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.
Of the other two games, unbeaten Redcliffe plays finals candidate North Queensland, while the also-undefeated Tweed Heads Seagulls take on heavyweight Wynnum.
Two sides breathing a heavy sigh of relief mid-week are Burleigh and Ipswich, with key players from both clubs escaping suspension.
Burleigh hooker Ryan Gundry will suit up for the Bears despite being sent off for a high tackle in last week?s game against Tweed Heads.
Meanwhile, Jets half and attacking strike weapon Ricky Bird has been let off for a similar charge against Central.
Central five-eighth Terry Benson was the only other player reported from round three and he was also adjudged not guilty.
SATURDAY APRIL 3 Brothers-Valleys v Souths-Logan Magpies, 2.10pm, O?Callaghan Park ABC televised match of the round?A match of contrasts?The first Queensland Cup game to be played at O?Callaghan Park, traditionally a home for Australian rules?Valleys (est 1909), Brothers (est 1917), Souths (est 1919) and Logan (est 1988) combine for 283 years worth of rugby league history?However, this will be the first A-grade fixture between the clubs under their modern guises and the first televised appearance for Brothers-Valleys?Presently Brothers-Valleys and Souths-Logan occupy the bottom two spots on the ladder and are the only sides to have conceded more than 100 points?The Magpies have lost Grant Lewis (thumb), Stan Fau (knee) and Nick Emmett (back) from last week?s team?Brothers-Valleys captain and coach Gary O?Brien and Scott Maguire were linchpins of the old Logan Scorpions.
Central Comets v Easts Tigers, 7pm, Browne Park Another evenly matched clash, with both teams winning two from three thus far?Curiously, Central has not tasted victory at home since June 28 last year, but has won its last three matches away?The last visiting team to lose at Rockhampton was Easts, the Tigers falling 30-22? Easts has named Darren Smith to captain the Tigers on Saturday, but reports have him unlikely to play after suffering a neck injury in round three?In other changes for the black-and-gold, Isaac Kaufmann, Leroy Day and Rob Maller replace Phil Dennis, Adam Walker and Ben Bourke?Comets coach Neale Crow has kept the same team which beat Ipswich last weekend, but shuffled David Nixon from centre to second-row and pushed forwards Gerard Parle and Kane Hardy to the bench?Queensland Cup stalwart Heath Egglestone gets a starting berth, as does St George-Illawarra signing Shannon Fish.
SUNDAY APRIL 4 Toowoomba Clydesdales v Norths Devils, 12.15pm, Suncorp Stadium A precursor to the Broncos-Storm NRL battle, with the best up-and-coming talent from each club on display?Last season the Clydesdales and Devils had one win apiece head-to-head?After several strong performances, former Queensland under-19 player and Bundaberg product Antonio Kaufusi has been elevated from the Devils to the Storm, leaving Aaron Bulow to move to prop for Norths, while Jeremy Smith slides into the back row?Boom half Berrick Barnes has scored a try in each Tooowoomba game so far this season, with utility Cooper Cronk doing likewise for Norths?Tom Learoyd may be a late inclusion for the Clydesdales should he recover from a corked thigh, while Ashley Alberts is back after two weeks off from injury?Monster Sione Finefeuiaki is back in Norths? top squad.
Wynnum Seagulls v Tweed Heads Seagulls, 3pm, Kougari Oval After both experienced tight wins last week, the two Seagulls teams will be looking to swoop on further premiership points to consolidate?Tweed is currently equal leader of the competition alongside Redcliffe, while Wynnum is seventh?The only change to either side from last week is the promotion of John Bruce to the Wynnum starting side, with Damien Durnford back to the bench?Winger Michael Gordon from Tweed is the competition?s leading try-scorer with five, while teammate Balin Cupples is just one behind...In the last clash between these two sides at Kougari, Wynnum won 40-22 in a preliminary final to eliminate Tweed from the 2004 premiership race?Kougari is the only away ground where Tweed has lost more than once.
Redcliffe Dolphins v North Queensland Young Guns, 3pm, Dolphin Oval In the corresponding game last year, North Queensland sprang a 30-8 surprise, making them just one of three away teams to win at Dolphin Oval in 2003?However only four players from the Young Guns ? Brenton Bowen, Wallace Solomona, Aaron Payne and Jacob Lillyman ? remain from that team?Payne scored three tries in 24 minutes against the Dolphins last year?Heading into this game Redcliffe is first, while North Queensland is eighth?The Dolphins have named an unchanged side from that which thrashed Souths-Logan 44-16 in round three?North Queensland has three players who have played NRL this season, they being Jaiman Lowe, Chris Sheppard and Rod Jensen?Prop Shane Tronc has been named to play Redcliffe for the first time since leaving the peninsula.
Burleigh Bears v Ipswich Jets, 3pm, Pizzey Park It would have taken a daring punter to wager that neither Burleigh nor Ipswich would have a win by round four, but that?s how the start of 2004 has panned out?Both finalists in 2003, the Bears and Jets have just one point each for a draw thus far?Burleigh coach Rick Stone has benched prop Shane O?Flanagan and restored former Gold Coast Charger Adam Cook to the starting line-up, while Ross Sammut (shoulder) is replaced by ex-South Queensland Crusher Ray Hubbard?After missing all its conversion attempts last week, Ipswich has recalled dumped goal-kicker Steve West?West was man-of-the-match in reserve grade last week?Having gained acclaim as the 1000th first grade player for South Sydney last year, Danny McAllister (neck) looks set to miss his second game in succession for the Jets.