Week 2 of the 2016 NRL Finals Series kicks off with a sudden death semi-final between last year Grand Final combatants the North QLD Cowboys and Brisbane Broncos at 1300 Smiles Stadium. The last 3 encounters between these two sides have been decided by 1 point, this clash will undoubtedly go down to the wire.

LAST TIME OUT

The Cowboys traveled to Melbourne for their Qualifying Final to take on the Storm and were edged out by 6 points against the 2016 minor premiers and competition favourites. Despite the closeness of the final score the Cowboys never really threatened to overrun the clinical Storm outfit. There was a sense in this match that we could be seeing these two sides clash again in 2016 as they appear to be the strongest and most ominous clubs remaining in the finals race. The Cowboys have managed to keep the bulk of the 2015 side intact and fit, this side still has a very good chance to be the first team since the inception of the NRL to win back to back titles.

The Broncos kicked off the weekend of finals action with a high scoring affair against the Gold Coast Titans, over running the Titans side in the second half to run out 44 – 28 winners. The Broncos seemed to enter this match with a ”we can score more points than you” attitude, as it turned out they were right. There have been sides in the past they have gone on to Grand Final glory with this approach but recent history has shown that a stout defence is needed to win the big one. There are still several heavyweights remaining in the 2016 Finals Series that have an ominous defensive presence, the Broncos will need to improve their ability to stop opposition attacks of they are going to continue their surge towards another Grand Final.

KEY BATTLES

Back Line Battle: The ability of the outside backs to defend is going to be the key to unlocking this match. The Broncos and Cowboys both have very strong and talented forward packs, but it appears where the Cowboys hold the edge is in the ability and reliability of their outside backs. The strength of the Cowboys defence, particularly out wide, is what looks to tip the scales in their favour in this match. If the Brisbane edge defenders can keep their communication on song for the whole match they have every chance of matching the Cowboys defensively, but it will take a full 80 minute performance, something they haven’t managed to produce in recent times.

The Broncos struggled to stop opportunities for the Titans in last week’s match when space presented itself; they will need to defend in unison as any misread against the lethal Cowboys back could prove costly. The Cowboys boast a lot of match winners out wide who feed off the ability of their forwards to get a roll on. If Jonathon Thurston can get some early ball they have the ability to put some sustained pressure on the Broncos and could ultimately bust this match open.

PREDICTION

The intensity and stakes of finals football always brings the best out in teams, expect nothing different here. The crowd will be at capacity and doing everything in their power to push the home side into a preliminary final against the Sharks. Remarkably the last 3 matches between these sides have all been decided by a field goal, also the teams have traded victories in the last 6 encounters with each side winning 3 matches. The Queensland Derby has been the show piece of the NRL over the last 2 years and this promises to add another chapter to the legend of rugby league North of the border.

Expect a low scoring affair for the first 60 minutes in this match as the forwards look to enter some trench warfare early on, ultimately the last 20 minutes is where things will open up and the halves will come into their own. The great Jonathan Thurston will ultimately give the Cowboys a decisive edge and his attacking brilliance and ability to read a match is what will give the home side every confidence to remain patient in their game plan. Hunt and Milford have had a up and down season but both will need to be at their absolute best if the Broncos are to escape from Townsville with a win in this match.

It is hard to see anything but a Cowboys victory in this game. The Broncos have made a late season run but the professionalism and efficiency of the North Queensland side is what sets them apart. The Broncos will throw everything they have at this match and should still be in the hunt late but the Cowboys class will prove decisive and they will pull away late. The Cowboys will book a Preliminary Final clash with the Cronulla Shark and win this match by 10 points.

SQUADS

North Queensland Cowboys v Brisbane Broncos, 1300SMILES Stadium, 7:55pm

FridayCowboys: 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 18 Jonus Pearson 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