The first of two tantalising encounters to greet us in week 2 of the NRL finals is the all Queensland affair.
NORTH QUEENSLAND V BRISBANE Friday night, 1300Smiles Stadium
While many were predicting that this year’s decider would be a repeat of 2015, and earlier in the season it certainly looked that way, we have been served up a semi-final between two arch-rivals fighting to stay alive for at least one more week.
The Cowboys return to Townsville following a loss to Minor Premiers Melbourne last week and will be buoyed by their tremendous record at home this season which reads an impressive 11 wins and just one loss. Brisbane, riding a six-game winning streak, disposed of the Titans in the first of the Elimination Finals last week 44-28.
North Queensland’s maiden premiership last season was built on the back of consistency, especially away, but their home record over the past two seasons ensured that games in Townsville almost guaranteed two points each and every time.
The Cowboys have lost just five times since the start of 2015 at home but even better than that is their form this season, with their only loss (16-8) coming when champion playmaker Johnathan Thurston sat out against Melbourne in Round 21.
Adding to the imposing arena that is 1300Smile Stadium is that the venue has hosted six finals previously with the home side winning each and every one with three of those against Brisbane (2004, 2012, 2014).
After looking down and out towards the back end of the season where they dropped seven of nine games, Brisbane has turned things around in a big way. Riding a six-match winning streak into this game, it is their best run all season even topping their start to 2016 where they won seven of their first nine matches. During this streak their attack has been firing on all cylinders and has registered an impressive 27.3ppg.
The defending premiers still have concerns over co-captain Matt Scott while centre Kane Linnett is out and has been replaced by the relatively inexperienced Javid Bowen.
Brisbane, on the other hand, has come through last week relatively unscathed and get back centre Tom Opacic for this one.
HOW IT PANS OUT
This will be the fourth time these teams clash in the space of 12 months. In the ‘trilogy’ prior to this game just one point separated the teams and this is just the second time that’s happened in league history! On top of that two of those matches (last year’s Grand Final and Round 4 this year) ended in Golden Point.
This is going to be a close game regardless of which way the result goes. It’s a semi and it features one of the game’s great modern-day rivalries.
If Wayne Bennett’s side are to progress to the Preliminary Final then they need to find a way to win in Townsville because in recent years its proven to be a bit of a graveyard. Brisbane has lost six of their last seven at the venue with an average losing margin of 11 ppg.
It’s going to be a classic but on the strength of the Cowboys record at home we are leaning with the premiers to heap more heartache on the Broncos. Their high-powered attack, which ranked second during the regular season, has shone at home in averaging 31.4ppg in 2016 while their defence has been extremely good at the venue too (12.2ppg).
When you combine that with Brisbane’s poor record in finals away from Suncorp in losing five straight since 2009, it could be a mountain too high to climb.
HEAD TO HEAD BET: Cowboys ($1.50 Ladbrokes)
MARGIN BET: Definitely take the 1-12 the Cowboys ($3 Bet365)
EXOTIC BET: Antonio Winterstein as 1st Tryscorer ($9 UNIBET) and To Score A Try ($1.91 Bet365). The Cowboys flier has nine tries in his last nine games in Townsville.