South Sydney Rabbitohs v North Queensland Cowboys
League fans around the country are sweating on the final decision of South Sydney coach Michael Maguire this week.
The Bunnies taskmaster has named John Sutton to replace injured halfback Adam Reynolds after a knee injury suffered last week against the Bulldogs, but rumours are rife of a Greg Inglis shift to the halves, making room for Alex Johnston to play his preferred fullback position.
This would pit the game's two preeminent players – Inglis and Johnathan Thurston – directly against each other as they go set for set up the middle.
Until three weeks ago the Rabbits were every bit 'the team that has forgotten how to lose', dominating every challenge before them since September. Since then their trademark muscle up the middle has lost its bite, while the Cowboys are fast gearing up after taking three and a half games this season to get the motor running.
As it stands, the Rabbits will run on with Sutton at five-eighth after a miraculous return from a broken jaw suffered in Round 2, while Luke Keary shifts to halfback. George Burgess is free to play after successfully beating a dangerous contact charge at the judiciary. As expected after two straight wins, the Cowboys will go in unchanged. Glenn Hall is a possible inclusion, named at 18th man.
Watch Out Rabbitohs: The Cowboys are back in a big way thanks to the men up front. The trio of Matt Scott, James Tamou and Jason Taumalolo worked Penrith into the ground on both sides of the ball with an extraordinary 583 run metres and just two missed tackles between them. The middle is a lot harder to contain when James Tamou is involved. Boasting 183 run metres and 29 tackles last week, he took a load off Scott and Taumalolo who responded with their best performances of the season.
Watch Out Cowboys: Seldom do we see Souths' pack outmuscled the way they were against the Bulldogs on Good Friday. Minus hooker Issac Luke in the second half, the Rabbits withstood a barrage of field position and still managed a come-from-behind win on the back of a good kicking game and invaluable carries from outside backs. With Luke recovered and ready to go, look for the sting to return to a more organised Rabbitohs pack led by George Burgess and Dave Tyrrell.
Key Match-Up: Luke Keary v Johnathan Thurston. Whoever Maguire chooses to partner Keary in the halves, it will be up to the 23-year-old to run the show. With his name floated around in Origin talks, there is no better measuring stick for Keary than the incumbent Maroons playmaker Thurston. Thurston himself is back to his best after leading the Cowboys to victories in the past two weeks.
The History: Played 26; Rabbitohs 13, Cowboys 12, 1 drawn. There is something about this match-up that brings out the best in recent North Queensland sides. They have taken the two points in the past three meetings between the teams; however in the nine games previous – between 2007 and 2013 – the Rabbits took the W in all but one.
What Are The Odds: Rabbitohs ($1.75) v Cowboys ($2.08). Sportsbet punters have invested 60 per cent more money on the Cowboys in head-to-head betting. Nearly all the bets in handicap betting have been with North Queensland, who've been given 2.0 points start.
Match Officials: Referee – Adam Devcich; Assistant Referee – Allan Shortall; Touch Judges – Russell Turner & Jess Younis; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Steve Folkes
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 7pm
The Way We See it: For all the talk of a Cowboys season in dire straits after less than a month of football, they could find themselves on equal footing with the top eight with a win on Monday night. The loss of Adam Reynolds is a game-changer for Souths and will force players to line up in positions they otherwise wouldn't. There is no doubt the Rabbitohs will adjust but one week may not be enough time for combinations to gel. Cowboys by six.