Dairy Farmers Stadium
The final roll of the dice for Neil Henry’s player posse as they try to corral Ivan Henjak’s rejuvenated Broncos and stay in contention for a finals berth.
Meanwhile the Broncos need to show their turnaround of the past fortnight – including a crushing win over premiership co-favourites St George Illawarra last week – hasn’t just been a flash in the pan.
Just when they seemed to be warming to something special the Cowboys thrust their gears into reverse to register a hat-trick of losses to the Storm, Bulldogs and Knights. Granted, that’s a tough run – but they did lead the Bulldogs 12-6 and the Knights 22-8 at the halfway mark of their encounters.
They received a massive blow during the week with the news dynamic fullback Matt Bowen requires further knee surgery (this time on his right knee) and will miss a big chunk of next season. This sees Ty Williams shift to fullback with Shannon Hegarty coming onto the wing. Otherwise they retain the same side that fell to the Knights.
Meanwhile Israel Folau is a tentative starter in the centres (in jersey no.5) for the Broncos, having recovered from his broken ankle – although he struggled to get through a fitness session midweek. This shifts Alex Glenn to the bench.
Ben Te’o will be looking for some game time this week – last week against the Dragons Lagi Setu and Ashton Sims were the only fresh troops called upon by coach Henjak as they rubbed salt into the Dragons’ wounds.
The game represents a milestone for Cowboy Antonio Kaufusi who plays his 100th NRL match.
Watch out Cowboys: Big prop Dave Taylor has stamped himself as the impact player of the moment following his shift to the left flank in attack. A fortnight ago against the Panthers he scored a try, made 112 metres with two line breaks and an offload. Then last week he was the difference between the two sides, scoring a crucial try against the Dragons and assisting the Broncos’ other try. He also made four tackle breaks and a line break in what was his first 80-minute outing in the NRL.
The bad news for the Cowboys is that their outside men are missing a bunch of tackles of late, with Ashley Graham on the right side missing six last week. Expect Taylor to target him and also Johnathan Thurston (nine missed tackles last week) in the Cowboys’ red zone.
Watch out Broncos: North Queensland love to set bodies in motion around the ruck, deploying decoy runners in numbers to confuse their opponent’s defensive line. In fact, four members of their current pack rank in the top 20 for decoy runs: prop Shane Tronc (93 – fourth most in the NRL), second-rower Scott Bolton (91 – sixth), benchman forward Steve Southern (75 – 16th) and their other starting prop Matt Scott (72 – 20th).
The Broncos need to be wary of this deception before ‘JT’ either dummies and goes himself or else shifts the ball wide.
Also, the Broncos need to contain Tronc and Scott, who have been among the hardest working bookends in 2009. Tronc ranks ninth in the NRL for running metres (2611, average 119 metres) and is the leading forward metre-eater in the comp, while Scott isn’t far behind him in 14th place (2542 metres, 121-metre average). Souths’ Luke Stuart is the only other prop in to top 20.
Where it will be won: Intensity for the full 80 minutes. The Cowboys have shown an ability to compete – and even dominate – early proceedings over the past fortnight but have wilted when it matters most.
With a slim chance of making the finals – they need two wins and other results to go their way – you’d expect them to be motivated for this encounter.
But you’d have expected them to have been motivated the past fortnight, too.
Meanwhile the Broncos have really shifted up a gear with their intensity and could prove the dark horse of the competition.
They’ll play an upbeat game and look to rely on Karmichael Hunt, Peter Wallace and Darren Lockyer to create opportunities inside the Cowboys’ 20-metre zone – with 20, 14 and 13 try assists respectively the Broncos are the only outfit with three attacking dynamos in the top 20 in the comp.
The history: Played 26; Cowboys 4, Broncos 20, drawn 2. An imposing advantage to the visitors – although the Cowboys have won three of the past eight clashes between the sides. Things don’t get any better for the Cowboys at Dairy Farmers Stadium though, where they have won just two of 14, with one draw.
Conclusion: It’s hard to get excited about the Cowboys’ chances. They have had everything to play for over the past month but have been largely disappointing.
Meanwhile the Broncos have silenced their knockers and look to be building to something significant. They’ll win by plenty. You’d think!
Match officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner & Adam Devcich; Video Ref – Tim Mander.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (Qld), delayed 9.30pm (NSW); Fox Sports – Delayed 1am Sat.
• Statistics: NRL Stats.