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Broncos v Cowboys: Can Brisbane bounce back?

The Broncos were never seriously in the hunt in the season-opening loss to the Dragons, and perhaps the most troubling aspect of their performance for coach Wayne Bennett was the uncharacteristically poor attention to defensive detail.

Brisbane fans will no doubt expect a far more committed effort against the Cowboys, with fullback Lachlan Coote (hamstring) is an outside chance of returning. The Broncos won't see prized off-season signing Jack Bird (shoulder) in action until at least round four.

The selections

Wayne Bennett has not hit the panic button despite his team's heavy 34-12 defeat last Thursday night at Jubilee Oval. Andrew McCullough has been named to start at hooker for the Broncos, with Sam Thaiday shifted to the bench. Tom Opacic replaces the suspended Jayd'n Su'A on the bench.

Te Maire Martin again starts at five-eighth for the Cowboys, with Michael Morgan (abdominal strain) not to be risked by Paul Green. Corey Jensen joins John Asiata, Coen Hess and Scott Bolton on an imposing four-man interchange bench.

The key match-up: Te Maire Martin v Anthony Milford. With Michael Morgan ruled out, it will be a battle between the five-eighths and whoever of Martin and Milford can rise to the top could decide the game.

For the Broncos to win: Easy. Limit Johnathan Thurston. Whether it's by stopping the Cowboys' forwards or pressuring him relentlessly, the Broncos must stop Thurston.

Broncos v Cowboys

For the Cowboys to win: Execute well. It doesn't have to be perfect, but the Cowboys need to convert more try-scoring opportunities into tries scored.

Broncos Stat Attack: They must improve the fundamentals against the Cowboys. They had 14 errors and 35 missed tackles against the Dragons. Their job won't get any easier against the Cowboys' massive pack, so the Broncos will need to improve.

Cowboys Stat Attack: The Cowboys only completed at 66 per cent against the Sharks; they'll need to do better to beat the Broncos on home turf.

And another thing: Michael Morgan's absence could be the difference. The Cowboys five-eighth came up with decisive plays in the 2015 grand final and 2016 elimination semi-final against the Broncos and in what are historically close battles Morgan's influence will be missed.

Prediction: Cowboys by 6.

Broncos: 1 Darius Boyd (c), 2 Corey Oates, 3 James Roberts, 4 Jordan Kahu, 5 Jamayne Isaako, 6 Anthony Milford, 7 Kodi Nikorima, 8 Matthew Lodge, 9 Andrew McCullough, 10 Tevita Pangai Jnr, 11 Alex Glenn, 12 Matt Gillett, 13 Josh McGuire

Interchange: 14 Sam Thaiday, 15 Joe Ofahengaue, 16 Korbin Sims, 17 Tom Opacic

Reserves: 18 Todd Murphy, 19 Sam Tagataese, 20 Jonus Pearson, 21 George Fai

The above team is subject to change one hour before kick-off.

Cowboys: 1 Ben Hampton, 2 Kyle Feldt, 3 Justin O'Neill, 4 Javid Bowen, 5 Antonio Winterstein, 14 Te Maire Martin, 7 Johnathan Thurston (c), 8 Matthew Scott (c), 9 Jake Granville, 10 Jordan McLean, 11 Gavin Cooper, 12 Ethan Lowe, 13 Jason Taumalolo

Interchange: 14 John Asiata, 15 Coen Hess, 16 Scott Bolton, 18 Corey Jensen

Reserves: 18 Kyle Laybutt, 19 Michael Morgan, 20 Francis Molo, 21 Enari Tuala

The above team is subject to change one hour before kick-off.

Friday March 16, 7.05pm AEST (8.05pm AEDT), Suncorp Stadium

Head-to-head: 48 games, Broncos 31 wins, Cowboys 15 wins, 2 draws

Matches at the venue: 14 games, Broncos 9 wins, Cowboys 5 wins

Last five games: Cowboys 3 wins, Broncos 2 wins

2017 matches: Cowboys won 21-20 in round 2; Broncos won 20-10 in round 26

2017 points per game: Broncos 24.9; Cowboys 19.5

2017 points conceded per game: Broncos 18; Cowboys 18.5

Televised: Nine, Fox League, NRL Live Pass

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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