Holden Cup Preview: Cowboys v Wests Tigers
1300 Smiles Stadium
The Cowboys host the Wests Tigers in a clash of the titans on Friday night for the right to take on minor premiers Penrith in the Holden Cup preliminary final.
North Queensland will be stinging from last week's heartbreaking 34-30 loss to the Dragons in golden point, especially considering they were in front with less than a minute to go.
It was a different story for the Tigers who were rarely troubled in their comprehensive 54-24 win over the Eels, and they'll take great confidence heading into this one after their 36-12 win back in Round 22.
The Cowboys have made a couple of changes with Kaleb Fuimaono joining the bench in place of Hiale Roycroft while Ross Bella moves to the back row and Nick Brown switches to prop.
Willie Peters has made one change to his side with Rhys Sciglitano replacing Trent Pye on the bench.
Watch out Cowboys: Roman Ioelu has been on fire for the Tigers this year and was just about their most destructive attacking weapon against the Eels last week. The winger grabbed a double in the elimination final to take his tally to 11 for the season, while he also knocked over seven conversions to leapfrog teammate Veiru Mapesone as the leading point-scorer at the club in 2016.
Watch out Wests Tigers: Home ground advantage doesn't always mean much in the Holden Cup, but it will certainly be a factor on Friday. The Cowboys won 10 of their 12 matches at home during the 2016 regular season, with all of those victories by 20 points or more.
Key match-up: Brandon Smith v Jacob Liddle. We highlighted them last week and they both delivered in their respective finals matches with a try each. Liddle was once again outstanding for the Tigers with 109 metres, two line breaks and 31 tackles, while Smith played all 82 minutes of the golden point loss, running for 92 metres, producing three offloads and 36 tackles. The two number nines have contrasting styles but will once again be the key figures on the field on Friday night.
The history: Played 16; Cowboys 6, Wests Tigers 10. The Tigers won the first five meetings between the sides before the Cowboys responded with four wins of their own. The black and golds have a fairly good record in Townsville with the bulk of those matches producing high-scoring affairs. North Queensland won their only finals encounter 48-26 in 2011.
Match officials: Referee: Phil Henderson. Assistant referee: Kasey Badger. Sideline officials: Rohan Best and Belinda Sleeman.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 5pm.
The way we see it: The Cowboys have been dreaming of a finals showdown with the Panthers for the best part of a year, and that should be motivation enough to get them over the line. Cowboys by 6.