WITHOUT doubt this is the most attractive round of Queensland Cup football this year.
It all begins on Saturday afternoon with the ABC Televised clash between competition leaders Toowoomba and sixth placed North Queensland at Clive Berghofer Stadium in Toowoomba.
These two clubs are the feeder teams for NRL sides Brisbane and North Queensland Cowboys and the quality of player on show should ensure a good crowd and a fine spectacle.
Toowoomba grabbed first place on the ladder (on 16 points) with a 36-24 defeat of Wynnum at Kougari Oval last Sunday with Redcliffe dropping to third place on percentages from Easts after a surprise loss to the Tigers at Dolphin Oval.
Easts play Norths at Bishop Park in the other Saturday afternoon clash this weekend with Norths on 12 points, the same as North Queensland.
On Saturday night at Browne Park, Rockhampton the Central Comets (10 points) have a crucial match against Wynnum (13) with a loss possibly putting the Comets five points adrift of the top five at the halfway mark of the competition.
There are three matches on Sunday, all at 3.00pm and all shape as even affairs.
The highlight is the Burleigh v Redcliffe clash at Pizzey Park, Miami with Burleigh arguably the competition?s form side while premiers Redcliffe are in a mini form slump. The Dolphins have now suffered three losses in the last 4 weeks to teams in finals contention with two of these defeats inflicted at home.
The Bears after their much publicised slow start to the season are in clear second spot on 15 points with Redcliffe one point behind and equal with Easts.
Last placed Brothers Valleys give themselves a good chance of beating Tweed Heads Seagulls at O?Callaghan Park on Sunday with Tweed not having won since round three.
In the other match Souths Logan Magpies (4) and Ipswich Jets (3) clash at Davies Park with the result too tough to call. After the Jets featured in the previous two finals series, losing the 2002 decider to the Dolphins, they will be keen for a win to spark a more satisfactory finish to this season.
STATE OF ORIGIN
Result: New South Wales 9 d Queensland 8.
Standings: New South Wales leads Queensland 1-0.
Results: Burleigh 24 d Central 18, North Queensland 40 d Brothers Valleys 0, Norths 30 d Ipswich 16, Toowoomba 36 d Wynnum 24, Easts 44 d Redcliffe 24, Souths Logan 38 d Tweed Heads 20.
Standings: Toowoomba 16, Burleigh 15, Redcliffe 14, Easts 14, Wynnum 13, North Queensland 12, Norths 12, Central 10, Tweed Heads 6, Souths Logan 4, Ipswich 3, Brothers Valleys 1.
Results: Wynnum 30 d Redcliffe 28, Easts 86 d Brothers Valleys 0, North Queensland 22 drew Burleigh 22, Norths 60 d Souths Logan 14, Tweed Heads 30 d Central 22, Toowoomba 32 d Ipswich 26.
Standings: Toowoomba 18, Burleigh 18, Wynnum 17, Easts 16, Norths 16, North Queensland 15, Redcliffe 14, Central 10, Tweed Heads 10, Ipswich 5, Souths Logan 4, Brothers Valleys 1.
REDCLIFFE and Toowoomba still sit on top of the Queensland Cup ladder but both clubs were brought back to earth to some degree by results in the last round.
Redcliffe in particular has been forced to do some soul searching during the week after a humiliating 38-22 loss to the Central Comets on Redcliffe?s home turf, Dolphin Oval.
Regulars at the ground said it was one of the Dolphins worst performances in recent memory, and that is not meant to take anything away from the Comets, who may well have come of age with that win.
Toowoomba on the other hand did not play badly in their 22-10 loss to the Burleigh Bears in the curtain-raiser to the big Broncos ? Newcastle NRL clash.
Burleigh were simply superb on the night with desperate defence and good handling the highlights along with a great individual performance from halfback, Brett McConnell who scored two tries.
So Redcliffe (14) remain on top of the Queensland Cup ladder on percentages from Toowoomba with the Dolphins facing another tough assignment at home this Sunday when they host the Easts Tigers, who are coming off a 48-24 defeat of Ipswich.
Easts are in clear fifth spot on 12 points chasing their fourth win in a row.
Toowoomba face a tough trip to Kougari Oval to play Wynnum who are on 13 points, the same total as Burleigh with the Bears earning third spot on percentages.
Wynnum beat Brothers 52-30 last start after cruising to a 30 point lead and the Seagulls will have to be more ruthless against the Clydesdales.
North Queensland, Norths and Central are on 10 points each, just two points outside the five with North Queensland the most likely club to grab two competition points this weekend because they host last placed Brothers Valleys at Dairy Farmers Stadium, Townsville in a curtain-raiser to the Cowboys ? Panthers NRL clash.
Brothers Valleys showed last week they know how to score a try but their defence was too soft in their own ?red zone?.
North Queensland rattled up 64 points in beating Souths Logan and in front of their home fans they should register another big win, although the Young Guns have lost a number of players to the NRL and the Queensland under 19 side.
Norths play Ipswich at Bendigo Bank Oval on Saturday night and it really is close to the last throw of the dice for the Jets who have just a win and a draw to show from nine starts.
Norths belted Tweed 56-16 last weekend in the ABC televised match and the Devils will be full of confidence.
Central play Burleigh at Pizzey Park, Miami in the week?s ABC clash and this match has plenty of appeal after both teams recorded such impressive wins last weekend.
In the other match the Tweed (six premiership points) can keep within reach of a top five spot with a win over Souths Logan at Piggabeen on Sunday.
Souths Logan (two points) have a better attacking record than the Tweed but the home side?s defence is substantially better.
The first Harvey Norman State of Origin match in Sydney on Wednesday will be the focus of the League world this week, with Queensland and New South Wales also meeting in a colts curtain-raiser.
--SCORES from every A-grade competition in Queensland --
SATURDAY MAY 8
Redcliffe Dolphins v Ipswich Jets, 2.10pm, Dolphin Oval
ABC Televised match of the round...Redcliffe is coming off its first loss of the season, while Ipswich is coming off its first win?The Jets will be missing three-quarter Gordon Rattler who broke his collarbone in the 38-8 victory against Tweed Heads?However, long-time North Queensland Cowboy Kyle Warren is fit for the visitors despite some concern about his knee?Redcliffe coach Neil Wharton has tinkered with his forwards, sliding forward mainstays Danny Burke and Grant Flugge back to bench and promoting Nathan Sologinkin and Gavin Cooper to the starting 13?Nathan Black has been elevated from the Dolphins? Mixwell Cup side and will play the reserve hooker role usually filled by Matt Anderton?The rivalry between these two clubs has grown since a heated grand final in 2002, with Wharton predicting several weeks ago that Trevor Gillmeister?s Jets would lift in time to face his club?Since the Queensland Cup began in 1996 Ipswich has never won at Dolphin Oval, amounting to a string of 10 successive losses on the peninsula.
AFTER eight rounds of the 2004 Queensland Cup the race for final five spots is intense with only three clubs precariously placed outside what might be termed the ?semi-final zone.??
Ipswich, Souths Logan and Brothers Valleys are at the foot of the Queensland Cup ladder and all three clubs need to turn their seasons around soon or they will playing for little more than pride.
Easts are in fifth spot on 10 points, seven clear of Ipswich, eight clear of Souths Logan and nine clear of Brothers Valleys.
That is a lot of ground to make up and only a supreme optimist would tip any of those three clubs to feature in the finals, particularly as they all face tough assignments this weekend.
Ipswich play Easts at Langlands Park on Saturday; Souths Logan host North Queensland Young Guns at Davies Park on Sunday and Brothers Valleys are at home to Wynnum at O?Callaghan Park, Zillmere, also on Sunday.
North Queensland are one win outside the top five while Wynnum is fourth on 11 points, trailing the Burleigh Bears on percentages.
The Dolphins and Toowoomba head the competition table on 14 points with Redcliffe hosting Central Comets at Dolphin Oval on Sunday.
The Comets, like North Queensland, are one win outside the top five.
Toowoomba and Burleigh kick off the weekend at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night in the curtain-raiser to the Broncos ? Newcastle NRL clash.
Toowoomba is coming off a hard fought 36-28 win over the Comets in Rockhampton while Burleigh also had to work overtime to beat Brothers Valleys 28-18 last Sunday.
In the other match of round nine Norths host Tweed Heads at Bishop Park on Saturday in the ABC Television clash with both teams coming off disappointing losses.
After winning their first three matches the Tweed boys have lost each subsequent clash and they are in danger of joining Ipswich, Souths Logan and Brothers Valleys in the Queensland Cup cellar.
State of Origin fever will take a grip on Queensland this week with the XXXX Maroons team to be named at the Castlemaine lunch at Brisbane City Hall on Monday.
For comprehensive coverage of rugby league in Queensland go to http://www.qrl.com.au
WHO can stop Redcliffe?
When will Ipswich and Brothers Valleys post their first wins?
Can North Queensland win at home?
These are some of the big questions confronting Queensland Cup followers as the competition enters its sixth week.
Premiers Redcliffe are the competition pace setters and they should be too strong for Tweed Heads Seagulls in Saturday?s ABC televised clash at Dolphin Oval.
In fact there are many good judges who believe Redcliffe, expertly coached by Neil Wharton, will go through the season undefeated.
Tweed has won three of its five matches, all on the road, so there is a warning there for the Dolphins.
But Tweed were out muscled by North Queensland last Sunday and Redcliffe?s pack will be looking to do the same.
Ipswich and Brothers Valleys drew in round one and they have not gained another competition point since, an unexpected scenario in Ipswich?s case given the talent in the club which last year featured in the finals.
Things do not get any easier this Saturday night with the Jets playing North Queensland in Townsville, and the Young Guns full of confidence after a big win over Tweed.
But North Queensland has lost both matches at home this year, both in the dying stages, so it appears there is no real home ground advantage for Adrian Thomson?s men.
Brothers Valleys face a daunting task against Toowoomba in Toowoomba on Saturday with the Clydesdales coming off a 50-6 win over Souths Logan, after the Magpies beat Brothers Valleys 52-16 the week before.
Souths Logan travel to Rockhampton to play the Central Comets on Saturday night with Central coming off a loss to Norths.
On Sunday there are two high quality matches in south east Queensland both deserving of big crowds with no NRL action in the area.
On the Gold Coast the Burleigh Bears host Norths Devils at Pizzey Park, Miami while in Brisbane Wynnum Seagulls host neighbours, Easts Tigers.
Both matches could feature internationals with Darren Smith set to lead Easts and Rodney Howe due back from the Melbourne Storm to play for feeder club, Norths.
Next Friday night in Newcastle Australia plays New Zealand in the Anzac Test with both teams to be named this Sunday night.
The curtain-raiser to the Test will feature aboriginal teams from Queensland and New South Wales.
Next weekend there is another full round of Queensland Cup action (see draw at back of the programme) but the following weekend the competition will be suspended because of the QRL?s under 19 and under 17 divisional carnival at Runaway Bay on the Gold Coast.