They haven’t met since May but something is going to have to give in the NRL’s top four over the next month.
Brisbane, North Queensland, the Sydney Roosters and South Sydney have all emerged as the best teams in the land heading into the finals.
But amazingly none of the top four have met since the Cowboys defeat of the Broncos at the start of round 10 – three months ago.
Over the four weeks there are four matches which will all be top-four clashes, and potentially defining ones in the finals make-up.
Fourth-placed Souths must play all three of their top four rivals in the final four rounds.
In contrast, the Cowboys’ clash with the Rabbitohs in round 23 is the only time Paul Green’s men face a top four rival before September.
So far this year Brisbane has a two-win, two-loss record against the other teams in the top four, losing to the Rabbitohs and Cowboys on the road but beating the Roosters and Cowboys at home.
Back-to-back road trips to take on the Roosters and Rabbitohs in Sydney in rounds 24 and 25 could go a long way to determining if the Broncos can claim a first minor premiership since 2000.
Any slip ups in those matches and it could be their northern rivals benefiting, though Cowboys skipper Johnathan Thurston says plenty of challenges lie ahead for his team.
“We’ve got a tough one against the Sharkies who are probably the form team of the competition,” Thurston told AAP.
“We’ve got a tough month coming up but it’s a good opportunity to see where we’re at as a side both mentally and physically.
“This time of the year you want to come up against good quality sides and it doesn’t get any bigger over the next three weeks than playing against those types of teams.”
South Sydney coach Michael Maguire isn’t fazed about his team’s daunting run home, saying the NRL has proven time and again any team is capable of winning regardless of their ladder positions.
“There were results on the weekend that make you think `how did that happen?’,” Maguire said.
“For us every game is another that we’ve got to go in and be at our best.”
The Roosters are arguably the most in-form team in the competition heading into the final month of the regular season.
The 2013 premiers have won 10 of their past 11, including a seven-match unbeaten streak heading into this weekend’s clash with bottom-of-the-ladder Newcastle.
In terms of top-four clashes, the Roosters play Brisbane and South Sydney, both at home.
Roosters backrower Aidan Guerra says despite their good form, nothing is guaranteed.
“As a club we are under no illusions that we are unbeatable,” Guerra said.
“We have been playing some good football, but that is something that needs to continue going into the finals.
“We know there are still five games left in the comp and then finals after that so there is room to improve and time to do it.”
FINALS BEFORE THE FINALS – Upcoming clashes between the NRL’s top four:
* Round 23 – North Queensland v South Sydney, Townsville
* Round 24 – Sydney Roosters v Brisbane, Allianz Stadium
* Round 25 – South Sydney v Brisbane, Allianz Stadium
* Round 26 – Sydney Roosters v South Sydney, Allianz Stadium