Before a ball was kicked in Season 2018, many had the Cowboys as premiership contenders and the Rabbitohs languishing down the bottom of the ladder. Instead, it's the Cowboys sitting in 14th position, while the Bunnies are being talked up as genuine title threats. This Saturday, it's desperation stakes for the Cowboys and they come up against a red-hot Bunnies side which has won five of their past six.
The hype is building in Redfern after the Rabbitohs disposed of the table-topping Dragons in a dominant performance last weekend. Many pundits have been quick to assert that Souths are the real deal in 2018 with Fox Sports' Mark Gasnier even declaring this roster better than the premiership winning side of 2014. While it may be a tad premature to anoint the Rabbitohs as premiership shoe-ins, that defeat of the Dragons has won plenty of admirers.
Things were looking up for the Cowboys after a dominant victory over the high-flying Panthers in Round 10 however, they came crashing back to reality with a flat performance against the Tigers at Leichhardt last Thursday. It's difficult to tell how much of that performance was the result of distraction caused by Scott Bolton's indecent assault charge and how much was purely a team down on confidence. In the wake of that loss, plenty called for coach Paul Green to make a brave call and drop under-performing stars but he's stuck solid with the exact same side from last week. What is it they say about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results...?
2017 - Round 5 - Cowboys 20 def. Rabbitohs 6 at 1300SMILES Stadium
2017 - Round 19 - Cowboys 23 def. Rabbitohs 10 at Barlow Park
2016 - Round 17 - Cowboys 20 def. Rabbitohs 0 at Barlow Park
2016 - Round 7 - Cowboys 44 def. Rabbitohs 18 at 1300SMILES Stadium
2015 - Round 23 - Rabbitohs 31 def. Cowboys 18 at 1300SMILES Stadium
It's not pretty reading for Rabbitohs fans with a solitary win in their past eight attempts against the Cowboys. Most of those defeats have been complete shutouts, headlined by a 26 point belting in Season 2016.
The Cowboys find themselves back at home after a two-week road trip from Bathurst to Leichhardt and it will come as welcome relief for a side that has endured the intense scrutiny of Sydney's league-mad media. Amazingly, the Cowboys haven't had to play the Rabbitohs in Sydney for the last three seasons, mostly thanks to the Souths' decision to play their annual Cairns fixture against the North Queensland side. For the Cowboys, their first mission is to improve their recent home record. They have just two wins at 1300SMILES Stadium this year - a far cry from the fortress that Townsville had become in seasons gone by.
|1||Lachlan Coote||Alex Johnston|
|2||Kyle Feldt||Campbell Graham|
|3||Justin O'Neill||Greg Inglis (C)|
|4||Ben Hampton||Dane Gagai|
|5||Antonio Winterstein||Hymel Hunt|
|6||Michael Morgan||Cody Walker|
|7||Johnathan Thurston (C)||Adam Reynolds|
|8||Matthew Scott (C)||Thomas Burgess|
|9||Jake Granville||Damien Cook|
|10||Scott Bolton||George Burgess|
|11||Gavin Cooper||John Sutton|
|12||Coen Hess||Angus Crichton|
|13||Jason Taumalolo||Sam Burgess|
|14||Te Maire Martin||Cameron Murray|
|15||Shaun Fensom||Adam Doueihi|
|16||Corey Jensen||Jason Clark|
|17||Ethan Lowe||Tevita Tatola|
|18||Francis Molo||Robbie Farah|
|19||Jake Clifford||Mark Nicholls|
|20||Javid Bowen||Braidon Burns|
|21||Enari Tuala||Kyle Turner|
The facts that matter
It's been a big fortnight for Souths hooker Damien Cook. The NSW number 9 jersey is a shootout between himself and Cameron McInnes and it was clear who won the points at ANZ Stadium on Sunday. Just weeks out from Game 1, the Blues hooking position is still far from decided and the number nine jersey is very much up for grabs.
If anything, it's Cooks versatility that puts him at a disadvantage. With his elusive speed, the crafty number nine can fill several positions and has spent time at halfback and fullback in lower grades. For this reason, McInnes probably gets the starting spot, with Cook playing a utility role off the bench. With Cameron Smith's shock retirement from representative football, Cook comes up against possible Queensland number nine - Jake Granville. If he can put in a good showing against Granville, then it may just be the perfect audition for the origin arena. Against a sizeable Cowboys pack that will tire late in the game, Cook gets no better chance to stake his claim.
The Cowboys are under severe pressure and no one is feeling that more than five-eighth Michael Morgan. Plenty had called for Morgan to be dropped this week, hoping that a demotion to QLD Cup would spark him into action and bring back some much-needed confidence. After leading the Cowboys to an unlikely Grand Final appearance last year, a future without Jonathan Thurston was looking bright. Unfortunately, an injury-riddled start to 2018 has crippled any momentum Morgan had and resulted in several sub-par performances. With Te Maire Martin breathing down his neck, Morgan will want to find form against Souths. If not, Paul Green may be forced to swing the axe.
It's also a big week for the entire Cowboys pack. Jason Taumalolo has been monumental in the past month, averaging over 180 metres in his past five games. This week he is racing the clock to be fit - struggling with an ankle injury that could rule him out just before kickoff. If he does take the field, Taumalolo will line up for his 150th NRL match. Here's hoping his fellow forwards have something special in-store for his milestone match. The Cowboys come up against the most dominant forward pack in the league in South Sydney. Off the back of a resurgent trio of Burgess brothers and with John Sutton and Angus Crichton finding form, the Bunnies lead the league in run metres (16,458m). It's ominous form and Matt Scott and co. have a huge task ahead of them to stop the Bunnies' momentum.
Usually, a game in Townsville provides the Cowboys with a significant boost, but given the way they've played at 1300SMILES Stadium this season, there's little to suggest that home-ground advantage helps the Cowboys' chances. For the Rabbitohs, they may be catching the Cowboys at just the right time. Coming off a disappointing loss and with external drama distracting players, the Cowboys could be ripe for the picking.
With the Rabbitohs potent left-side attack and Thurston slowly looking to recapture form, we could be in for plenty of tries come Saturday evening. This game is also a win-win for staunch monarchists who can catch the entire match before switching over to the Royal wedding on Saturday evening. Talk about perfect scheduling!
All jokes aside, the Bunnies look far too good based on current form and meet a Cowboys side down on confidence, and form. The Rabbitohs should be too good in this one - expect them to win by 14.
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