Forwards hold key to Grand Final
Sunday's Grand Final will feature no shortage of players who featured for Queensland in this year's winning State of Origin series and those one-time teammates appeared relaxed and jovial going head to head at Thursday's Grand Final press conference.
While a slightly testy Justin Hodges shut down any talk of his dodgy back keeping him out of a decider he's been waiting nine years for, and opposing captain Johnathan Thurston insisted his calf and groin injuries wouldn't stop him training ahead of the big day, the mood was otherwise very lighthearted.
Veteran Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett enjoyed jousting with reporters, dishing up trademark wry responses to keep everyone guessing, while Sam Thaiday lightened the mood in pointing out Hodges not being able to train properly meant everything is business as usual.
Cowboys prop Matt Scott – 18th man for North Queensland back in their 2005 Grand Final loss – spoke of the mateship and mutual respect shared by the Queensland Origin contingent.
"There's obviously a few connections there. I'm friends with many of them, we've had some great battles over the years. Never have they been dirty or anything like that, we're always very respectful but very tough at the same time," Scott said.
Added Scott's Queensland teammate and Brisbane rival Corey Parker: "As Matty Scott touched on before, we are all good mates and along with that we all respect each other and we are all very close through that Origin period. The only difference is we have different coloured jerseys on so it will be business as usual."
Thaiday added his own jovial mood both earlier in the week and at the media call was all part of not getting too worked up or stressed out before the actual game.
The Broncos' 16-12 win over the Cowboys in the opening week of the finals was arguably the match of the finals, played at an exhilarating pace with a tense finish, and Cowboys coach Paul Green was expecting more of the same come Sunday.
"A lot of people commented about the game as a spectacle so, I think the fans want to see fast, free flowing football, that was certainly that on that night," Green said.
"As long as the refs, referee the same sort of way, we will probably get a similar game."
His skipper Thurston was hoping the same despite the toll it took on him three weeks previously.
"I was sucking in [deep breaths next to] the goalposts there a few times in the first week of the finals. Hopefully it’s a similar match," Thurston said.
"Both teams have got attacking weapons and can score tries from all over the park. The Broncs have a lot of excitement machines in their team and are very exciting to watch. It will be a packed house and I'm sure fans will get their money's worth."
Scott added that despite the huge buzz up in Townsville at the moment the side is accustomed to expectations from their home supporters.
"There is that expectation there every year – they're hoping for their maiden premiership," Scott said.
"It's gone well so far, so it is about not letting it overwhelm us and concentrating on the job at hand.
"I experienced it in 2005 so I know what a GF does to the town, during the final series, there was a great vibe around the place so to see all the people come out and support us and everyone around town in Cowboys [colours], it gives us a real buzz and makes us proud to be supporting the whole region."
Scott's memories of that year and his week as 18th man for a grand final are now fleeting.
"It was a while ago now and I don’t remember too much, just little bits about the feeling around town and in the team. I’m at a very different stage of my career now, so I expect to remember this one a lot differently," Scott said.
"[There is] a fair bit of excitement obviously. They [the younger players] also realise what sort of situation they’re in and what we’ve got in front of us, the opportunity they have in front of us. It’s a good group, a very level headed group and we get on very well. We’ve worked hard to get to this situation so I’m sure they all want to take advantage of it."
Asked where the game would be won given the focus on the playmakers, Bennett finally gave something close to a straight answer to close the press conference.
"The forwards will determine who wins the game," he said.
"Whoever does the job best in that area will allow the halves to play. The halves can’t play if the forwards don’t lay the groundwork for them. The Cowboys and the Broncos are in the same boat."