The 2019 NRL regular season has just five games left and Brisbane will need a Round 21 win in Townsville to keep their finals hopes alive.
The Broncos sit tenth on 19 points, just one behind Cronulla and the Wests Tigers, who are seventh and eighth respectively.
With their hosts North Queensland unlikely to make the top eight, this usually anticipated Queensland derby match-up may have a little less on the line, but there will still be plenty of spice in the battle for bragging rights in the northern state.
North Queensland return for a second straight Thursday a week after taking a 28-4 beating from the Wests Tigers at Leichhardt Oval. The Cowboys were down 18-0 after an hour, and aside from a brief period midway through the first half, they never really looked like raising a challenge.
It was the latest in a series of disappointing performances by Paul Green’s men, underlined by 12 errors which led to the Cowboys completing their sets at a woeful 65 per cent.
The 24-point loss left their points differential at -95, and with two games to make up on the finals spots as well, the rest of the season for the Cowboys is pretty much irrelevant.
New fullback Scott Drinkwater said during the week that North Queensland needed to rediscover “the joy in playing rugby league” and with the season 99.9 per cent cooked, maybe we’ll see Green let his team off the leash a little bit and let them freewheel a touch. It certainly couldn’t be any worse than what they’ve offered up over the last few weeks.
Brisbane’s already young side got even younger on Wednesday when 255-game veteran Alex Glenn pulled out with a knee injury. Twenty-year-old Gehamat Shibasaki will fill his role.
Queensland State of Origin hooker Andrew McCullough returns to the starting side after recovering from a shoulder issue.
Broncos coach Anthony Seibold has made no secret of his plans to overhaul the squad and this was boosted by the re-signing of 22-year-old Jake Turpin for the next three years.
Turpin will partner Darius Boyd in the halves and has put together a good debut season, particularly for a player who wasn’t expecting to get an extended run at it in 2019. Kodi Nikorima’s departure for the Warriors and an injury to his replacement Tom Dearden meant Turpin got a shot.
Seibold’s decision to play the kids sent a clear signal that he wants generational change at Red Hill, but there’s still the small matter of getting through the next five games before he breaks out the overhead projector.
Brisbane have only lost one of their last five games, dragging themselves out of a pretty dire position before the Origin period.
The fact Brisbane are even in the finals discussion is a big turnaround from their 2-6 start to 2019.
One of those early wins was a 29-10 result over the Cowboys at Suncorp Stadium, one of only two double-digit wins in nine matches between these teams since their 2015 grand final classic.
It’s 5-5 in the last ten meetings between the two with an average winning margin of almost four points, but Brisbane have only won two of their last ten games against the Cowboys in Townsville.
The year’s slim pickings for these two sides stands out in the fact that there’s only one player from either North Queensland or Brisbane in the NRL top 20 for try assists (Michael Morgan has 15, Anthony Milford has ten) and line break assists (Morgan with nine).
Broncos forward Tevita Pangai Junior is second in the NRL for offloads (45, a career high) but he’s missed 52 tackles, also a career high. Pangai will be amped up again to show his worth but he’ll need to keep it contained after sitting out last week, suspended for a high shot in Brisbane’s win over the Gold Coast in Round 19.
The two Queensland sides make a lot of errors but they can string together some fantastic play.
Brisbane have unearthed some form and some young guns while the Cowboys are seemingly off a cliff recently, losing four of their last five and their last three straight at home.
For all that though, the Cowboys have nothing to lose and if Green gives them their head, they could light that spark and enjoy themselves a little.
Cowboys by a nose.
1. Scott Drinkwater, 2. Kyle Feldt, 3. Coen Hess, 4. Tom Opacic, 5. Gideon Gela-Mosby, 6. Michael Morgan, 7. Jake Clifford, 8. Josh McGuire, 9. Jake Granville, 10. Jordan McLean, 11. Gavin Cooper, 12. Shane Wright, 13. Jason Taumalolo.
Bench/Reserves: 14. John Asiata, 15. Matthew Scott, 16. Scott Bolton, 17. Francis Molo, 18. Peter Hola, 19. Reuben Cotter, 20. Corey Jensen, 21. Murray Taulagi.
1. Anthony Milford, 2. Corey Oates, 3. Kotoni Staggs, 18. Gehamat Shibasaki, 5. Jamayne Isaako, 6. Darius Boyd, 7. Jake Turpin, 8. Matthew Lodge, 9. Andrew McCullough, 10. Payne Haas, 11. David Fifita, 12. Tevita Pangai Jr., 13. Joe Ofahengaue.
Bench/Reserves: 14. James Segeyaro, 15. Thomas Flegler, 16. Rhys Kennedy, 17. Patrick Carrigan, 19. Herbie Farnworth, 20. Xavier Coates, 21. Shaun Fensom.
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