IT?S an early call but the 2004 Queensland Cup looks like a ?nine horse race?.
After six rounds it has become apparent Brothers Valleys, Ipswich and Souths Logan are going to do it tough to make the final five.
Ipswich and Brothers Valleys anchor the competition with one point each from their first round draw at Bendigo Bank Oval.
Brothers Valleys have been hard hit with injuries and their immediate goal is to remain competitive.
This Sunday the Blues host the Central Comets at O?Callaghan Park with the Comets one of five clubs sharing fifth spot with six points from a possible 12.
The other clubs on six are Norths, North Queensland, Easts and Tweed Heads.
Ipswich host Tweed on Saturday night and on paper look too good a side to write off just yet.
But the Jets were thrashed 58-6 by North Queensland last weekend and it will be hard to bounce back.
The Young Guns had a glut of possession at Dairy Farmers Stadium, but Ipswich did not look physically capable of mixing it with their opponents.
Souths Logan play Burleigh at Davies Park on Saturday at 3pm. The Magpies have done a lot of work at Davies Park, on and off the field and they hope to put on a good show.
But Burleigh, placed clear fourth on the ladder, will start hot favourites.
Undefeated competition leaders, Redcliffe travel to Toowoomba to play the Clydesdales on Saturday afternoon with Toowoomba?s only defeat coming in round one against Tweed. The Dolphins had to earn last week?s win over the Seagulls in the ABC Television clash and they will expect another tough hit out. The Clydesdales team may suffer a late reshuffle following Friday?s ANZAC Test in Newcastle, with players possibly called up to the Broncos for their Sunday match at Suncorp Stadium against NRL Premiers Penrith.
The Toowoomba ? Redcliffe game shapes as the match of the round and has created a lot of interest on the Darling Downs and in the Lockyer Valley.
The ABC Television match, to be replayed on Fox Sports, is between Easts Tigers and North Queensland at Langlands Park on Saturday with both teams on six points.
But Easts have lost their last two matches while the Young Guns have won their last two by 50 points.
Norths are the hosts for the other match of round seven ? against third placed Wynnum on Sunday at Devils home ground, Bishop Park.
There is no Queensland Cup action next weekend with the QRL?s under 19 and under 17 divisional carnival being staged at Runaway Bay on the Gold Coast.
A Queensland State of Origin Preliminary squad will be named on Tuesday and the players will have an overnight camp on May 2 in Brisbane to commence preparations for this year?s Harvey Norman series.
TYPICALLY understated Toowoomba coach John Dixon used Saturday?s blockbusting 34-26 win over Redcliffe to find an answer he?d dearly been looking for.
EASTER provides a feast of football for rugby league fans in Queensland even though both NRL clubs, the Cowboys and Broncos are playing inter-state.
Brisbane in particular is a hot bed of league action with four of the six matches from round five of the Queensland Cup to be played in the capital.
One match will be played over the border (just) at Piggabeen while the weekend kicks off at Ipswich at 2pm on Saturday when the Jets host the Wynnum Seagulls in the ABC televised clash at Bendigo Bank Oval.
These clubs met in a trial at Kougari Oval on February 28 when the Seagulls won 30-22.
The following week Wynnum turned in an abysmal performance in their final trial against Easts Tigers at Langlands Park before drawing 16-16 with Burleigh in round one of the premiership and then crashing 40-18 to Redcliffe.
In the past two weeks Wynnum?s 2004 campaign has really clicked into gear with wins over the North Queensland Young Guns in Townsville and Tweed Heads Seagulls at Kougari.
It goes without saying Wynnum will start hot favourites against Ipswich with the Jets chasing their first win, the club?s only point coming from a first round draw against new club, Brothers Valleys.
Easts play Burleigh at Langlands Park in the other Saturday clash with Easts in second place on the ladder ahead of the Toowoomba Clydesdales and Tweed on percentages.
On Sunday there are three matches in Brisbane ? at Bishop Park, Nundah; Davies Park, West End and O?Callaghan Park, Zillmere.
At Bishop Park, Norths Devils and the Central Comets clash with both clubs on four points, Norths claiming fifth spot on percentages.
At Davies Park Souths Logan Magpies, fresh from their first win of the season over Brothers Valleys, host Toowoomba who will be looking for revenge after a humiliating loss to the Magpies in a trial at Mitchell in South West Queensland.
At O?Callaghan Park, Brothers Valleys host premiers, Redcliffe Dolphins the only unbeaten side in the Queensland Cup. Redcliffe belted North Queensland 52-16 last week so Brothers Valleys, who lost 54-28 to Souths Logan, face a long afternoon.
Redcliffe have far and away the best attacking record in the Queensland Cup having scored 170 points in four matches with Easts, Toowoomba and Norths ? all on 132 points ? their nearest rivals.
The Dolphins also have the best defensive record conceding 72 points with Easts (84) relatively close behind.
Brothers Valleys have the worst attack and defence.
But Brothers Valleys are starting from scratch, a new club with a limited budget and a short pre-season in which to shop around.
North Queensland is made up entirely of players knocking on the door of NRL duty and yet Redcliffe made light work of their challenge last week.
The Young Guns travel to the Gold Coast and just over the border to the west of Tweed Heads to play the Tweed Seagulls at Piggabeen on Sunday.
This will be Tweed?s first home game of the season and with three wins from four starts on the road they will start favourites.
It promises to be a big day of football with curtain-raisers involving Group 1 and Group 18 senior and colts teams in New South Wales Country Rugby League selection trials.
THE closeness of the 2004 Queensland Cup race is exemplified by this week?s round, where four of the six matches are set to be played between teams on equal points.
TOOWOOMBA and Ipswich will sweat on appeals this Friday, heading into round three of the Queensland Cup rugby league season.
AN amazing six State of Origin players will contest rugby league?s Queensland Cup this weekend, as round two kicks off across the state.
WAYNE Bennett and Phil Gould on the same team?
RUGBY league?s most recognisable referee Bill Harrigan will stage a whistle-stop tour of the Gold Coast this month.
SATURDAY 13 March
QLD?S top teams will battle it out during the inaugural Body Science 9?s Rugby League Challenge