The biggest rivalry in the NRL over the last three years will renew this Friday night as the Broncos host the Cowboys at Suncorp Stadium in Brisbane. The Broncos suffered a big 22 point defeat at the hands of the Dragons last Thursday night and will be looking to grab their first points of the season, while the Cowboys come off a strong 20-14 win over the Sharks in Townsville.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
The Broncos travelled to Kogarah to open their season against the Dragons, in Ben Hunt’s first match against his old club. Both sides struggled early on, but as the new halves combo of Ben Hunt and Gareth Widdop took shape the Dragons looked more comfortable and began converting their chances. A try to Tyson Frizell off a nice grubber kick from Ben Hunt gave the Dragons a 10-2 at halftime. The Broncos halves pairing of Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima failed to execute on any part of their games, and with a poor showing from their forwards Brisbane had nothing to throw at the Dragons, allowing the Red V to run out 34-12 winners.
The Cowboys kicked their year off against the Sharks in Townsville last Friday night, with Johnathan Thurston playing his 300th game in front of a loud home crowd. Both teams were scrappy, with completion rates in the 60s. Early chances went the way of the Cowboys, but their ability to convert close to the line was poor. The Cowboys were able to take a solid 10-2 lead by the 26th minute mark which steered them to victory. The Sharks came within two after a great long range try seeing James Segeyaro score, but a late try to Gavin Cooper off a Thurston grubber was enough to seal the win at home for North Queensland.
Brisbane will start Andrew McCullough at hooker with Sam Thaiday returning to the bench. With Jaydn Su’a out with suspension, Tom Opacic makes his way onto the bench. Sam Tagataese, a big part of Cronulla’s 2016 Premiership run still remains on the reserves, but could make his way onto the bench to add experience to the forwards.
Lachlan Coote’s injury sees Ben Hampton remain at fullback, where he played well last week. Michael Morgan is still recovering from injury and remains in the reserves but is highly unlikely to make an appearance. The Cowboys keep the same team from last weekend, one which on paper looks to be one of the best in the competition.
Since the 2015 Qualifying final match in Brisbane, the Broncos and Cowboys have produced some of the best rugby league moments in what has become the game’s biggest rivalry. Round 26 in 2017 was the last time they met, with Brisbane winning 20-10 in Townsville. Brisbane went into the clash needing a win to stay in the running for second on the ladder, while the Cowboys could confirm a finals spot with a win themselves. The Broncos dominated the early stages of the game, and an impressive play by Anthony Milford set up Matt Gillet in the corner to score in the 14th minute. From there weight of possessions at with the Broncos and they maintained their lead for the entire match. A late try to Kyle Felt salvaged some dignity for the Cowboys, who afterwards were waiting on other results to see if they would squeeze into the top eight.
Johnathan Thurston’s return to football last weekend was underwhelming as it seemed he was far from match fit. A new short term combination with Te Maire Martin is still in the works, but the relationship between both men will be interesting to dissect against the Broncos. On the other hand, Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima need to elevate their performances tremendously so they are not outshone by Thurston and Martin, making for a key battle in the halves.
We know what the Cowboys bring to the table, with one of the game’s very best game managers in Thurston. The Broncos halves have copped a lot of criticism since last week, but the form they showed together in 2017 should not be forgotten. In particular there needs to be energy in their running, and from there an ability to create chances for their teammates. Back when he joined the Broncos in 2015, Milford’s kicking game was sub-par, but since he has become a handy with the boot and nothing suggests Nikorima cannot follow suit. If Milford and Nikorima can get the basics right, and they remain poised on attacking sets, a huge improvement should be evident on Friday night.
Multiple Broncos players, including Korbin Sims and Sam Thaiday have talked about the lessons they learned from the loss to the Cowboys, and making sure they are prepared for what’s ahead. Wayne Bennett also sprayed his halve pairing at training after their dismal performance, but stood by the two players and has faith in what they can produce.
Cowboys coach Paul Green said there is a lot of pressure on the Broncos to perform at a high level and grab their first win of the season. Green went on to describe Brisbane’s performance last week as sluggish, but added he expects them to be ready for the clash.
Four of the past six contests between the Broncos and Cowboys have been decided by one point, including the famous 2015 Grand Final won by the Cowboys in golden point.
Broncos: 1 Darius Boyd (c), 2 Corey Oates, 3 James Roberts, 4 Jordan Kahu, 5 Jamayne Isaako, 6 Anthony Milford, 7 Kodi Nikorima, 8 Matthew Lodge, 9 Andrew McCullough, 10 Tevita Pangai Jnr, 11 Alex Glenn, 12 Matt Gillett, 13 Josh McGuire, Interchange: 14 Sam Thaiday, 15 Joe Ofahengaue, 16 Korbin Sims, 17 Tom Opacic
Cowboys: 1 Ben Hampton, 2 Kyle Feldt, 3 Justin O’Neill, 4 Javid Bowen, 5 Antonio Winterstein, 6 Te Maire Martin, 7 Johnathan Thurston (c), 8 Matthew Scott (c), 9 Jake Granville, 10 Jordan McLean, 11 Gavin Cooper, 12 Ethan Lowe, 13 Jason Taumalolo, Interchange: 14 John Asiata, 15 Coen Hess, 16 Scott Bolton, 18 Corey Jensen
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Friday 16th March 2018
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Kickoff: 7:05 pm AEST (8:05 pm AEDT)
Referee: Ben Cummins, Chris Sutton (assistant)
WHO WILL WIN?
It seems unlikely the Broncos will perform the way they did against the Dragons for the second straight week. Questions will be answered around the fitness of Darius Boyd and Andrew McCullough, as well as the halves ability to control the pace of the game. With Thaiday, Sims and Ofahengaue coming off the bench Brisbane have the depth in the middle to size up to the Cowboys. On the other hand, the Cowboys will be brimming with confidence, and know they have a psychological edge in this one. Brisbane should lift their game at home against their state rivals, but that ultimately will not be enough. Cowboys by 2.