Cometh the 80 minutes, cometh Sam Thaiday

Wayne Heming Columnist

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    Sam Thaiday is one of three current players who appeared in a classic Souths vs Broncos match in 2004. (AAP Image/Action Photographics/Colin Whelan)

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    For the second time in a matter of weeks Sam Thaiday faces the massive challenge of rescuing his side.

    This time though it’s his Brisbane Broncos side, and not Queensland leaning heavily on him to inspire a season-saving victory for the club and their worried fans.

    Thaiday produced a dynamic 40 minutes in Origin II at Suncorp Stadium last month, pummelling Blues’ five-eighth James Maloney with several fierce right-side runs.

    His aggression in the early exchanges and his try laid the platform for the 26-6 win, which sent the series into a decider and ultimately delivered coach Mal Meninga his eighth straight series victory since taking on the job in 2006.

    Brisbane need that kind of performance from Thaiday against North Queensland in Townsville tonight.

    Only this time, his prime target will be Queensland teammate and close friend, Johnathan Thurston.

    Thaiday’s return to his back-row, right-edge role means he’ll be gunning for Thurston who last month was exposed defensively by Canberra brute Josh Papalii, something a video-mad Griffin will have noted for this clash.

    Griffin wasn’t about to give away his tactics when it was suggested to him after training on Thursday that Thaiday could replicate Papalii’s tactics and go after JT.

    “Obviously Sam will be up against him but I doubt whether JT is going to be in a similar mood defensively as he was against the Raiders,” said the coach, who confirmed he’d lost prop Ben Hannant (calf) and would start up front with Josh McGuire and Mitchell Dodds.

    “He (Thurston) said publicly he was disappointed with the way he defended (against Papalii) that day.

    “They’re both going to be in on the same side of the field so he’s going to have to tackle Sam a few times but I’m not expecting anything less than his best game out of Johnathan Thurston when we play him.”

    Brisbane did a reasonably good job containing Thurston when they edged out the Cowboys 12-10 earlier this year. The emphasis will again be on limiting his impact and not getting sucked in by his trademark “show and go” play which still fools even the best defenders.

    “We did a pretty good job on him earlier this year and that’s all you can hope to do. He’s a wonderful player, one of the all-time greats,” said Griffin.

    “You have to make sure each time you are defending him, you’re wanting to tackle him and not ball watch on him.

    “We’ve done a lot of work on that this week and hopefully he doesn’t get too many chances.”

    An under-pressure Griffin has belatedly rolled the selection dice, dropping Parramatta-bound Corey Norman to the Queensland Cup and relegating former NSW Origin halfback Peter Wallace to his bench.

    He has pinned his faith in Ben Hunt to add some variety to the halves and Josh Hoffman, who has scored 14 tries on the wing, adding some attacking options from fullback.

    “Ben (Hunt) and Josh (Hoffman) are both fair players,” said Griffin, unconcerned the late changes could unsettle the side.

    “They’re not mugs, they’ve won a lot of games for us in those positions over the last few years.

    Giant youngster Corey “Instant” Oates has secured a spot on the wing, underlining Griffin’s faith in the teenager, who plays in the back-row, to handle the pressure job thrown at him.

    “He’s done everything asked of him,” said Griffin of the club’s brightest young prospect.

    “He’s a young kid who’s got a lot of class. We’re busted in the outside backs with four players on the sidelines.

    “His form and the predicament we’re in have led to us putting him there.

    “He wouldn’t be there if he hadn’t shown us the potential to play first grade.”

    The stakes are at a premium for both clubs tomorrow night, Brisbane struggling in 12th place and North Queensland 13th – both on 16 competition points and three wins out of the top eight with seven games to go until the finals.

    Win tomorrow night and you live to fight another day.

    Lose and start planning for your end-of-season trip and 2014.

    Both club’s seasons may already be over but mathematically they can still make the finals.

    “Everyone is going to lift when you’ve got two sides determined for a win. It’s not rocket science that it’s that time of the year where we need to get going,” said Griffin.

    Meanwhile, Griffin refused to confirm Norman had played his last NRL game for Brisbane before linking with the Eels next season.

    “That’s up to him. We’ve known he was going to Parramatta for a long time and he’s forms been pretty good,” he said.

    “I’ve made a judgement call that we’re better with Josh Hoffman there (fullback).

    “I’m not one to say to Corey ‘that’s it, you’re never going to play (for Brisbane) again’.

    “He’s signed with us until the end of the year and he could play again next week if it suits the team and his form is good.”