The Brisbane Broncos will have their hands full containing the “JT combo” in the derby against North Queensland on Friday night.
Trying to contain one “JT” is hard enough for Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin and his players.
But besides trying to limit the damage from mercurial Cowboys five-eighth Johnathan Thurston, the Broncos will also be out to stop 112kg wrecking-ball Jason Taumalolo in the Queensland derby at a packed Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.
Cowboys co-captain Thurston played a starring role in his side’s gutsy come-from-behind 28-22 win over Canberra last weekend, including a clever 60m solo try after a quick tap caught the Raiders napping.
New Zealand-born backrower Taumalolo churned out a massive 226m in his first 80-minute match at NRL level and the 20-year-old will look to terrorise Brisbane’s right-edge defence of Dale Copley, Matt Gillett and Lachlan Maranta on Friday night.
“He’s big and athletic and he backs himself with the football,” Griffin said about Taumalolo on the eve of the blockbuster.
“He hasn’t been around long but he’s certainly making an impact.
“Some of his runs against the Raiders were extremely powerful. It’s going to be a very tough task trying to contain him.”
Griffin’s warning applies even more to big-game player Thurston, who didn’t compete in the Auckland Nines last month when the Cowboys collected their first silverware with victory over the Broncos in the final.
The Broncos coach believes the NRL’s new rule changes have sped up the game considerably and will benefit classy playmakers such as Thurston.
“It will make him more dangerous,” Griffin said.
“It’s going to give all the ball-players more opportunity. Johnathan Thurston is obviously going to benefit from that.
“Over a long period he’s proven that he competes for 80 minutes. “And he can get you by the throat.
He’s got real good touch with his kicking game and he’s got good selection with his passing game.”
The rule changes include an extra tackle from 20m restarts for kicks that go dead and a crackdown on a third defender targeting the legs of a ball-carrier.
Fortunately, the Broncos have their own X-factor in prize recruit Ben Barba, who was outstanding in their win over against his old club Canterbury in round one.
“If you’re going to give him a lot of room then he’s quite an X-factor,” Cowboys assistant coach David Furner said on Thursday.
“There were a couple of chases by Canterbury where they allowed him a bit of space and if you do that, you’re going to be in all sorts of trouble.
“We’ve got a job to make sure we restrict those metres. The Broncos and North Queensland have named unchanged squads for the derby, which is split 4-all over the past eight clashes.”