Brisbane Broncos vs North Queensland Cowboys: Lineups, preview & prediction

Suncorp Stadium, Friday 16th March, 8.05pm (AEDT).


Overview

The great Queensland derby; what a sight it often is to behold.  Even when one team is clearly better on paper or perhaps in far better form, you can never be sure of the result between these two teams.

This is illustrated best by the fact that so many of their recent meetings have gone right down to the wire, with neither team able to string together a streak of victories against the other (of the last 5 fixtures, the Cowboys have won 3 and the Broncos 2).

Each side lifts for this fixture, which we are lucky enough to see twice a season.  The intensity shares more in common with State of Origin than it does with a regular NRL fixture.  The crowd knows this, with a capacity crowd expected to brave the possibly terrible conditions at Suncorp to witness what may be yet another classic encounter between Big and Little Brother.  

According to most punters, you’d assume the Cowboys will have favouritism coming into this match.  They looked good in defeating the Sharks last week and with the chance of Michael Morgan returning, you’d be hard-pressed finding a genuine reason to tip the Broncos, who were frankly the worst team of Round 1 in their capitulation against the Dragons.

But, we know better than that.  We know that the Broncos won’t be that bad two weeks in a row.  We know that despite the Cowboys having a first round win, that their opponents were particularly bad in patches and the Cowboys were far from perfect.  We know the history between these clubs, leading to several games decided by Golden Point, not least the 2015 Grand Final. We know how dangerous the Broncos are at home.  We should expect another close encounter.

Recent meetings

2017 – Rd 26 – Broncos won 20-10 at 1300SMILES Stadium

2017 – Rd 2 – Cowboys won 21-20 at Suncorp Stadium

2016 – SF – Cowboys won 26-20 at 1300SMILES Stadium

2016 – Rd 11 – Cowboys won 19-18 at 1300SMILES Stadium

2016 – Rd 4 – Broncos won 21-20 at Suncorp Stadium

As mentioned above, no team has staked any dominance over recent history.  Each game, barring the most recent one, has been decided in the dying stages and it may prove foolish to assume that either team will run away with it on this occasion.

Selected teams

Brisbane BroncosNorth Queensland Cowboys
1.Darius Boyd (c)Ben Hampton
2.Corey OatesKyle Feldt
3.James RobertsJustin O’Neill
4.Jordan KahuJavid Bowen
5.Jamayne IsaakoAntonio Winterstein
6.Anthony MilfordTe Maire Martin
7.Kodi NikorimaJohnathan Thurston (c)
8.Player Name RedactedMatt Scott (c)
9.Andrew McCulloughJake Granville
10.Tevita Pangai Jr.Jordan McLean
11.Alex GlennGavin Cooper
12.Matt GillettEthan Lowe
13.Josh McGuireJason Taumalolo
Interchange
14.Sam ThaidayJohn Asiata
15.Joe OfahengaueCoen Hess
16.Korbin SimsScott Bolton
17.Tom OpacicCorey Jensen
Reserves
18.Todd MurphyKyle Laybutt
19.Sam TagataeseMichael Morgan
20.Jonus PearsonFrancis Molo
21.George FaiEnari Tuala

The facts that matter

Brisbane Broncos

Wayne Bennett would have had so much steam pouring from his ears last week that it may have forced him to say as many as 3 words after the match.  He probably (almost certainly) apologised later for being so talkative!

There are concerns about the amount of responsibility that now rests on the shoulders of Anthony Milford, and whether he is up to being a chief playmaker.  We know that he’s a sublime talent when running the football, but whether he has the footballing nous to lead a team to premiership contention remains to be seen. Early signs are that he doesn’t. Despite his standing in the game, Darius Boyd is not a playmaker, while Kodi Nikorima is also more of a running half. Andrew McCullough has some influence from hooker, but not enough to aid Milford.  How costly it has proven that the Broncos didn’t manage to secure the signature of Ash Taylor.

In saying that, though, Broncos fans are quick to point out that this spine worked well for much of last season, driving the Broncos into the Final 4 before meekly bowing out to the eventual premiers.  Well, that’s because of the strength of their defence!  That defence that has repeatedly turned away attacking raids for seasons was left in tatters by the attacking threats of Widdop and Ben Hunt last Thursday.

You can bet your bottom dollar that defence was the top priority at training this week, with the entire squad well aware of the might of the Cowboys forward pack and the threat posed by the likes of Thurston if he is allowed any room to move.

In team news, Jayden Su’a is out through suspension, with Tom Opacic taking his place on the interchange bench.  Given that Opacic is mostly a backline player, could he be used in the back row, or are we about to see Corey Oates spend time there, with Opacic moving into the centres and Kahu to the wing?  Watch this space.

North Queensland Cowboys

The Cowboys will be glad they managed to win their first game of the season, particularly considering the calibre of their opponents and the fact it was a milestone game for Thurston.  But the moment the players retired to the dressing room, their attention would have turned to defeating the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium this Friday night.

The Cowboys have named an unchanged 17 to take on this task, with Michael Morgan named in the reserves and reportedly racing the clock to be fit in time for the match.  In this writer’s opinion, if he’s not close to full fitness then he should take another week off; Te Maire Martin is manning his post just fine.

The Cowboys will be buoyed by the first round form of Jake Granville, who gave good service from dummy half and did a tonne of defensive work around the middle, but was also instrumental in setting up close-range tries against the Sharks.  While Thurston works his way back to full-fitness, expect Granville to continue to take a lion’s share of responsibility in attack, particularly this week to keep the big Broncos middle forwards on high alert.

A key area that the Cowboys have an advantage (apart from possessing the best player in the world) is in the forwards.  With an All-Star middle of Matt Scott, Jordan McLean and Jason Taumalolo, the Cowboys will look to start the game on the front foot, giving Thurston and Granville the field position to do some real damage.

Prediction

This writer will admit to some Cowboys bias, but on form and on paper it’s simply impossible to ignore their favouritism.  I certainly expect a much improved effort from both teams and that this match should go down to the wire, so I’ll tip the Cowboys by 6.

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