Round 1: Cowboys v Broncos preview
New stadium opens with red hot Queensland derby
The Cowboys come into this new season with plenty of expectation from fans, with the signing of Valentine Holmes coming after the Townsville born fullback's short stint with the New York Jets. The Cowboys will also unveil their brand new Queensland Country Bank Stadium in round one and will be hoping the stadium can assist them in turning their fortunes around after a less than satisfactory season in 2019.
Showing plenty of promise in the pre-season, highlighted by their second NRL Nines title, the Cowboys will be full of confidence heading into the opening round. Despite the nines format being very much different to the thirteen aside game, the team who wins the nines tournament historically follows it up with a strong NRL campaign.
The Cowboys have been strong in the opening round of the season in recent times, winning four of their last five round one clashes. The Queensland derby is typically a close contest and results are relatively even between the two sides.
Coach Paul Green has named a strong side, with the inclusion of new recruits Valentine Holmes and Esan Masters, who will start at fullback and centre respectively. Talented young recruit Reece Robson will start off the bench for the Cowboys, with Jake Granville starting in the hooker position. NRL Nines player of the tournament Scott Drinkwater starts in the five-eighth position ahead of Jake Clifford, who is in the reserves. John Asiata earns a starting prop role for this clash and Coen Hess, who will be looking to get back to the form he is very much capable of, starts in the second-row.
The Broncos start the season with a lot of question marks after 2019 saw them narrowly reach the finals, only to go down 58-0 against Parramatta in what was the largest loss a team has recorded in a finals game. If those around the likes of Payne Haas and David Fifita fail to fire this season, coach Anthony Seibold could see himself under pressure.
Brisbane's pre-season was less than convincing and included losses to the Titans, as well as round one opponents, the Cowboys. Brisbane were also expected to challenge for the NRL Nines title, however they failed to make it past the group stages of the tournament. The pre-season can however, be deceiving and it is not uncommon to see teams who struggle in the pre-season succeed in the regular season.
Despite the record of this particular match up being very even, the Broncos do have a slight edge on the Cowboys in more recent times. Last season saw the Broncos win on both occasions against their biggest Queensland rivals.
Anthony Seibold's side has been dealt a massive blow leading into Friday night's blockbuster, with Jack Bird suffering a second ACL tear in as many seasons. Bird, who was poised to play fullback this season for the Broncos, will likely be replaced at the back by Jamayne Isaako. Veteran Darius Boyd starts in the centre position for Brisbane, however if he replicates his 2019 form, he could see himself playing in reserve grade sooner rather than later. Newly recruited halfback Brodie Croft will start and has been named as captain for this match, following an injury to regular captain Alex Glenn who will miss out on the clash. Jake Turpin earns a starting role at hooker, pushing three-time Queensland origin representative Andrew McCullough to the bench. Jamil Hopoate will also make his NRL debut at the age of 25.
Who to watch: Whilst a lot of eyes will be focused on high-profile recruit Valentine Holmes on Friday night, Cowboys halfback Michael Morgan is certainly one to watch. Having had a season to recover from the loss of Johnathan Thurston, many will be looking to Morgan to lead the Cowboys around the park in 2020 after an underwhelming 2019 campaign saw the men from Townsville finish the season fourteenth. Morgan will be looking to replicate his form during the 2017 finals series, during which he was arguably the competitions best player and saw the Cowboys reach the Grand Final after finishing the regular season in eighth position. If Morgan can manage to take control of this game, the Cowboys will go a long way towards winning it.
Anthony Milford will have his best opportunity to produce what he is capable of in season 2020, with new halfback Brodie Croft arriving at the Brisbane club. It has been speculated ever since the departure of Ben Hunt at the conclusion of the 2017 season that Milford must have a game controlling halfback partnering him in the halves in order to unlock his best. With the Broncos now having landed that halfback and boasting a strong forward pack, there is no excuses for Milford this season. Look for Milford to be freed up on the field and utilise his strong running game. On his day, Milford is one of the competitions best players and with his speed and footwork, he can certainly cause some headaches for the North Queensland defence.
The favourite: It appears that the Cowboys are slight favourites to take out this all Queensland derby.
My tip: Despite the Cowboys having the excitement of a new stadium behind them, their new look spine may struggle to click this early in the season. Further, Valentine Holmes will need time to return to his best. With a very strong forward pack and finally a game controlling halfback in Brodie Croft, the Broncos will be tough to stop. Broncos by 8.
North Queensland Cowboys Form Guide
Yet to play this season
North Queensland Cowboys Upcoming Games
Brisbane Broncos Form Guide
Yet to play this season