North Queensland Cowboys vs Brisbane Broncos: Lineups, preview and predictions

1300SMILES Stadium, Thursday 5th August, 7:50pm AEST


Overview

Round 22 kicks off with a cracker of a match, in which the Cowboys return home to host their biggest rivals, the Broncos. This match will be the 50th installment of their matches, known as the Queensland Derby. Over the last decade or so, this rivalry has had no shortage of matches for the ages, and with the stakes being very high here, it will be of no surprise if this match ends up as another classic between the sides. 

The Cowboys come into this match on the back of a narrow 26-20 loss to the 3rd placed Roosters in Sydney. Although they fell short, the Cows displayed no shortage of character, as they nearly forced the match into golden point after finding themselves 26-8 down in the 2nd half. They will undoubtedly take plenty of heart from that match, knowing that they are more than capable of giving the best a massive run for their money. As such, Paul Green will be doing his best to ensure that his troops submit a similar performance, without the lapses in concentration, in order to claim a crucial derby victory. 

The Broncos are also coming off a loss in Sydney, however, it was to the Bulldogs 36-22. In contrast to the Cowboys, the Broncos were very disappointing in their loss, as they fell away badly in the 2nd half, after working their way back in the match in the opening half. The final scoreline was very flattering for the Bronx, as they scored a couple of late tries to add some respectability to the final score. Given the astuteness of coach Wayne Bennett, he will be demanding massive improvements from his players, especially with the finals only a month away. 

It’s a real shame that only one of these teams is likely to see finals action this season, as they have produced some real classics over the last few years in finals matches. However, there is still a significant amount at stake, with the Cowboys desperate to avoid the wooden spoon, and the Broncos still yet to officially seal a finals berth. Moreover, some stalwarts from each side (Johnathan Thurston of the Cowboys, and Sam Thaiday of the Broncos) will be playing in their final ever Queensland Derby, as they will retire at season’s end. As such, the said players will be as eager as ever to help their respective sides to victory in this passion-filled fixture.

Recent meetings 

2018 – Round 2 – Brisbane Broncos 24 def. North Queensland Cowboys 20 at Suncorp Stadium. 

2017 – Round 26 – Brisbane Broncos 20 def. North Queensland Cowboys 10 at 1300SMILES Stadium. 

2017 – Round 2 – North Queensland Cowboys 21 def. Brisbane Broncos 20 at Suncorp Stadium. 

2016 – Semi Final – North Queensland Cowboys 26 def. Brisbane Broncos at 1300SMILES Stadium. 

2016 – Round 11 – North Queensland Cowboys 19 def. Brisbane Broncos 18 at 1300SMILES Stadium. 

As you can see, the Cowboys have won 3 of the last 5 meetings with the team they call big brother. The matches with the Broncos have been incredibly close, with the margin only reaching double figures in 3 of the last 10 matches. However, the overall record between the two teams is in favour of the Broncos, who have won 32 of the 49 matches with little brother. The Cowboys have won 15 of their matches with big brother, while 2 drawn matches in 1997 and 1999 occurred between the pair. The only reason why the ledger is heavily in favour of the Bronx is that they dominated their encounters in the first decade (1995-2004), winning all but 2 of their matches with the Cowboys. It was only in the 2004 semi-final when the Cows finally broke through for their maiden victory over the Broncos did they start defeating big brother on a more consistent basis. 

Despite the overall dominance of the Broncos, it is the Cowboys who have won the matches which are of greater significance, as they have an imposing record over the Broncos in finals matches. For all the torment the Broncos have inflicted on little brother, the Cowboys have eliminated big brother in their finals encounters in 2004, 2012, 2014 and 2016, all of which were played in Townsville. The Bronx May have won their qualifying final against the Cowboys in 2015, however, that year is best remembered for the classic of a grand final between the 2 sides. The Broncos were leading 16-12 when Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt scored a match-tying try in the dying seconds. Johnathan Thurston’s conversion attempt cannoned off the goalpost, meaning the match would proceed to golden point. The then Broncos halfback Ben Hunt spilled the kick-off, to hand an opportunity to the Cows, who wasted little time in kicking the match-winning field goal, through JT. 

As such, for all the Broncos’ success in grand finals, they are still hurting from that loss and are yet to fully atone for their loss. Moreover, not only did the Cows claim their maiden premiership, but their coach Paul Green, who had worked as an assistant coach under Wayne Bennett, had outfoxed his former mentor in a grand final. For all the torment that Cowboys fans have had to endure from Broncos fans in the early years of their existence, they can most certainly remind them of the 2015 grand final. 

Selected teams

North Queensland CowboysBrisbane Broncos
1Te Maire MartinDarius Boyd
2Kyle FeldtCorey Oates
3Enari TualaJames Roberts
4Kane LinnettGehamat Shibasaki
5Justin O’NeillJamayne Isaako
6Jake CliffordAnthony Milford
7Johnathan ThurstonKodi Nikorima
8Matthew ScottPlayer name redacted
9Jake GranvilleAndrew McCullough
10Jordan McLeanSam Thaiday
11Gavin CooperAlex Glenn
12Coen HessDavid Fifita
13Jason TaumaloloJoe Ofahengaue
Interchange
14Ben HamptonSam Tagataese
15John AsiataPatrick Mago
16Corey JensenKorbin Sims
17Scott BoltonKotoni Staggs
Reserves
18Ethan LoweGeorge Fai
19Gideon Gela-MosbyTroy Dargan
20Lachlan CooteJordan Kahu
24/21Francis MoloTevita Pangai Junior

The facts that matter

Cowboys

The Cowboys were incredibly brave last week against the high flying Roosters, as they eventually went down 26-20. For all their efforts trying to keep the Roosters in check, they found themselves 26-8 down in the 2nd half. However, they refused to lie down, as they forced their way back into the match with 2 consecutive tries, only to fall short by 6 points. Their completion rate was almost perfect, completing at 97% for the match, as well as the fact that they made more line breaks than the Roosters. However, 39 missed tackles, as well as an inability to fully capitalise on good opportunities proved costly in the end, as their poor record in Sydney continues. Nevertheless, they narrowly avoided finding themselves on the bottom of the ladder. 

Their performance last week, in terms of completion rates and errors, was in stark contrast to their overall season. Last week, their completion rate was almost perfect, as they made only 5 errors for the match. Their overall season sees them ranked 3rd highest in errors made, with 224. Despite their struggles this season, the Cows still find themselves ranked 5th in post-contact metres, with 9817. Their powerful lock forward Jason Taumalolo leads the way in that category, with 1462. However, despite having some players who are known for their attack, the Cowboys have been profligate all season in attack, having scored only 325 points this season, to be ranked 3rd worst overall. Although they are not in last position, this match shapes as a must-win, as their points differential is only 18 points better than the last placed Eels, whom they are equal on competition points with. 

The Cowboys’ home record is nothing like what it has been over the last several years. What was once regarded as a graveyard for visiting teams, 1300SMILES Stadium has only seen 3 victories by the locals, which came against the Sharks, Titans and their last outing at home to the Knights. One thing that will give them confidence is that they have won 7 of their past 9 matches against the Broncos at home. Moreover, they will invariably have a packed house to help them towards victory. The issue here is that they will have a relatively short turnaround for this match. 

Broncos 

The Broncos were simply disappointing against the struggling Bulldogs in Sydney last week. After finding themselves 14-0 down within 25 minutes, and 16-6 after 35 minutes, the Bronx almost found themselves unbelievably in front at halftime, but for a (correctly) disallowed try to Korbut Sims. Unfortunately, they would fall away badly in the 2nd half, to find themselves 36-12 down by the 66th-minute mark. It was only a couple of late tries to Anthony Milford and Jamayne Isaako, that would add some respectability in the final scoreline. However, there is minimal doubt that Wayne Bennett would have been furious with his players after that display, as they missed a golden chance to remain in touch with the top 4. Moreover, their spot in the top 8 is not officially booked as yet. 

Regardless of the late tries last week, the Broncos deservedly lost that match, as they were dominated by the Bulldogs in the metre department, conceded more penalties and made more errors. Of all the teams in the top 8, only the Warriors and Sharks have scored fewer points than the Broncos (418). Moreover, they have conceded the most points of their fellow top 8 teams (424).As such, they find themselves with a negative points differential. Despite their rather topsy-turvey season, the Bronx still find themselves ranked 4th in kick return metres (3365), 5th in tackle breaks (681), 1st in intercepts (8), 1st in kick metres (10417), as well as having one of the best completion rates with 79%. 

The away record of the Broncos stands at 5 wins and as many losses. Although this record is enviable for the bottom 8 teams, all of whom have lost more away games than they won, it is the 2nd worst of the teams in the top 8. Despite their struggles on the road, 3 of their 5 away wins have come against top 8 sides, such as the Rabbitohs, Sharks and Warriors. This means that the Bronx certainly know how to beat the top sides on the road. Moreover, their overall record in Townsville is rather impressive, winning 17 of their 27 matches in the tropics. In addition, they have an abundance of fans in Cowboys heartland, therefore they won’t be short of supporters when they meet little brother. However, their recent record in Townsville is not so impressive, having lost 7 of their past 9 games there. One thing in their favour for this match is that their turnaround from last week is greater than the

Prediction

If the build-up to this match wasn’t already big enough, there is even more significance to this match, given it will be the 50th time that these two sides will square up against each other. Despite the fact that this match is being played on a Thursday night, it is almost certain to accommodate for a packed house, as almost all Queensland Derby matches do. 

The Cowboys will be incredibly desperate to get as far away from the bottom of the ladder as possible, and will need to win this match, in order for that to happen. Should they lose this match by a significant amount, they could well find themselves at the foot of the ladder by the end of the round, especially if the Eels defeat the Dragons. The Broncos will not only want to effectively seal their place in the finals, but also remain in touch with the top 4, and both can only be achieved by winning this match. 

As both teams are coming off losses to the Roosters and Bulldogs respectively, both will be keen to return to the winner’s circle for different reasons, as alluded to prior. The Cows will take plenty from their loss to the Roosters, knowing that a similar completion rate and a minimising of their missed tackles, along with improvements in concentration will go a long way towards gaining the ascendancy for them. The Bronx must simply improve in almost every facet, given how badly they were beaten by the Bulldogs. However, a longer turnaround is certainly in their favour. 

Moreover, there is an air of sentimentality about this match, as Johnathan Thurston and Sam Thaiday will both be retiring at the end of the season, meaning both stalwarts will be playing in their final Queensland Derby ever. As such, although the Broncos want to stay in touch with the top 4, I feel that the Cowboys will be even more desperate to avoid the wooden spoon, particularly in JT’s final season. Despite having a shorter turnaround, I feel that the desperation to avoid the spoon, along with an incredibly vocal home support should see the Cowboys home. Cowboys by 6.

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