Melbourne skipper Cameron Smith has anointed teammate Jesse Bromwich as the NRL’s No.1 forward, but admits North Queensland’s Jason Taumalolo isn’t far behind.
Bromwich and Taumalolo will go head-to-head at AAMI Park on Saturday night when minor premiers Storm host defending premiers the Cowboys in a qualifying final.
Smith said the clash up front between the Kiwis internationals would go a long way towards deciding who would progress straight through to the preliminary final.
“I would like to think our front-rower Jesse Bromwich is leading the way there as the game’s best forward,” Smith said.
“He has had another fantastic season Jesse. But Jason is a great player too and he had another great game on the weekend.
“Jason has been one of the best performers as a forward over the past two seasons.
“We all know he is a key component to the Cowboys success.
“(Johnathan) Thurston, (Lachlan) Coote and (Michael) Morgan all rely heavily on their forward pack, particularly Jason, to get some momentum for them to play some footy off the back off and we are well aware of that.”
North Queensland beat Melbourne at AAMI Park in the preliminary final last year on their way to their maiden title.
Taumalolo was key in that triumph and will be crucial again this year to the premiers’ chances of becoming the first side to win back-to-back titles since Brisbane in 1992-93.
Smith knows Taumalolo’s influence on Saturday can only be curtailed so much.
“You are not going to take Jason Taumalolo out of the game,” Smith said
“He is that good a player, you just have to reduce the impact that he does have.”