Match: Cowboys v Rabbitohs
Round 11 -
Venue: 1300SMILES Stadium
In the last decade the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys have dominated South Sydney in Townsville, but the 2018 version of the Rabbitohs may not be so easily tamed.
Since the start of the 2009 season, the Cowboys have dropped just one game to the Rabbitohs on their home turf, which ironically came late in the club's 2015-premiership winning season – a 31-18 defeat in Round 23.
Aside from that blemish the Cowboys have proved harsh hosts when South Sydney comes to town.
The previous two encounters between the two sides have ended in resounding North Queensland victories including a 20-6 triumph in Round 5 last season.
But this time South Sydney arrive in Townsville as one of the hottest teams in the competition, winning four of their past five games, including a 24-10 demolition of competition leaders St George last weekend.
The Cowboys return to 1300SMILES Stadium following a two-game road trip which resulted in a gutsy 26-20 victory over the Panthers in Bathurst and a tight 20-12 loss to the Wests Tigers in Sydney.
There will be no shortage of mouth-watering individual showdowns when the two sides run on to 1300SMILES Stadium on Saturday evening, but it's the clash of rugby league's two premier No.13s which is the clear standout.
Boasting three of the last four Dally M Lock of the Year awards between them, Jason Taumalolo and Sam Burgess are firmly established as two of the most damaging forwards in rugby league.
Taumalolo has returned to his destructive best in the last month and is once again entrenched inside the top 10 for a number of major stats.
His 1,636 running metres ranks fifth in the NRL, while his 663 post-contact metres are second in the competition, trailing only the Bulldogs David Klemmer.
Burgess has missed four of the first 10 games in 2018 through suspension, but when on the field the Englishman has been in some of the best form of his career.
The Rabbitohs lock is averaging a huge 159 running metres, three tackle-breaks and 32 tackles a game this season.
In partnership with brothers George and Thomas, Burgess has helped transform the Rabbitohs pack into one of the most feared in the NRL.
"The Bunnies have been playing well off the back of the three Burgess brothers so we'll have our hands full on Saturday night," Taumalolo said.
"If we are going to be any chance of winning, those three are going to be key indicators for them that we need to minimise."
Green waiting on fitness for final 17
Cowboys head coach Paul Green echoed those sentiments in his Friday press conference.
"[South Sydney] roll through the middle really well, so we're expecting a pretty tough forward battle and then they have some pretty slick outside backs on the end of that," he said.
"We're expecting a really good battle through the middle part of the field."
Saturday's encounter is the first of two meetings between the sides within a six-week period, with another clash scheduled for Round 16 at Barlow Park in Cairns.