Melbourne heads up to Townsville in a clash that shapes as crucial to their top two aspirations.
The third-placed Cowboys marked their emergence from the Origin period with a 36-0 smashing of the in-form Bulldogs last week.
That put an ominous warning out to the rest of the competition that the reigning premiers are a force to be reckoned with as we approach the business end of the year.
The only roadblock for them at this stage is a hamstring strain to Johnathan Thurston that is expected to see the star playmaker sidelined for Saturday night’s game.
The Round 10 game between these two teams was a cracking contest with a Cameron Smith field goal all that separated them.
Now they will lock horns once again up north in a heavyweight battle that is set to produce plenty of fireworks once again.
More than a one-man show
A couple of seasons ago if Johnathan Thurston was not in the line-up pundits would be scrambling to put a line through the Cowboys but that is not the case anymore. Last year’s premiership win proved that this team no longer relies solely on their No.7. The side named for Saturday night’s game still contains five Origin stars. Yes the lose of Thurston is a massive one but the Cowboys have plenty of quality to still throw at the Melbourne line.
The driving force behind the Cowboys’ success has been their potency in attack. Ranked number two in the NRL for tries and points scored, North Queensland have the tendency to blow sides away when they are clicking on all cylinders. The Cowboys have scored 30 or more points in eight games this year and you only need to look at last week’s dismantling of the Bulldogs as proof of the danger they pose with the football. Ranked number one for metres gained in the NRL, their forwards put them in good territory and they have the finishers on the outside to make the most of the opportunity provided by their clinical playmakers.
Staying in the contest
The key factor in Storm’s win over the Cowboys back in Round 10 was their ability to hang in the contest early. North Queensland hit the front early in that game and controlled the football up their end for almost the entire opening 20 minutes. However Melbourne were able to hang firm against the NRL’s best attack before hitting back with two tries of their own. That same resilience will be needed this Saturday night if Melbourne are to return home with the points.