Queensland rivalry ready for its next chapter
Something special is brewing in Queensland, and it's bigger than any one individual can possibly be.
It's bigger than the nine State of Origin incumbents and six additional prospects that will do battle on Friday night. It's bigger than Johnathan Thurston's 250th game for North Queensland. And it's bigger than a grand final rematch.
It's about dividing an entire state of almost five million people.
Politicians have long flirted with the idea of seeking a referendum to split the state in two, but it seems all they need is a football game.
In fact, this rivalry even had proud New South Welshman Lachlan Coote stay a Cowboy amid a recent chequebook tug-of-war.
Earlier this week Coote said that he had no idea of the magnitude of the occasion until arriving in the north.
"I love being a part of it. I didn't really know how big it was until I got here and played a game," he said.
"When I was negotiating contracts, that's one thing I really thought of.
"I [may] have not been part of another game like this before [had I left]
"I love being part of the [rivalry], and it's a great game to play. The crowds you get at Suncorp and here, they're usually pretty sold out."
The state of the game changed in 2011 when the Cowboys dissolved a seven-game head-to-head losing streak at Suncorp Stadium on opening night, and it signalled a changing of the guard.
The lowly Cowboys had won just four of the 29 clashes over the first 16 years, but have claimed a win in eight of 15 spanning the six years since.
While they built gradually over previous seasons, Brisbane burst back on to the scene with Wayne Bennett back at the helm last year.
As the season unfolded both emerged as premiership contenders, and it was the Qualification Final where these clubs would escalate a local derby into the NRL's hottest and most competitive modern-day rivalry.
The Broncos won the thrill-a-minute match 16-12, but North Queensland had the last laugh of 2015 with a 17-16 golden-point grand final win in a contest arguably of even higher quality.
It again took another period of extra time for Brisbane to get one back in Round 4, which sets the scene for – dare we say it – the biggest regular season clash of this season to date.
"It's enjoyable, these are the games you look forward to," co-captain Johnathan Thurston said.
"It's been sold out for a couple of weeks now, so it's an exciting time for us.
"The fans love it, there is great respect between the two clubs, and we obviously know each other very well. It's an exciting time, it's going to be a fun night."
Bragging rights don't even begin to describe what's at stake on Friday. It's the kind of game players don't forget quickly.
And it's another instalment in what may well evolve into the most gripping prolonged battle our game has ever seen.