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Rabbitohs v Cowboys
ANZ Stadium
Friday, 7.35pm

On the surface at least, this game comes across as another clash of the heavyweights. Certainly it would have looked that way when the rival coaches browsed their respective draws at the start of the year to see when the big games were coming their way. And it could well prove to be that way because on paper this is a genuine NRL blockbuster.

But which Cowboys outfit are we going to see this week? North Queensland boasts a squad capable of going all the way in 2013 and one of the few forward packs that might just make South Sydney’s giants stop for a second look, yet while it would be harsh to describe them as poor this season they certainly haven’t hit their straps.

Sitting right on the edge of the top eight in eighth spot with four wins and four losses, coach Neil Henry will be well aware that his troops have played current top-eight sides three times so far this season and have lost all three. Needless to say they will need rapid and considerable improvement if they are to upset the high-flying Rabbitohs on Friday.

That said, what has often been the side’s Achilles heel – their defence – has improved greatly over the past month with North Queensland having conceded just 34 points in their past four outings at a miserly 8.5 points per game. Now if they can just click into gear with the ball in hand they will take some stopping.

There have been no such problems out Redfern way, where Souths have now firmly established themselves as a competition heavyweight.

Sitting pretty alongside Melbourne at the top of the table with just one loss from their first eight games, the Rabbitohs look a well-oiled unit this season as rugby league’s most successful club continue their quest for a first premiership in 42 years.
Souths appear to have the perfect mix to give the title a real crack: a monstrous forward pack headed by the Burgess brothers Sam and George, and a lethal backline guided by the game-breaking talents of fullback Greg Inglis and the freakish try-scoring feats of veteran winger Nathan Merritt.

They have also struck gold in the halves. Young halfback Adam Reynolds boasts an extraordinary kicking game for his tender age as well as maturity beyond his years, while his presence appears to have settled five-eighth John Sutton who has developed into the leader he always had the potential (but perhaps not the desire) to become. He has been outstanding in 2013.

They will take plenty of stopping this week and the Cowboys side we’ve seen so far this season have their work cut out for them, but there is nothing like a giant challenge to bring the best out in North Queensland’s stars. Let’s hope they turn up ready to fire.

The Rabbitohs have named the same extended 19-man squad that downed Brisbane last week with Roy Asotasi to play his 200th NRL game and Beau Champion his 100th.
North Queensland have added Scott Moore and Scott Bolton to their extended squad with Bolton tipped to be a huge chance of coming into the 17.

Watch Out Rabbitohs: North Queensland’s attack is all about the ball-playing of Johnathan Thurston and Matt Bowen, who have again been the stars this year despite the side’s topsy-turvy form. Thurston ranks equal second for try assists in 2013 with eight while Bowen is just behind with seven. They have also produced seven line-break assists each (second in the NRL.). 

There has, however, been one notable feature missing from the Cowboys’ game this season – Bowen’s running game. Renowned as one of the most electrifying players in the Telstra Premiership, Bowen has averaged just 59 metres this season with one try and one line-break. In 2012 he averaged 101 metres, scored 13 tries and made 20 line-breaks!

Watch Out Cowboys: Can anyone stop Greg Inglis? The powerful custodian is in career-best form, averaging a whopping 175 metres per game to go with his five tries and seven line-breaks. He also boasts an NRL-high 53 tackle-breaks in 2013. 

However, it is the nature of Inglis’ input that has been most impressive with his unique ability to break a game wide open – just ask Brisbane! Last week the Broncos led 12-8 at the break but two huge plays by the Souths No.1 changed the game as he crashed over for a try then sent Bryson Goodwin on a long run up-field that resulted in a try to Nathan Merritt.
Plays To Watch: Johnathan Thurston’s long pass to the left: opposition wingers on that side of the field should squeeze in at their own peril. 

Thurston has long been one of the most-skilled players in the NRL but that long ball to his left winger has been a real highlight of his game this season. He threw an absolute beauty two off the ruck against Melbourne in Round 2 for Kane Linnett to score and an even better one not long afterwards that almost led to an Antonio Winterstein try. 

And Parramatta paid the price for making the same mistake last week with a brilliant long ball hitting Winterstein on the chest for him to cross untouched. South Sydney’s right winger Andrew Everingham must make sure he marks up on his man.

Where It Will Be Won: This is all about the big men. South Sydney boast a monstrous pack with Sam Burgess, George Burgess and Jeff Lima all averaging more than 100 metres per game. The younger Burgess brother has been a real surprise packet in 2013 and his powerful charges at the try line pose a huge threat to the Cowboys’ defence. 

But similarly, Souths must work hard to limit the influence of North Queensland’s front row duo of Matt Scott and James Tamou. Scott has averaged 152 metres this year with Tamou adding 141.

The History: Played 22; Rabbitohs 12, Cowboys 9, drawn 1. Souths have dominated the Cowboys in recent times, winning seven of their past eight clashes dating back to 2007. 

Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Luke Phillips; Sideline Officials – Ricky MacFarlane & Dave Munro; Video Referee – Chris Ward & Luke Patten. 

NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week including the Rabbitohs v Cowboys clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.

Televised: Channel 9 – Live 7.30pm.

The Way We See It: If North Queensland find their best form, they are one side that can certainly knock Souths off their perch – but they haven’t given any real indication of that happening so far this season. Last week’s narrow win over battlers Parramatta won’t convince anyone that they have turned the corner just yet – even if they have now won two in a row – and with Souths having knocked over Manly and Brisbane in the past fortnight it’s hard to see them falling short in this one too. Rabbitohs by 12 points.

*Statistics: NRL Stats

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