Round 16: Cowboys v Broncos preview
Season's big improvers go head to head
The NRL's two most improved teams in the North Queensland Cowboys and the Brisbane Broncos will go head to head in a twilight blockbuster on Saturday night.
North Queensland were most people's picks for the wooden spoon this year, but Todd Payten has delivered on the talent at his disposal placing the Cowboys comfortably inside the NRL's top four. The scary thing for the rest of the competition, is the Cowboys aren't at their best yet. With players tasting the experience of rep footy this season, they're going to be primed to finish the season on a high. Their march into September begins with an important derby match against the Broncos, a side which North Queensland trounced handsomely earlier in the season 38-12 in a match that showed that the Cowboys wouldn't be making up the numbers in season 2022.
North Queensland will be without Reuben Cotter again as he recovers from his hamstring strain in the warm-up against Manly, but will have the services of the rest of their line-up that trounced Brisbane. Jeremiah Nanai will be primed to put in another big performance against the team he made his presence felt against earlier this season with a hattrick and several big plays. Luciano Leilua is named for his club debut on the bench in his 100th NRL game. North Queensland's representative players got through unscathed and are named, while Tom Gilbert returns from injury pushing Connelly Lemuelu out of the squad and Jamayne Taunoa-Brown back to the bench. Kyle Feldt is an outside chance of returning from a knee injury as he's named in the reserves.
Things were looking shaky for the boys from Red Hill early on this season, after two tough wins, they dropped four straight and the questions were asked about commitment and the future of Kevin Walters. But in Bronco spirit, they turned it around in spectacular fashion to win their next seven straight before going down bravely at the hands of Melbourne a fortnight ago. With the week off and the QLD contingent of Broncos looking for revenge after Sunday's disaster. They'll be primed to get revenge on a Cowboys side that ambushed them back in March on their own home ground.
Selwyn Cobbo will be keen to turn around a nightmare second appearance at the Origin arena after 4 errors and dropped bombs, so expect Chad Townsend and Tom Dearden to give Cobbo another nightmare evening under the high ball. Whilst Pat Carrigan and Payne Haas will be looking to carry their strong impact in the forwards with the latter carrying an ankle injury into this match and could be a late scratching. Adam Reynolds will return from a rib injury in an otherwise unchanged line-up.
Last meeting: Round 3 2022 - Broncos 12 Cowboys 38
Who to watch: After a lacklustre start to his Cowboys career, Jordan McLean has well and truly rebounded in season 2022. Off contract at the end of the season, McLean has been a constant goer for the Cowboys this season, which has allowed their outside backs to shine through his go-forward and tackling ability we saw at Melbourne and for Australia in the last World Cup. McLean has averaged 116 meters a game and tackling at 96.5% efficiency, with a place in the squad not secured for next year, McLean is looking to either cement a future at the Cowboys or put on a show for a future buyer.
Ezra Mam has been a shining light in his rookie season as the club looks for a long term halves partner for Adam Reynolds. In what has been another year of a halfback carousel (this time due to injury and not form). Mam has been the perfect addition to partner the former premiership winner in the halves. Mam has crossed the stripe three times and set up three more in the four matches he's appeared in this season. Watch for Ezra to be at his scintillating best on Saturday night.
The favourite: North Queensland are the favourites with this one. The teams are even in matches played at QCB Stadium with Brisbane winning in 2020, and the Cowboys winning last year in an epic.
My tip: I just believe with the injuries that Brisbane have sustained in key positions, North Queensland will have enough strike power to overpower the Broncos in this one with Tom Dearden and Chad Townsend set to continue their combination in the halves as they knock off another impressive victory this season and cement their place firmly inside the top 4. Cowboys by 6.