McCULLOUGH v LUKE… The two most prolific dummy-half sides in the Telstra Premiership go head to head when Brisbane host South Sydney tonight at Suncorp Stadium, with Broncos hooker Andrew McCullough warning it is vital that the home side are aware of the threat posed by opposite number Issac Luke.
Brisbane lead the league for total dummy-half dashes in 2012 with 342, with the Rabbitohs not far behind on 318. However, with 164 runs from dummy-half (well clear of next best Cameron Smith on 102), no player comes close to Luke, with McCullough adamant that containing the Souths hooker is the key to claiming the two competition points.
“Issac Luke is obviously a very strong runner of the football – he likes to do a lot of the running – so they sort of feed off him a lot and create some opportunities,” McCullough told NRL.com.
“Your markers have got to be positive and strong towards him. He is a strong guy for his size so he can create those opportunities for offloads and second-phase play. We can’t stop him from running altogether but it’s about limiting his opportunities.”
McCullough said he expected both sides to adopt a similar strategy at Suncorp Stadium tonight.
“We tend to play a lot off our hookers too,” he said. “That’s been the case since we’ve had such a strong forward pack and it’s what makes us so lucky at the Broncos. There are some similarities there because that’s what they base their team on as well.”
EELS’ HINCHCLIFFE BLOW… Ryan Hinchcliffe’s decision to re-sign with Melbourne comes as a huge blow to Parramatta who we’ve been told offered him a hefty $400,000 a year, four-year deal to join Manly’s Darcy Lussick in a new-look forward pack next season. Despite Hinchcliffe knocking back the Eels, it looks like former NSW State of Origin prop Justin Poore could be on his way to Canberra next season with sources today confirming the club’s interest. The Raiders are also keen to sign a second-rower and a centre, although salary cap restrictions mean they won’t be spending big on either.
BOWEN DECLARES HAND… Queensland centre Brent Tate is sure that Cowboys team-mate Matt Bowen’s starring role in the Cowboys’ win over Brisbane last week was no coincidence or one-off and anticipates a similar performance from the State of Origin hopeful against Canberra on Saturday night.
Bowen hasn’t represented the Maroons since 2007 but the injury to Billy Slater has opened the door for a replacement to come into the Queensland squad for game three, with Bowen, Ben Barba and centre Greg Inglis the leading contenders to fill the No.1 jersey.
“It’s a huge positive we’ve got going for us that Matty’s name has been tossed around,” Tate told NRL.com. “I think last week, although he didn’t come out and say it, he wanted to make a bit of a statement and he certainly did that.
“I’m glad his name is being bandied around because it’s awesome for us. His stats last week [24 runs, 225 metres, 15 tackle-breaks and two try assists] were unbelievable. Matt is so important to our team and when he is going well we’re usually winning footy games. That’s how important he is for us.”
Tate, meanwhile, is relieved to be in line for the decider himself after suffering what he initially feared to be a serious leg injury in State of Origin II.
“I’m always pretty anxious about it and I was pretty nervous about it,” said Tate, who has endured a shocking run with injury over the past five years. “The reason I went to the sideline was that I needed them to check and make sure it was okay. For me mentally, that way I know it’s just a bit of a bump and I can keep going. But the anxiety won’t ever leave me – that just comes with the territory of being where I’ve been, I guess!”
GIRDLER SLAMS SCHEDULING… Former Blues centre Ryan Girdler believes the scheduling of games during the State of Origin series needs an overhaul after Queensland were handed the home ground advantage for the decider for the second year in a row.
NSW coach Ricky Stuart has already blasted the decision by Blues management to forfeit a second game in Sydney this year in order to play the series opener in Melbourne, but Girdler said it was the decision to play game three in Brisbane that had him most baffled.
“I think we have been the better side of the series so far and are really unfortunate not to have wrapped it up already but it’s going to be a really different kettle of fish up there at Suncorp,” Girdler said.
“It’s still hard to believe that it’s our home series and yet we’re playing the decider up at Suncorp. I have no idea how that works and I don’t think it should be the case.”