South Sydney coach Michael Maguire knows the secret to nullifying Johnathan Thurston ain’t rocket science.
You stop North Queensland’s powerhouse pack first – and that’s exactly the assignment Maguire has set the Rabbitohs ahead of Monday night’s heavyweight NRL showdown at ANZ Stadium.
Thurston’s magic has helped the Cowboys bounce back from three straight defeats to open the season with back-to-back wins over much-fancied Melbourne and Penrith.
But while the four-time Dally M Medallist has gained all the accolades for slotting the golden-point winner against the Storm and setting up all five tries against the Panthers, Maguire knows Thurston can’t do it on his own.
“Everyone knows what they’ve got up front and when they’re rolling forward, if teams allow that, then JT fires off the back of that,” Maguire said.
“He’s a quality player, Johnathan. He can come up with some great kicks, he finds the ability to get quick play-the-balls from attack. He’s just a competitor.”
Maguire’s theory is simple enough.
But stopping the likes of James Tamou, Matt Scott and one-man wrecking ball Jason Taumalolo is easier said than done.
Taumalolo says the Cowboys pack is pumped for the challenge of taking on the premiers.
“We’ve got to go out there, accept the challenge and come away with the win,” he said.
“They’re the benchmark in the competition in terms of their forward pack and on Monday night the boys will go out there and prove that we’re one of the best forward packs in the game ourselves.”
Taumalolo is particularly excited about the prospect of clashing with best mate and Cowboys graduate Chris Grevsmuhl, who has been a revelation since signing for the Rabbitohs.
“Playing ‘Gres’ for the first time in different colours is probably right up there as one of the things I’ve been looking forward to this upcoming season,” he said.
“Chris has been going well at South Sydney and I wish him all the best, but Monday night I put that aside and it’s a game of footy.”
The Rabbitohs had been hoping to have John Sutton back for the blockbuster, but he was scratched on Saturday after further scans revealed his broken jaw had not quite healed.
“He’ll probably need another week there, so it’s given us some good sort of thoughts moving forward and where we go,” Maguire said.
The coach isn’t dismissing the possibility that champion fullback Greg Inglis could slot into five-eighth, a position the Test star won a Clive Churchill Medal playing for the Storm.
“GI is one possibility,” Maguire said.
“GI’s won a few awards in that position before so I’m sure he’ll pop up at some stage.”