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Brisbane Broncos v North Queensland Cowboys
Suncorp Stadium
Friday 7.30pm (Qld time)

Brisbane welcome back the fresh legs of veteran Petero Civoniceva for the oldest of Queensland derbies, keen to build momentum after their slogging victory over the Eels at a rain-soaked Parramatta Stadium last Friday.

Meanwhile North Queensland coach Neil Henry has spent the past week poring over video of their hapless effort against the Titans which left them with both zero competition points and points scored in 2012.

Henry knows he must help his troops find a way to the opposition try line or else the Broncos’ dazzling attack will bury his charges under a mountain of points and leave them well adrift of the pack in the early race for spots in the top eight. Worryingly, North Queensland have now scored just 14 points in their past three NRL games!

It took the Broncos 52 minutes to draw level with the Eels last week after Chris Sandow’s fourth-minute try, before a Peter Wallace solo effort scooted them clear with a quarter of time remaining. Ben Hannant iced their cake with a rush from close range with eight minutes remaining.

It was a close contest despite the scoreline and there’s obviously still plenty of work to be done in the Broncos’ camp but the early signs are encouraging – and importantly they essentially have a clean sheet on the injury front.

The addition of Civoniceva on the bench is the only change to the Broncos’ line-up, with Nick Slyney making way for the Maroons’ star who will play his 216th game in Brisbane colours and his first since 2007.

Meanwhile the Cowboys are still scratching their heads at their inability to score a single point at their Townsville HQ for the first time in nine years. Coach Henry will be demanding more in the weeks ahead from the likes of Matt Bowen (just 57 metres, two tackle busts and no line-breaks), Johnathan Thurston (six errors and no offloads),  and Robert Lui (not a single tackle bust in seven runs – from a guy who made 78 last season).

Errors were their downfall – they made a staggering 28, with just five members of their 17 not fumbling at some stage.

Brent Tate has been rushed back into their starting 13, with Antonio Winterstein bumping Moses Pangi off the left wing. James Segeyaro, Jason Taumalolo, Cory Paterson and Kalifa Faifai Loa join the extended interchange alongside Ashton Sims and Joel Riethmuller, with Scott Bolton and Robert Lui drop-outs.

The Cowboys are looking for just their sixth victory over the Broncos in the 25th clash between the two sides.

Watch Out Broncos: Cowboys co-captain Matthew Scott will be out to dominate his Broncos opponents Ben Hannant and Petero Civoniceva. Scott will be itching to maintain his place in the representative pecking order and if past encounters are anything to go on he’ll lay a good platform for the Cowboys’ backline. Last time these sides met Scott pounded out a massive 164 metres from 13 hit-ups in just 53 minutes.

Also, former Bronco Antonio Winterstein looks set for a solid 2012 after being sidelined for the whole of 2011. Playing centre last week Winterstein was a solid contributor with a line-break, an offload and 22 tackles.

Danger Sign: Forget about the Cowboys’ miserable territorial gain of just 1080 metres last week – last season they were among the most penetrative sides, grinding out 1375 metres a game (fourth most). And they averaged 4.5 line-breaks and nearly 40 tackle breaks. With a rocket up them at training and a more disciplined approach to possession expect them to get plenty of chances to open their 2012 scoring account with a hefty deposit.  

In particular Matt Bowen will fancy his chances on the right edge after bamboozling the Broncos with a dazzling solo try in their most recent match-up. Bowen reeled off a series of lightning-fast dummies that hoodwinked the defence before slicing through unopposed. Broncos’ left winger Gerard Beale will still be anxious after a couple of clanger errors last week while Jack Reed uncharacteristically missed a third of his nine tackle attempts. They’ll be on the lookout for a repeat from Bowen – but the added danger is he may suck them in off their line and actually offload to a support this time around.

Watch Out Cowboys: Justin Hodges kicked off 2012 in fine style with a game-high 17 runs for 134 metres last week, plus a try assist and six offloads. Opposing centre Kane Linnett has his work cut out stopping the Test star.

Josh Hoffman is the danger man – he scored three tries last time the sides met and his blistering acceleration from a standing start through the centre of the ruck will need to be contained.

Danger Sign: If the Cowboys don’t focus on wrapping up the ball carrier and the Broncos are allowed to offload freely it could be a long night for the visitors. Last week Brisbane showed skill to tally 13 offloads (second most) with only a few errors while the Cowboys struggled to contain second-phase play from the Titans, conceding 13 (second most conceded). If Hodges, Corey Parker and Sam Thaiday are given any latitude the Cowboys will be back-pedalling all evening.

Corey Norman v Johnathan Thurston: A classic case of master v apprentice. Thurston will be intent on shrugging off the cobwebs after a patchy effort last week while Norman will be encouraged by a promising start in the No.6 last week. Lockyer’s successor appeared comfortable asking questions of the defensive line (134 metres, seven tackle-breaks) and handled the pressure and workload of running the Broncos’ backline (49 receives).

Where It Will Be Won: With both sides boasting match-winners in attack it may boil down to who muscles up in defence. If last week is any indication the Broncos will be too strong: they were the only side to not have a line-break made against them and they missed just 15 tackles, the fewest in the league. Meanwhile the Cowboys conceded both the second-most line-breaks (four) and offloads (13).

The History: Played 24; Broncos 24, Cowboys 5, drawn 2. The Broncos have won eight of the past nine clashes but the Cowboys have an excellent record at Suncorp Stadium, winning three of seven. That included their biggest ever win over their southern cousins – 36-4 in 2006. In fact, the Cowboys boast a better winning record at Suncorp (45.5 per cent) than at Dairy Farmers (43.8 per cent).

The Last Time They Met: Three tries to fullback Josh Hoffman spearheaded the Broncos to a convincing 34-16 victory in a high-quality thrill-fest in Townsville in Round 23 last year. The Broncos jumped to an early 12-nil advantage and led 18-10 at halftime – despite the Cowboys playing a near-perfect 40 minutes of football with the ball in hand. The home side completed an incredible 93 per cent of their sets and made 10 offloads to Brisbane’s three but still trudged from the field behind on the scoreboard. Brisbane meanwhile kept things simple, making just six offloads all game and seven errors in total. Hoffman (11 tackle-breaks and two line-breaks) and Justin Hodges (123 metres, seven tackle-breaks and a line-break) did the damage for the Broncos. Hoffman raced 80 metres to score his third try after cleaning up the spoils of a Cowboys bomb.

Match Officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Gavin Reynolds; Sideline Officials – Ricky MacFarlane & Michael Wise; Video Referee – Bernard Sutton.

The Way We See It: On exposed form and at home in front of what’s sure to be a capacity crowd at Suncorp Stadium it has to be the Broncos. We’ll tip them by eight points.  

Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (Qld), delayed 9.30pm (NSW); Fox Sports 2 – Delayed 1am Sat.

•    Statistics: NRL Stats

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