Cowboys v Broncos preview - 2017 Round 26

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North Queensland Cowboys v Brisbane Broncos Thursday 7:50pm at 1300SMILES Stadium

Here we go again: another chapter in the epic rivalry between the North Queensland Cowboys and Brisbane Broncos unfolds on Thursday in Townsville.

Since that epic decider in 2015; the two have played out some tremendous rugby league contests - including a trifecta of one-point games and a six-point semi-final victory for the Cowboys. So expect fireworks when these two met despite there being not much more than pride and finishing positions on the line. 

The Cowboys have resembled a hospital ward in the last month, missing key players to injury but they remain in that logjam at the bottom of the top eight - so after Sunday night, they could be gearing up for another game or their mad Monday, so the stakes are high for the home side. 

Besides missing their co-captains in Johnathan Thurston and Matt Scott, the Cowboys have their best available team on the paddock, so coach Paul Green will look to continue the momentum built with their come from behind victory against the Tigers last Friday night. 

For Brisbane, they have had to lick their wounds after a 13-second KirisomeAuva'a try lead the Eels to a rare thrashing at home for the six-time NRL champions. As a consequence, the Broncos tumbled from second to fourth so may face a tough away trip in the first week of the finals. 

Wayne Bennett has curtailed the Sam Thaiday at hooker experiment, the experienced front rower moves back to prop, as Ben Hunt will play the full game at the dummy-half position. It will be intriguing to see how the Broncos bounce back after last Thursday night to get themselves back onto the winning track before the finals start next weekend.

Last meeting: Round 2 2017 - Broncos 20 Cowboys 21

Who to watch: The Broncos defence - after conceding 54last weekend, it would've been a tough week on the training paddock for the top four side. Wayne Bennett will want an improved defensive effort across the board, so it will be interesting to see if the Broncos look to make a statement through their tackling against a Cowboys team that lack their talisman. 

Since Thurston was injured in Origin II - carrying on in a herculean performance - the cowboys have been slightly clunky with their attack. Michael Morgan has stepped into the void impressively and rumours of their demise were greatly exaggerated. Morgan will partner mid-season recruit Te Marie Martin, so the utility will take on the lion share of the workload against the Broncos and don't be surprised if he uses his running game to keep the previously mentioned chastened Brisbane defensive line honest.

The favourite: If this was against any other opponent, the Broncos would be favourites - despite their humbling to the Eels last weekend - but the old cliché goes - throw the form book out the window in a local derby. So there isn't a favourite for Thursday night's clash, enjoy two premier sides going at it. 

My tip: Broncos by 1.

1. Lachlan Coote 2. Kyle Feldt 3. Javid Bowen 4. Kane Linnett 5. Antonio Winterstein 6. Te Maire Martin 7. Michael Morgan 8. John Asiata 9. Jake Granville 10. Scott Bolton 11. Gavin Cooper 12. Ethan Lowe 13. Jason Taumalolo 14. Ben Hampton 15. Coen Hess 16. Corey Jensen 17. Shaun Fensom

1. Darius Boyd 2. Corey Oates 3. James Roberts 4. Tautau Moga 5. Jordan Kahu 6. Anthony Milford 7. Kodi Nikorima 8. Sam Thaiday 9. Ben Hunt 10. Adam Blair 11. Alex Glenn 12. Matt Gillett 13. Josh Mcguire 14. Benji Marshall 15. Tevita Pangai 16. Joe Ofahengaue 17. Herman Essese

Referees: Gerard Sutton, Adam Gee; Sideline Officials: Michael Wise, Nick Beashel; Video Referees: Bernard Sutton, Ben Galea;

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