The Cowboys will be keen to erase the memories of another controversial finals exit by beating the Sharks in 2014. Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
Cowboys v Sharks
Last season, for the second straight year, North Queensland bowed out of the NRL finals after a controversial referee decision. The seventh-tackle drama surrounding the Cowboys' 20-18 loss to the Sharks in the opening week of the 2013 finals series left many fans feeling the world was against them – particularly as it came a year to the day since the team had been cruelled by a finals loss to Manly after the Sea Eagles were awarded a try despite a clear Kieran Foran knock-on.
Will the club use those recent disappointments to spur them on to bigger and better things in 2014? A win here against Cronulla won't rectify the sense of injustice Cowboys fans feel after last year's finals exit, but it would be sweet nonetheless.
Cowboys v Titans
The battle of the top two Queensland teams from 2013 carries a little extra spice with former North Queensland mentor Neil Henry now part of the coaching staff at the Titans. Winger Kalifa Faifai Loa has also made a switch to the Gold Coast. The Cowboys finished the higher of the two last season but they and the Titans shared the spoils in their two home-and-away matches, with North Queensland suffering a 31-12 defeat on the Gold Coast in Round 12 but taking revenge with a 22-10 victory in Round 23.
Both clubs have arguably underperformed in recent seasons – the Cowboys are packed with stars yet struggled for the first half of 2013, while the Titans have built a terrific forward pack and have a talented backline yet haven't played finals football since 2010, just missing out last year in ninth place. The team that pipped them to the finals? North Queensland.
Cowboys v Broncos
Despite being the only Queensland club to reach last season's finals series, the Cowboys couldn't get a victory over the Broncos from two attempts in 2012. Both games went down to the wire, and both times Brisbane snuck away with a two-point victory – 12-10 at Suncorp Stadium in Round 6, and 18-16 at 1300SMILES Stadium in Round 20.
In fact, North Queensland have always struggled against their "big brother". The Cowboys have only won 22.2 per cent of their games against Brisbane – that's eight wins from 36 matches – and with the talent they have at their disposal it's a record they should be turning around soon.
The Broncos will be a new-look team in 2014, particularly in the backline where Ben Barba and several other new faces will replace the likes of Scott Prince and Peter Wallace, but it is the clash of the forward packs that will have mouths watering here – James Tamou, Matt Scott and the Sims brothers coming up against Ben Hannant, Sam Thaiday, Josh McGuire, Martin Kennedy, Corey Parker and Matt Gillett. This one shapes as a bruising encounter between two long-time rivals.
Check back on NRL.com on Wednesday for details of your team's schedule with the release of the 2014 NRL Draw.