NRL FINALS - Cowboys v Broncos
Friday 7 September 2012 12:23 PM
Week one of the 2012 NRL finals throws up one of the classic derbies – and a do or die one at that – when North Queensland hosts big brother Brisbane in tomorrow night’s first elimination play-off at Dairy Farmers Stadium in Townsville (9.45pm kick-off NZ time).
Whichever side wins will survive to meet the loser of tonight’s encounter between Canterbury-Bankstown and Manly; for tomorrow night’s defeated side it’ll be season over.
Almost every factor points to the Cowboys for this one.
They surged into the finals, finishing fifth with a run of four straight wins. In contrast the Broncos limped along. After edging the Vodafone Warriors 10-8 – seems so long ago now – they lost to Gold Coast, Parramatta and Canberra before facing a deadly run of opponents in Canterbury-Bankstown, Melbourne and Manly … and losing them all. After six consecutive losses they needed a late Alex Glenn try to seal a scratchy 19-12 win against Penrith to finish eighth. It was all so different for the Broncos earlier in the campaign when they were among the competition’s hottest teams.
Looking at form and having home advantage plus a significant edge in experience, it’s small wonder the Cowboys are seen as overwhelming favourites although it should be said Brisbane has dominated clashes between the two sides (24 wins in 33 meetings) – and this is finals football where the slate is wiped clean.
In terms of personnel North Queensland is ideally equipped for the pressure of a sudden-death contest, not least because of the Johnathan Thurston factor.
There’s a potent look about the backline generally, especially on the right edge where former Vodafone Warriors centre Brent Tate and his winger Ashley Graham have been lethal with 29 tries between them. On the other edge, Kane Linnett and former Kiwi Antonio Winterstein have been more than useful, too, with a combined 19 tries. Throw in the sublime Matt Bowen’s 12 tries and the back five have an astonishing 60 tries between them; pop over to their opposition and the Brisbane back five can count a total of just 26 tries.
There’s a good look about the North Queensland pack too with props Matt Scott and Kiwi-turned-Kangaroo James Tamou, hooker Aaron Payne and a back row of Gavin Cooper, Glenn Hall and Dallas Johnson (all but Tamou are 200 or 100-game plus players) while the bench mixes explosiveness from the young Kiwi Jason Taumalolo and the not-much-older hooker James Segeyaro with the seasoned Ashton Sims and Scott Bolton.
The Broncos are hinged by their clutch of experienced men Justin Hodges, Peter Wallace, Ben Hannant, Petero Civoniceva, Sam Thaiday and Corey Parker who are complemented by some of the best younger talent in the game but there’s the strongest sense confidence isn’t where it might be.
Once again, there’s ample interest for those who enjoy following New Zealand players including Tamou and Brisbane’s turncoat Ben Te’o. Apart from them, North Queensland has Winterstein and Taumalolo while the Broncos can count Josh Hoffman, Gerard Beale and Alex Glenn and maybe Corey Norman as well.
The teams for tomorrow night’s match are:
COWBOYS: Matthew Bowen, Ashley Graham, Brent Tate, Kane Linnett, Antonio Winterstein, Johnathan Thurston, Michael Morgan, Matthew Scott, Aaron Payne, James Tamou, Gavin Cooper, Glenn Hall, Dallas Johnson. Interchange (from): James Segeyaro, Jason Taumalolo, Ashton Sims, Scott Bolton, Joel Riethmuller, Anthony Mitchell
BRONCOS: Josh Hoffman, Gerard Beale, Jack Reed, Justin Hodges, Dale Copley, Corey Norman, Peter Wallace, Ben Hannant, Andrew McCullough, Petero Civoniceva, Alex Glenn, Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker. Interchange: Ben Hunt, Josh McGuire, Ben Te'o, Matt Gillett
Referees: Matt Cecchin and Gerard Sutton