Schick Hydro Preview: North Queensland Cowboys v Brisbane Broncos
It's the rivalry that needs no introduction, with only one of the last five games between these teams being decided by more than a single point, and even that game (Round 2 of the 2016 finals) was decided by a try in extra time.
Their clash this weekend could break the remarkable string of meetings with both teams heading into Round 26 with more than a few missing players, although neither team will let the rivalry die easily.
The Cowboys will be without the marquee stars who have been injured all year, but will otherwise line up as they did in their victory over the Wests Tigers in Round 25.
The Broncos will be missing front-rower Korbin Sims, who is out with a broken arm, but welcome back Benji Marshall and Jordan Kahu among several other changes after their 52-34 point defeat at the hands of the Parramatta Eels last week.
Why the Cowboys can win: Coach Paul Green described them as "rusty" in their opening half against the Tigers but the Cowboys undoubtedly got the cobwebs out in the second half, going on to score two tries in 10 minutes. They'll need to be at that level or better against the Broncos, and given the history it would be foolish to bet against a tight contest in the Queensland derby. The Cowboys won't have trouble with their go-forward, given they made in-excess of 400 metres more than Brisbane last week. The Cowboys' real issue in the past month has been their execution, with last passes or kicks letting them down against the Melbourne Storm and Cronulla Sharks, but with their spine of Michale Morgan, Te Maire Martin, Lachlan Coote and Jake Granville back together and a game under their belt there's no reason the attack shouldn't click this week.
Why the Broncos can win: The Broncos can be defined as a glass cannon in their current state, as exemplified by their performance against the Eels – scoring six tries but conceding nine. It's a concern just a fortnight out from the finals but coach Wayne Bennett has already begun working on plugging the leaks. It's probably all they need to get right given the presence of Anthony Milford, Ben Hunt, Darius Boyd and Kodi Nikorima in the team, who all have the ability to put on massive points. Milford alone averages 3.84 points per game in 2017, add the averages of the remaining members of Brisbane's spine to that and it makes up for almost eight points per game between those players alone. Their try assist stats are similarly excellent, with the one, six, seven and nine contributing more than two try assists per game between them for 2017. As such, all the Broncos need to do is plug the holes in their defence and they'll likely out-score North Queensland.
 Telstra Premiership: Michael Morgan vs Anthony Milford
Try Assists, Line Break Assists, Line Breaks, Tries.
The history: Cowboys v Broncos: Played 47; Cowboys 15; Broncos 30; Drawn 2. It's a lop-sided equation but the Cowboys have had the better of the Broncos for the last few clashes, winning in the previous three meetings between these sides.
What are the odds: More than three times the money has gone on the Broncos in Sportsbet's head-to-head market, and just over twice as many individual bets. Brisbane 1-12 is the most popular winning margin so punters aren't expecting a blowout by any means. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton. Assistant referee: Adam Gee. Touch Judges: Michael Wise and Nick Beashel. Review officials: Ben Galea and Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel Nine and Fox League – Live coverage from 7.50pm
NRL.com predicts: Given the close history of this match-up it's difficult to pick but the Cowboys have had the rub over the Broncos, especially at 1300SMILES Stadium. The Broncos may also miss Korbin Sims on top of the already-absent Andrew McCullough. Cowboys by six.