Match preview: Cowboys v Rabbitohs

THEY’RE BACK

The North Queensland Toyota Cowboys’ early-season injury woes are starting to turn the corner as the team welcomes back one of its wounded in Friday night’s Round 5 blockbuster against the South Sydney Rabbitohs.

In a battle of the 2014 and 2015 premiers, the game shapes as a real season-definer for both teams – the 3-1 Cowboys can really entrench themselves in the top four with a second home win of the year, while the 1-3 Bunnies won’t want to slide any further down the ladder.

To that end, the Cowboys welcome back regular custodian Lachlan Coote, the savvy fullback having spent a fortnight on the sidelines with a calf tear.

Coote was some chance of being right last weekend, but Cowboys medical staff erred on the side of caution so early in the 2017 NRL campaign.

Joining Coote back in the 17 will be barnstorming lock Jason Taumalolo, the human wrecking ball having served a two-match suspension after being found guilty of a shoulder charge in the round 2 win over the Broncos.

Having Taumalolo back means that fellow young behemoth Coen Hess returns to the interchange bench, with Sam Hoare the non-playing 18th man.

THUMPING GOOD NEWS

The Cowboys will be buoyed by the news that talismanic co-captain Matt Scott will remain at the club for the rest of his NRL career after agreeing to a two-year extension this week.

Although not playing at the moment due to injury, Scott’s influence on the playing group is profound.

He revealed this week that he will spend the remainder of the season as an extra voice at review sessions, passing on his observations and experience to the club’s young forwards.

HALVES BATTLE

The Cowboys’ six and seven combination of Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan have 402 NRL games between them, as compared to 140 between Souths’ halves duo Adam Reynolds and Cody Walker.

While JT and Morgan have the edge with time on the paddock, the Bunnies pairing is highly skilled, with Reynolds’s organisational skills and kicking game set to move the Cowboys big pack around the park.

Look for the Cowboys to target Walker in defence on the edges, while the home side’s halves will need to substantially improve their kicking game from their last home performance against the Manly Sea Eagles.

GIDDY INTRODUCTION

Torres Strait product Gideon Gela-Mosby will continue on his fledgling NRL journey on Friday when he plays his second game after an impressive debut against the Titans.

The 20-year-old flyer scored a try on debut, a nice finishing effort showcasing his trademark acceleration and evasiveness.

He’ll again be playing outside another impressive youngster in Javid Bowen, who turned 24 this week.

On the other flank, Kyle Feldt will be looking for atonement after a couple of late errors against the Gold Coast, while veteran centre Kane Linnett will need to show his usual grit and reliability in defence against Souths’ young, quick outside backs.

HESS AT HIS BEST

Gela-Mosby’s former under-20s skipper Coen Hess has started 2017 off strongly and swung the Titans match in his side’s favour with two powerful tries.

Although his NRL career is just 13 games old, Hess has developed into a try-scoring machine, crossing nine times for an early strike rate most wingers would be proud of. A modern-day Steve Menzies perhaps?

STATS WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT

  • North Queensland captain Johnathan Thurston requires 12 points to reach 2,000 points for the Cowboys. He would become only the fourth player (after Hazem El Masri, Andrew Johns and Cameron Smith) to score 2,000 points for a single club. Earlier this season, Thurston passed 2,000 points in the NRL, acknowledging his time at the Bulldogs early in his career.

  • Courtesy of three close wins and a blowout loss, the Cowboys have a negative points differential (-11) despite sitting in the top four on the NRL ladder.

  • Seven teams with less competition points than the Cowboys have better points differentials, including the 10th-placed Bunnies (-4).

  • Head to head between the sides, the Cowboys have a narrow 15-14 edge, with one game drawn. In Townsville, NQ shade the Rabbitohs 8-7. In recent times, the Cowboys have won six of the past eight, including 44-18 and 20-0 victories last year.

  • Biggest head-to-head win: Cowboys def Rabbitohs 60-8 in Townsville in 2003; Rabbitohs def Cowboys 32-4 in Sydney in 2010.

FINAL THOUGHT

Look for the first clash between Taumalolo and Rabbitohs skipper Sam Burgess. It’ll be bone-rattling!