North Queensland co-captain Matt Scott fully expects Newcastle’s defence to again target Johnathan Thurston in this weekend’s fiery rematch.
The difference this time is that the Cowboys’ powerhouse forwards will have his back.
The Knights’ boundary-pushing defensive tactics on Thurston last month in Townsville sparked uproar in rugby league circles, after Beau Scott escaped penalty for his controversial lifting tackle on the prized playmaker.
During the same game, Scott hit Thurston without the ball and gave him a black eye in what Knights legend Andrew Johns described as a “cheap shot”.
This Saturday’s Anzac Day blockbuster at Hunter Stadium has been slated as an explosive grudge match, with young hooker Jake Granville this week pledging revenge.
Scott stopped short of talking vengeance, but said he has no doubt Thurston will again be a bullseye for the Cowboys’ southern counterparts.
“Obviously with what happened with Johnno we expect them to target him again as every club does,” the prop said on Tuesday.
“Every team looks to put pressure on our half. The form he’s in too they’ll be looking to pay some special attention there.”
North Queensland have improved dramatically since their round-two loss at home, bouncing back with consecutive wins over ladder leaders Melbourne, Penrith, premiers South Sydney and the Warriors last weekend.
Scott hoped the rediscovery of their blistering form will put the team in a better position to protect the four-time Dally M Medallist if any dubious hits come his way.
“I think we’re certainly playing better footy, we’re defending a lot better which obviously makes it a lot harder to get to Johnathan,” Scott said.
“But it’s quite hard as a forward pack to try and protect him out on the edge there. Hopefully he’s learnt a few ways that he can look after himself.”
Scott said he won’t be asking forwards, such as prop James Tamou and one-man wrecking ball Jason Taumalolo, to tone down their aggression come Saturday.
“That’s a big part of why we’ve been winning games lately so we can’t take away from that.
“We’ll be looking to keep that aggression but still staying in our structures and our defensive patterns.
“We’ve certainly got to play smart, but play aggressive as well.”