The State of Origin decider is less than a fortnight away but former Dragons coach Nathan Brown believes that two Queensland teams are set for a minor premiership showdown with 11 weeks of the regular season remaining.
Four points clear of the chasing pack and with a points differential of 51 all that separates the Broncos and Cowboys, Brown says in this week's issue of Big League that they are the two teams to have emerged as premiership front-runners.
If the Broncos and Cowboys were to finish the regular season in the top two spots they could not meet in the Finals Series any earlier than the Telstra Premiership Grand Final at ANZ Stadium on October 4.
"There’s a real touch of Wayne Bennett’s influence in the Broncos’ defence this season and it showed against the Storm last weekend," Brown says in the Round 16 issue of Big League.
"Wayne has been around a long time and he has a number of strategies that have proven effective over such a long period of time that they’ll always work as long as the game of rugby league is played.
"The speed of his edge defenders is crucial to the resilience of his defensive patterns, with Alex Glenn and Matt Gillett readily available to cover from the inside for the smaller men like Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford if they’re beaten."
Although they will be without their superstar halfback Johnathan Thurston this weekend, Brown still believes the Cowboys have enough in their arsenal to account for the Sharks, particularly with their unfailing belief that has grown over their 11-game winning streak.
"North Queensland have developed a belief that they can win games at the death and you only have to look at the table to see the impact it’s had on their side," says Brown.
"More often than not the comebacks have been sparked by Johnathan Thurston but the biggest difference in the Cowboys side this season has been the number of options they have all over the park.
"Jake Granville could prove to be the smartest acquisition the Cowboys have made in a while. His game has improved as the year has gone on which is a credit to his coaches.
"It’s the first time since Aaron Payne retired that North Queensland has been provided with speed out of dummy-half. In turn, it’s giving the Cowboys some added spark in attack that has been a long time missing."
The Round 16 issue of Big League is on sale now at newsagents and at the ground. Digital version also available through Zinio.