Fri 31 March 2017
1300SMILES Stadium

Debbie no issue as Cowboys look to keep pace with frontrunners.

Both sides have put in some patchy performances this season - North Queensland with a 3-1 record after four rounds despite losing a host of players to injury and suspension, while the Rabbitohs sit at 2-2 after losing Greg Inglis in the opening round and batting above their average in subsequent matches, before being outplayed soundly by the Roosters last round.

The news is good for the hosts - with Cyclone Debbie now moving on to trouble their southern neighbours, they take centre stage on Friday night football for once and also welcome back Jason Taumalolo from suspension, as well as Lachlan Coote from injury. It's their third home game of the season and they'll be keen to improve on their awful display against Manly a fortnight ago - the two returnees will be key to getting that result.

South Sydney are a different kettle of fish. Their side is largely the same last week to this - the only omission being Sitiveni Moceidreke after Braidon Burns' return from suspension. This consistency in the side along with an uninterrupted preparation (the Cowboys' training sessions have been severely limited by Debbie's impact) means the Bunnies will be better prepared for this one.

Last meeting: Round 17 2016 - Rabbitohs 0 Cowboys 20

With the Cowboys' struggles across their first decade, the ledger between these two sides is fairly even as a result. Over 30 games the Townsville club has a slender 15 wins to 14 advantage with one draw in the 22 years since the Cowboys' admission. Lately it's been one-way traffic for the Cowboys, winning 6 of 8 contests dating back to 2013.

The record at 1300SMILES (Malanda, Stockland, Dairy Farmers, Willows...) is similarly balanced at 8-7 in the Cowboys' favour over 15 contests.

Who to watch: Paul Green. Normally we pick a player here but plenty of the Cowboys' issue to overcome this week will centre around mental preparation. Green's ability as coach isn't in question after leading the blue+grey to a premiership just 18 months ago, but after the week the Townsville folk have had - not just the club but the community - getting his charges up to the task despite the interrupted preparation will be a huge element, not to mention how good a win could be for morale in the region.

In four games as a Rabbitoh, former Tiger Robbie Farah has been solid without being spectacular. If the Bunnies are going to surprise the critics, he's key to their performances. So far he's been fairly regularly outshone by his bench replacement Damien Cook. If he doesn't take the game by the scruff of the neck he could find himself benched by the time Good Friday comes around - just in time to pit Cook against his former club Canterbury.

The favourite: Better form and home advantage have the Cowboys comfortably backed in this one.

My tip: Even without a full week's training under their belt it's difficult to see North Queensland losing this one. They'll keep the pressure on the Roosters and Storm with an entertaining win. Cowboys by 16.

1. Lachlan Coote 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Javid Bowen 4. Kane Linnett 5. Gideon Gela-Mosby 6. Michael Morgan 7. Johnathan Thurston 8. Patrick Kaufusi 9. Jake Granville 10. Scott Bolton 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Ethan Lowe 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Ben Hampton 15. John Asiata 16. Coen Hess 17. Shaun Fensom 18. Sam Hoare 19. Kalyn Ponga

1. Alex Johnston 2. Braidon Burns 3. Robert Jennings 4. Siosifa Talakai 5. Bryson Goodwin 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Thomas Burgess 9. Robbie Farah 10. Jason Clark 11. John Sutton 12. Kyle Turner 13. Sam Burgess 14. Damien Cook 15. Angus Crichton 16. Zane Musgrove 17. Robbie Rochow 19. Anthony Cherrington 21. Tyrell Fuimaono

Referees: Gavin Badger, Jon Stone; Sideline Officials: Michael Wise, Nick Morel; Video Referees: Luke Patten, Jared Maxwell;