The danger 20 minutes for the Cowboys
The Cowboys may be known as the Telstra Premiership's superior finishers, but two specific periods of play have been flagged as potentially match-turning ahead of their blockbuster semi-final with the Broncos at 1300SMILES Stadium.
NRL.com Stats show that over the past three meetings with Brisbane, North Queensland have been outscored by a cumulative total of 14-2 in the 10 minutes before half-time, and again 10-0 in the 10 minutes after half-time.
For the remaining 30 minutes of those three games, North Queensland has gone on to score 32 points and hold their fiercest rival to just seven.
But those 20 minutes either side of the break would be cause of much concern for coach Paul Green, who has tinkered with a few forward rotations through the course of the year.
Green has experimented with both Jake Granville and Rory Kostjasyn in the starting hooker role, increased Jason Taumalolo's first stint to approximately 45 minutes, and recently moved back-rower Ethan Lowe into the middle once Coen Hess takes the field.
With Hess likely required to log extra minutes in light of Lowe's season-ending injury, the period between the 30 and 50 minute marks becomes even more critical for the hosts.
"It is a crucial part of the game, it's when fatigued players are on the field, and when you've got to come on and bring energy," veteran prop Ben Hannant told NRL.com.
"It's going to be a big part of the game come Friday night, making sure that when we come on the field we bring energy and talk as well.
"We need to be communicating and making sure that not only we keep that momentum going, but if we can lift it a bit as well, that's when you can get some joy and get some points."
That middle 20 minutes always has the potential to dictate the course of the second half, and with a bench roster unchanged since Round 21, Broncos mentor Wayne Bennett has a good handle on his rotations.
On the other hand, Green may have one of his busiest games ever from the coach's box, as Hess has not yet played a full 80 minutes at NRL level and John Asiata has not played either NRL or Intrust Super Cup since August 28.
The bench unit should receive a lot of assistance from RLPA Player of the Year Taumalolo, whose increased match fitness this year will be invaluable in the season's most important game to date.
While Taumalolo last week made less than 10 hit-ups for the first time in 2016, he has had a week to put off-field troubles behind him and is back on familiar turf against a familiar opponent – which he has averaged 189 metres against over the past three meetings.
And Hannant predicts an epic response.
"It's like poking a bear, you don't want to poke a bear," Hannant said.
"I think he got poked on the weekend, so I'll be interested to see [how he responds], and I'm glad he's on my team come Friday night."
Game on. Data off.
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