Lachy MacCorquodale previews the first meeting for 2020 between the Broncos and the Cowboys.
North Queensland Cowboys
The Cowboys first season since 2004 without Johnathan Thurston didn’t go as Paul Green and his team had planned. They were faced with multiple injuries which only saw four of their players appear in 20 or more matches and as a result finished in 14th place. Despite this, they were only three wins behind eighth place and with the signing of former Origin star Valentine Holmes, they will be looking to push for higher honours this season.
Holmes joins Michael Morgan and Jason Taumalolo to form a big three that will attempt to reclaim the crown of being the best football team in Queensland. They come into the opening round with two trials matches under their belt, a two-point win over the Broncos and an eight-point loss down south to the Melbourne Storm. Neither of those fixtures were played at the new stadium in Townsville and the Cowboys will be looking to christen it with a nice win over their arch-rivals.
The Broncos will be relieved to play their first NRL match since their 58-point drubbing at the hands of the Parramatta Eels. New recruit, Brodie Croft will be a welcome addition at Red Hill after their struggles in the halves last season. Brisbane used a total of six different players in the halves last season, which is no recipe for success as they will aim for more stability in that area of the field this season.
Brisbane were faced with devastating news yesterday, with fullback Jack Bird rupturing his ACL, the same one that he injured last season. This will end Bird’s season. It’s a big blow for the Broncos who were excited to see Bird get some games under his belt. He had looked good in his few outings in the pre-season trial matches which included a two-point loss to the Cowboys. In their other trial matches, the Broncos defeated the Central Queensland Capras convincingly, whilst also losing to Wynnum-Manly and the Gold Coast Titans.
North Queensland Cowboys
1. Valentine Holmes 2. Kyle Fedlt 3. Justin O’Neill 4. Esan Marsters 5. Ben Hampton 6. Scott Drinkater 7. Michael Morgan (c) 8. John Asiata 9. Jake Granville 10. Jordan McLean 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Coen Hess 13. Jason Taumalolo. Extended Bench: 14. Reece Robson 15. Mitchell Dunn 16. Shane Wright 17. Francis Molo 18. Corey Jensen 19. Connelly Lemuelu 20. Tom Opacic 21. Jake Clifford
1. Jack Bird* 2. Corey Oates 3. Kotoni Staggs 4. Darius Boyd 5. Jesse Arthars 6. Anthony Milford 7. Brodie Croft (c) 8. Thomas Flegler 9. Jake Turpin 10. Payne Haas 11. David Fifita 12. Tevita Pangai Jr. 13. Patrick Carrigan. Extended Bench: 14. Jamayne Isaako 15. Andrew McCullough 16. Rhys Kennedy 17. Jamil Hopoate 18. Xavier Coates 19. Herbie Farnworth 20. Tom Dearden 21. Ethan Bullemor
* Jack Bird will be absent from the line-up when the Broncos release their 19-man squad tonight.
Once upon a time, this matchup was domianted by the Broncos and it took the Cowboys nine years to register their first win against the Brisbane Broncos. This is no longer the case. Over the past couple of years, the XXXX derby has become one of the most riveting rivalries in the NRL, culminating in the Cowboys golden-point win in the 2015 Grand Final.
Since 2014, the two Queensland teams have met on 16 occasions, with both teams winning eight times. The Broncos got the wood over the Cowboys in their two matches last season which included their late winner by Jake Turpin in Round 21. Another blockbuster between these two sides would be the perfect way to start the 2020 season.
BATTLE TO WATCH
Jason Taumalolo v Payne Haas
Two of the games best middle forwards will go head to head to kick-off their respective season. Both players finished top 10 in the Dally M Voting with Haas’ finishing in fourth and Taumalolo in ninth. They are both the leaders’ of their respective forward packs and they were the top two in run metres per game out of all forwards in the NRL last season. Taumalolo averaged an incredible 196.6 run metres per game whilst the NRL’s Rookie of the Year averaged 185.2.
This battle will be even more important as residents of North Queensland will flock to Townsville for the opening of the Cowboys’ new stadium. There is going to be enormous pressure on Taumalolo and the Cowboys to open their account at the Queensland Country Bank Stadium with a win. This is going to be an explosive contest and I think that all of us, as fans, will be excited to watch this blockbuster.
Date: Friday, 13th March, 2020
Venue: Queensland Country Bank Stadium, Townsville
Kick-off: 8:05pm (AEDT)