Cowboys halfback Johnathan Thurston attacks the Sea Eagles line earlier this year. Photo: Getty Images
Johnathan Thurston has crowned Manly as the game's best verbal provocateurs and expects a torrent of chatter when the Cowboys head to Sydney for their sudden-death final on Friday night.
And the bullish Cowboys captain said the only way his side could tumble out of the finals is if they beat themselves with a sub-par performance. Consider the stage set.
The Cowboys are purring after their clinical assassination of Brisbane in week one of the play-offs, taking their winning run to five games and giving them every reason to believe this could be their year.
With James Tamou and Matt Scott smashing down the door for Thurston and the brilliant Matt Bowen to begin their attack, defending premiers Manly will have their work cut out if they are to repeat last year's feat and send the Cowboys packing from the finals.
Thurston, no shrinking violet on the field himself, expects Manly's game plan to be as loud as it is physical. He said no side in the competition could talk it up like the Sea Eagles and expected nothing less at Allianz Stadium.
"From past experiences playing Manly, that's what they always do. They've got players there that always try and get under your skin. It's just how you handle it," Thurston said.
"You need to stay composed. There's a lot of things you need to do ... completion rate, not turning over the ball helps. If you get them coming out of their own end, that goes a long way to getting a result.
"They're always going to have players in there that have that niggle, when you've got the ball in your hands and when you don't. We'll be expecting that. That's what Manly's known to do and what they're known for.
"They're one of the best teams at getting under the other team's skin."
Manly belted North Queensland out of the attack this time last season. The Cowboys opened up an 8-0 lead before the Sea Eagles took flight to crush them 42-8 in a hiding that hasn't been quickly forgotten in Townsville.
That sort of lop-sided result doesn't appear to be on the cards this time. Even though they are on the road, the Cowboys are on a roll, extending to the flow of money with bookmakers who are seeing rapidly rising support for the northerners to not only beat Manly but win the premiership.
Thurston's enthusiasm for his team's cause had few bounds as he spoke to the media, saying only a backfiring effort could undo their hopes in 2012.
"No doubt it [last year's loss] still hurts a bit. But I have to say that we're in a much better position this year than last year," he said.
"We've had five wins on the trot so there's a lot of momentum behind us. The boys are confident and everyone's doing their job. When we're doing that, we're hard to beat.
"I think the only way we'll lose is if we're our own worst enemies. Our last five weeks have been great and we're building to something pretty special."
Thurston knows better than to discard a Manly side that loves playing with its back against the wall. Manly have more than enough game-changers of their own and won their last clash with the Cowboys 8-6, a round 22 encounter that represents the last time North Queensland lost.
And to further embolden Manly, the Cowboys' record in Sydney is terrible. They have triumphed in just one of their past 10 visits to the Harbour City.
"They're the premiers. You can't take them lightly," Thurston said. "The Bulldogs are a great team, you can't discard Melbourne as well. It's sudden-death football. The stakes are very high. (But) all we can focus on now is Manly."