When Johnathan Thurston’s season ended in June it almost appeared North Queensland’s season would end with it. Five losses in six games almost saw them miss the finals completely but now after knocking out Parramatta, they are 80 minutes away from their third Grand Final appearance, and their second since 2015.
Michael Morgan has been instrumental in North Queensland’s 2017 campaign but faces a half just as important to the Roosters as Morgan is to the Cowboys. That man is Luke Keary and with a Grand Final spot up for the grabs let’s see which player can help their team qualify.
Morgan has crossed for 11 tries and has created twice as many. He has broke the line 11 times, and has set up another 16. He has also kicked the ball 251 times. Keary has only made 115 but Morgan has moved to first receiver in Thurston’s absence, while the Roosters’ half shares the duties with Mitchell Pearce.
Morgan gets a lot of praise and deservedly so, but he may has met his match in Keary. A premiership winning five-eighth with South Sydney, Keary has set up 24 try assists, and has scored eight himself. He has broke the line 14 times but leads the competition in line break assists with 31.
He has missed 67 tackles which is a lot but he has made 445 successful tackles, against Morgan’s 75 missed tackles and 332 successful tackles.
Now the Roosters earned the week off after finishing second and defeating Brisbane in the first week of the finals. While the Cowboys had the travel to Sydney in consecutive weeks to defeat last season’s Premiers Cronulla, and competition dark horses Parramatta, coming out victorious on both occasions.
So it begs the question, are teams better off playing each week, or are the benefits of having a week off good enough to make the Grand Final.
Looking back on past seasons, having the week off doesn’t make too much of a difference. Both teams that have earned a week off in week two have only played each other in the Grand Final on five occasions, most recently in 2016.
Only in 1999 and 2005 have the two teams missed the Grand Final completely.
While one team has progressed to the final following a week off 11 times. Including in seven of the past nine seasons.
So at least one team is certain to make it to ANZ Stadium on October 1 and with Melbourne in the form they’re in it’s hard to see them losing to the Broncos. But can Luke Keary lead his side to their first decider since 2013 or will Michael Morgan and the Cowboys keep proving people wrong and qualify for their second Grand Final in three years?