Twenty minutes that will decide final
The Broncos must be leading the Cowboys after 20 minutes if they are any chance of causing an upset in Saturday night's Elimination Final at 1300SMILES Stadium.
That's what an analysis of the statistics brings to bear and senior Bronco players have recognised the need to come out of the blocks fast in order to keep the partisan crowd quiet and stop the big Cowboys pack from getting a roll on.
Statistics supplied by Champion Data show that the Cowboys are far more proficient at getting off to a good start, winning the opening 20-minute period of 13 of their 24 matches and trailing after the opening quarter just five times.
The Broncos, on the other hand, have only led after 20 minutes on nine occasions and once they get behind they find it difficult to get their heads back in front.
Just last week against the Storm the Bronco were staring down a 12-point deficit after the opening 20 minutes and Sam Thaiday knows they can't afford a repeat in Townsville.
"Twelve-point head start in finals footy is no good, especially playing a team like the Cowboys. If they get out to a 12-point head start they're only going to jump and continue on from there," Thaiday said.
"We're going to have to have a good start against the Cowboys. We probably got jumped against the Melbourne Storm and they got out to a better start than we did but I think the boys showed great courage and determination to really hang in there.
"A lot of grit too when a player like Jack Reed, a big part of our side goes down, Corey Oates comes in and fill that position so it's good to see that hunger there and determination to do everything it takes to win. We'll need to take that up to Townsville."
The Cowboys have led or been level with their opposition after 20 minutes on 18 occasions so far this season and gone on to win the game 67 per cent of the time while the Broncos have trailed or been level 15 times and lost 67 per cent of them.
When the two sides last met in Round 9 the Cowboys led 14-0 at the 20-minute mark and went on to win 27-14 with Matt Scott next to unstoppable in the middle of the field.
"[The start] is crucial for us," said Broncos co-captain Justin Hodges. "Especially playing up in Townsville, the fans up there are pretty ruthless up there so it's important for us to get on top early but that's going to be difficult.
"Obviously they haven't let too many tries in lately so we've got to be on our game and hopefully we can send the crowd home a little bit early."
Integral to North Queensland's fast starts has been the form of Test and Origin front-rower Matt Scott and fellow starting prop Ashton Sims, with Scott refreshed from a stint on the sidelines and Sims ripping in in his final NRL season.
With their thrust up front and the power of Tariq Sims and Jason Taumalolo coming through on the back of fast play-the-balls it makes for a daunting prospect for Thaiday and his fellow Bronco forwards.
"The keys of slowing that up are probably Matt Scott, Ashton Sims, James Tamou, Jason Taumalolo," said Thaiday, who along with Corey Parker is the only surviving Bronco from the first Cowboys-Broncos finals clash 10 years ago.
"You stop those boys rolling up the field and you take away [Johnathan] Thurston and [Robert] Lui and [Michael] Morgan's chance to really show their skill and score some points. That's our task, speaking on behalf of the forwards, to try and stop those guys."
Adds Hodges: "Without your front-rowers going forward there's not much room for the backs to work their magic so in saying that, 'Scotty' and 'Simsy' and those guys... Jason Taumalolo has been outstanding this year and he's probably one of our biggest threats so our forwards really need to be on their game."