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South Sydney Rabbitohs v North Queensland Cowboys
ANZ Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm

Two of the most exhilarating yet frustratingly inconsistent sides in the Telstra Premiership go head to head in a clash that promises to be

It has been quite the rollercoaster ride for neamong the more intriguing of Round 8.w South Sydney coach Michael Maguire, who must already be developing an understanding of just how frustrating the past decade has been for long-suffering Rabbitohs fans. Once again, the foundation club came into the season full of high hopes and expectation… and once again they have shown only glimpses of what they are capable of with back-to-back wins in Rounds 5 and 6 soured by a 44-22 capitulation against the Warriors last start.

That’s not to suggest that strides haven’t been made. Maguire’s decision to shift Greg Inglis to fullback has allowed the Queensland and Australia Test star to see a lot more football and has added another string to the side’s attacking bow, while Dave Taylor’s performance against the Warriors suggests he is primed for a big few weeks in the lead-up to Origin. But scoring points has never been South Sydney’s problem anyway and their success this weekend will come down to how well they handle North Queensland’s own attacking arsenal: worryingly, only Parramatta and the Warriors have conceded more points than the Rabbitohs in 2012.

Much like Souths, the Cowboys started slowly this season with a woeful effort against the Gold Coast in Round 1 casting doubt over their premiership credentials. A 42-18 thrashing at the hands of Melbourne in Round 6 didn’t help either, however they preceded that with an impressive 22-6 away win against Canberra and hit back from the Storm defeat with a 50-12 thrashing of Sydney Roosters last start. They will again pose a serious threat with the ball in hand here – primarily through the brilliance of Johnathan Thurston and Matt Bowen – but their own wobbly defence remains their Achilles’ heel.

Notably, the Cowboys have won just five of their past 30 games played in Sydney and haven’t tasted success at ANZ Stadium since 2006.

A win for Souths would be the club’s 2000th in their history.

Nathan Merritt has been named on a six-man bench for the Rabbitohs and will be given until the last minute to prove his fitness after injuring his toe in the All Stars game in February. Young prop Josh Starling is also on the extended bench.

North Queensland has named an unchanged line-up, with co-captain Matthew Scott unlikely to recover from a foot ligament tear in time to re-join the squad.

Watch Out Rabbitohs: Cowboys fullback Matt Bowen is back to his scintillating best this season and his impact has been profound. The dynamic Bowen has scored seven tries from seven games while adding six line-breaks, four try assists and 19 tackle-breaks. Notably, North Queensland’s back three has been the most lethal in the NRL this season with 22 line-breaks between them. Bowen will pose plenty of problems if Souths don’t maintain their discipline in defence.

Danger Sign: The Rabbitohs will have to work overtime to dominate in the tackle because North Queensland is the best side in the NRL when it comes to achieving a quick play-the-ball. Although 11 teams have played the ball more times than the Cowboys in 2012, none have matched North Queensland’s 160 fast play-the-balls at an impressive 17.6 per cent. They have a number of quality exponents of this with Gavin Cooper leading the way with 22 fast play-the-balls this season ahead of Ashley Graham (18), Ashton Sims (16), James Tamou (14) and Matt Scott (13).

Watch Out Cowboys: Dave Taylor boasts an enviable record in clashes with North Queensland, having won all six games against them dating back to 2008. He is also in fine form this season, averaging a career-high 12.4 runs from an average 65 minutes on the field. He is the first Souths forward to score two try doubles in the opening seven rounds since Justin Smith in 2003 following his effort against the Warriors last time out.

Danger Sign: South Sydney heavily favour their right edge in attack, with 14 of their 23 tries scored on that side of the field compared to just four on the left. Many of those have come thanks to rookie winger Andrew Everingham who has scored eight tries in five games and is on track to become just the second player in history to score a try in each of his first six career games.

Greg Inglis v Matt Bowen: These two Queenslanders couldn’t be more different in style but they are identical when it comes to the influence they have on their respective sides’ successes. Powerhouse Inglis has been a revelation since donning the No.1 jersey in Round 3, his extra involvement proving a real handful for rival defences, while Bowen continues to slice opposition defensive lines apart with his speed off the mark and amazing footwork. As the old saying goes, their battle alone will be worth the price of admission.

Where It Will Be Won: Defence is the key here. South Sydney rank 14th in the NRL this season defensively, having conceded 162 points over the opening seven rounds at 23 points per game, while North Queensland aren’t far behind with 130 points conceded.  Conversely, the Cowboys rank second in the Telstra Premiership for most points with 174 while Souths have scored 141, so crossing the line isn’t a problem for either side. Whoever is on the ball defensively this weekend will gain a huge advantage.

The History: Played 21; Rabbitohs 11, Cowboys 9, drawn 1. Souths have dominated the Cowboys in recent times, winning six of their past seven clashes dating back to 2007. North Queensland’s biggest ever win came against the Bunnies in 2003 when they won 60-8.

The Last Time They Met: Souths prevailed 26-24 in a golden-point thriller at ANZ Stadium in Round 24 last season.

A clash that involved controversy, tremendous skill and a remarkable comeback was finally decided three minutes into extra time when Cowboys hooker James Segeyaro was penalised for attacking the head of Souths hooker Issac Luke – giving Chris Sandow the opportunity to slot the winning goal from 37 metres out.

But it didn’t look like it would be the Rabbitohs’ night for much of the contest. Despite opening the scoring early when John Sutton collected the scraps of a James Roberts bomb to cross, then cancelling out Johnathan Thurston’s reply to lead 12-6 thanks to another try from a kick, North Queensland soon built a match-winning 24-12 lead as the clock ticked inside the final 10 minutes.

Matt Bowen was instrumental to their cause, having a hand in tries to Tariq Sims and Willie Tonga and scoring one of his own when he barged over the line in the 60th minute.

However, just when the contest looked over, Souths found something extra.

Roberts found extra space out wide to score a clever try and narrow the gap to six before Sandow intercepted a Thurston to race upfield. He was eventually dragged down short of the line, but the Rabbitohs kept a level head as they spread the ball wide for Chris McQueen to score in the corner. Sandow then nailed the sideline conversion to level the scores and send the game into extra time.

Souths hooker Luke was inspirational for the home side, making 32 tackles and 142 metres, while James Tamou added 159 metres, 30 tackles and eight tackle-breaks for the Cowboys.

Match Officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Henry Perenara; Sideline Officials – David Abood & Gavin West; Video Referee – Rod Lawrence.

The Way We See It: Could we see another golden point game? This looms as a particularly tight one with both sides boasting plenty of attacking brilliance but struggling to hold their own in defence. North Queensland’s demolition of Sydney Roosters last start was impressive but their poor record in Sydney remains a concern and for that reason we’re leaning towards another narrow Souths victory. The red and green by two points.

Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 7.30pm.

•    Statistics: NRL Stats

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