Sene-Lefao said Souths are in even better form now than they were at the start of the year.
"Their forward pack has really come [along] well with the Burgess brothers; our team knows we have a big challenge at hand. They're all the same – they're all big, they're all strong and they all run hard."
Tom Symonds said the Bunnies are probably just starting to hit their straps now.
"They probably haven't played their best and they're still running second, which shows what a good team they are. They're building into the semis quite nicely and it's going to be a really tough one," he said.