Round 21: Cowboys v Broncos preview
The last "Queensland derby" at the Willows and there's plenty at stake...
With the Cowboys' move to Townsville's new stadium, the number of remaining home games at their current Kirwan home base is diminishing rapidly. The third last is coming up this Thursday - and it's the last time the Brisbane Broncos will appear at the venue.
It's a pretty critical time for both sides. North Queensland find themselves four points adrift of the top eight after back-to-back losses against the Sharks and Wests Tigers. Another loss and their season is done, in spite of a mid-season surge that had them well in the fight for September.
Brisbane hit a bump themselves last week, copping a thumping from likely minor premiers Melbourne at home. Prior to that, the Broncos had battled their way into the top eight - winning three of their previous four matches, the fourth match being an 18-all draw with the Warriors. Perhaps telling, however, is that Brisbane's wins were over the bottom two sides (Titans and Bulldogs) as well as an injury-ravaged Cronulla prior to Origin III.
Paul Green is able to welcome back Gideon Gela-Mosby from injury, the young winger replacing rookie Murray Taulagi on the wing in the home side's only change from last week. Brisbane have a bunch of changes including the return of Tevita Pangai Junior, who slots into the backrow. Thomas Flegler drops to the bench with Joe Ofahengaue starting, while on Wednesday Alex Glenn was ruled out with a knee injury after having been named at centre. Gehamat Shibasaki joins the backline.
This will be the 29th and final "Queensland derby" at 1300SMILES Stadium, with the 28 matches played to date leaning in Brisbane's favour 17 wins to 10 for the Cowboys.
Overall from 51 matches since 1995, Brisbane hold a decisive 33 wins to 16 (two drawn), but the Cowboys won the match that matters - a 17-16 Grand Final win over the Broncos in 2015.
Who to watch: Up front there's an intriguing battle ahead. Former Bronco Josh McGuire dons the North Queensland number eight, and comes up against Matt Lodge. Both players have courted all sorts of controversy in recent years both on and off the field. Thursday night they need to let the on-field stuff do the talking.
Both have a solid stats sheet across the season with big tackle numbers and tackle efficiency between 85 and 90%. Defensively there's not a whole lot between them, but Lodge's record with the ball tells a better story than McGuire's, with more tackle breaks and running metres on average per game.
It's simple for these two - lay the platform in attack and your side has the advantage.