North Queensland v Brisbane | Friday, September 16, 7.55pm (AEDT), 1300Smiles Stadium
Strap yourselves in for the most anticipated match of the season to date with only a field goal separating these sides in each of their past three meetings.
The Cowboys were full of effort but couldn’t find a way through Melbourne’s defensive wall. They now find themselves in a similar situation to last year with Michael Morgan quick to remind naysayers their circumstances haven’t really altered whereby they need to win three finals matches to secure the title.
That may be true at face value but there’s a perception they aren’t quite travelling as well as they were 12 months ago and it will take a big shift for them to defend their crown.
Kyle Feldt’s brain fade cost his side at a vital stage but Jonathan Thurston has backed the rugged winger to respond this week.
The premiers will have a raucous crowd egging them on and that should be music to the ears of player’s award winner Jason Taumololo with the Cowboys pack, who were soundly beaten last week, surely keen to atone here.
Brisbane saw off the Titans but it was a controversial match marred by several poor refereeing decisions in favour of the home side.
James Roberts isn’t the smartest tool in the shed and his reckless kick on Ryan Simpkins saw him rightly rubbed out at the judiciary midweek with Jonus Pearson set to take his place having originally been named as 18th man.
Not for the first time, the Broncos had a bust-up at training involving Josh McGuire who doesn’t seem to be able to save that ‘white-line fever’ for match day alone.
Historically, since the NRL reverted to its current finals model in 2012, teams losing the top 4 qualifying final have a 6/8 (75 per cent) record in week 2, suggesting a real propensity to bounce back quickly.
Also in the Cowboys’ favour is their strong record in Townsville this year with their only defeat coming at the hands of the Storm in a match where Thurston was unavailable.
The Premiers have won five of the last six meetings between the clubs in the far north.
The Broncos, however, have effectively had an extra two days to prepare, having played their first final at home and that may prove telling in the back end of what should be an extremely tight affair.
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Last time they met: Rd.11 – North Queensland 19-18 Brisbane
Tip: Brisbane at $2.80
Line tip: Brisbane +6.5
Cowboys: 1 Lachlan Coote 2 Kyle Feldt 3 Justin O’Neill 4 Javid Bowen 5 Antonio Winterstein 6 Michael Morgan 7 Johnathan Thurston 8 Matt Scott 9 Jake Granville 10 James Tamou 11 Gavin Cooper 12 Ethan Lowe 13 Jason Taumalolo Interchange: 14 Rory Kostjasyn 15 Coen Hess 16 Scott Bolton 17 Ben Hannant.
Broncos: 1 Darius Boyd 2 Corey Oates 3 Thomas Opacic 4 James Roberts 5 Jordan Kahu 6 Anthony Milford 7 Ben Hunt 8 Josh McGuire 9 Andrew McCullough 10 Adam Blair 11 Sam Thaiday 12 Matthew Gillett 13 Corey Parker Interchange: 14 Jarrod Wallace 15 Tevita Pangai 16 Jai Arrow 17 Alex Glenn 18 Jonus Pearson.