Players will tell you it is one week at a time and each game is as important as the last and no opponent is more dangerous than the next.
The reality is that the Cowboys V Broncos has become a blockbuster and both sides have more on the line than 2 competition points.
They are the two best sides in the competition (ease off Cronulla fans, you're up there , but not quite there). And in the last two games they have been able to split. Cowboys by a point in extra time in the GF, Broncos by a point in extra time in round 4. So in 160 minutes of football it is 37 points to 37.
We know both teams strengths and weaknesses and I think the result is going to purely come down to who wants it more. I think this is what gives the Cowboys the edge. Let's look at the angles.
The two points
The top of the table is congested, and coming into Origin wins are paramount. The Cowboys went from 1st on the ladder to 4th in one week and if they have a rough Origin period they could slip further down. Key to the Cowboys premiership race is home ground advantage. Teams hate travelling there and come September home games are guaranteed in finals by finishing top two. This is what the Cowboys want. Also they will be hit harder by Origin. Yes both sides will be depleted and yes both sides forward packs will be picked clean. But for the Broncos, during Origin period they get to keep Hunt and Milford. Worse for Cowboys still it was my opinion that Coote would probably move into the halves in Origin period for the Cowboys to help them through. But with Dugan in doubt, Coote might very well find himself in NSW camp as either a back up to Dugan/Moylan. Or with Dugan out the Centre shuffle might change which might change the game plan all together and push Moylan out and bring Coote into the run on side. Time will tell.
Playing for rep honours
There are more Cowboys on the fringe looking to impress. Regardless of what they will tell you, Thaiday, Mcquire, Parker and Gillett all know they are there for QLD barring injury. And we saw what that did for them against the Sharks when they were selected for Australia. Bennett is doing his best to beat that mentality out of them. Regardless of what the players and coaches tell you for a team leading the competition, with rep camp coming up, on one of the hardest road trips in Rugby League, if they get 6-8 points behind the Cowboys with 10 to go, we might see some self preservation come in. Parity that with fringe Cowboys players, O'Neill, Coote, Feldt and Cooper. This is their last chance to press for rep. jerseys and press they will. I think the man that will go the hardest is Cooper. He is always brought up in rep. discussion, and I have him as my 18th man. He runs so well off Thurston and would love the chance to do it for QLD. When you have Parker, Thaiday, Gillett and Guerra as your back rowers in Origin it's hard to find a spot. So you can understand why Cooper is so unlucky you can't pick them all. So Cooper has one option, give the selectors no option.
Playing at home and taking back bragging rights
The Cowboys over the last couple years are the better side. Even in round 4 I think most scholars of the game would tell you the Cowboys had that game but just couldn't ice it. They beat themselves more than the Broncos beat them. In round 4 their try was dis-allowed almost purely because it went upstairs as no try. Also the last time they played the Broncos at home the result was a little more safe winning by 11.
JTs 250th in the North
Yes he has played 278 first grade games but this is his 250th for North Queensland. This is a man who fought for every inch. He was told he was too small and couldn't tackle, so he fought his way to Canterbury and played for match payments only. He fought in the face controversy (the 7 tackle set). He has fought against injury. Every week he laces up and fights for every second of every minute for 80 minutes. He is an earner. He earns every inch on the field. He earns every point he scores and he has earned every accolade he has has ever received. He has earned the right to be labelled as an ultimate competitor and he has emerged as (arguably) the greatest player to ever grace the field captaining his club, playing for his state and country. His team will want to make his 250th a happy occasion.
All of that been said, the Broncos are a team of champions and can;t be taken lightly. Against Cronulla they weren't fighting and any other team would have shut up shop. It took the Broncos 10 minutes at half time to turn the game on it's head. The Broncos are also getting Blair back who is a dangerous prospect. Yes he plays on the line. However he is also very important to the Broncos makeup. Much has been made of his tactics in recent weeks. But putting that aside what he does for the Broncos is the hard work. He is the man that takes the hard runs. He does the scrappy dirty tough work up the middle and that's what the Broncos need. The other danger for the Cowboys is Parker and his offloads. The Cowboys don't really deal with broken play all that well, and if Parker can get some ball out the back to Milford the Cowboys need to be on high alert.
Like last week against Melbourne I really can't split these sides. As stated above and as bizarre as it sounds I think Origin has a big say in this result with Cowboys having more to play for during the rep period. The Cowboys at home by 7. 21-14.
The North Qld Cowboys take on the Brisbane Broncos at 1300 Smiles Stadium, Friday May 20 (7:50pm AEST), check your local guides for coverage.
Nth QLD: 1. Coote 2. Feldt 3. O'Neill 4. Linnett 5. Winterstein 6. Morgan 7. Thurston 8. Scott 9. Granville 10. Tamou 11. Cooper 12.Lowe 13.Taumalolo. Interchange: Kostjasyn,Kaufusi, Bolton, Hannant.
Broncos: 1. Boys 2. Oates 3. Reed 4. Roberts 5. Kahu 6. Milford 7. Hunt 8. McGuire 9. McCullough 10. Blair 11. Glenn 12. Gillett 13. Parker. Interchange: Wallace, Thaiday, Ofahengaue, Nikormima.