Cowboys' metre men may have Sharks' measure
RUGBY LEAGUE: Paul Gallen has faced numerous challenges during his 15 seasons of rugby league.
But even the New South Wales Origin captain and Australian hard man would admit they don't come much bigger than stopping young North Queensland bull Jason Taumalolo in this weekend's preliminary final.
Taumalolo and his young teammate Coen Hess were outstanding performers in last Friday night's memorable battle with Brisbane in Townsville, which Immortal Andrew Johns described as the "best game” he had ever seen.
Taumalolo ploughed through an incredible 265m against the Broncos.
Hess, from Bundaberg, was the third-highest metre-maker with close to 200m, behind Taumalolo and Brisbane fullback Darius Boyd, who ran for 228m.
With Australian props Matt Scott and James Tamou taking the "dirty” hit-ups, Taumalolo and Hess were able to take turns steaming on to the ball at pace, with their exceptional footwork at the line and athleticism making them very difficult to contain.
A look at the stats from Friday night's clash tells the tale as to why Brisbane's defence was out on its feet when Johnathan Thurston conjured up the game-winning try in extra time with a lovely flick pass to Michael Morgan.
The Cowboys pack punched out 894m in a game played at State of Origin-type intensity - Taumalolo and Hess making more than half of those metres between them (453m).
Brisbane, which boasted five representative stars, didn't shirk the hard stuff but with only 537 running metres, it clearly had to do a lot more defensive work and it told in the extra-time period.
Taumalolo is the player on the tip of everyone's tongue.
Scouted by the Cowboys as a 13-year-old, he was the youngest player, at 17 years, two months and 21 days, to make his debut for North Queensland.
His rapid rise in the ranks was completed this year after he was named the NRL's Players' Player of the Year - a prestigious honour afforded to teammate Thurston for the previous three years.
However, a few days after winning the award, he was left red-faced after making headlines for his part in "Egg-gate” when bombing cars with a few young teammates.
The bad press clearly affected his form against Melbourne in the qualifying final.
But he bounced back with his best game of the season against the Broncos with a man-of-the-match effort.
Gallen and his pack have a massive mountain to climb against North Queensland to claim a spot in next month's NRL grand final against either Melbourne or Canberra.
It starts with stopping the likes of Taumalolo, Scott and Tamou, which will require an 80-minute defensive effort, maybe even longer with extra time.
This is the third time these two teams have met in a final.
Last year the Cowboys blew Cronulla off the park 39-0 in Townsville while the Sharks bundled the Cowboys out of the 2013 finals series with a highly controversial seventh-tackle try to Beau Ryan.