Cowboys v Broncos preview

North Queensland Cowboys v Brisbane Broncos
1300SMILES Stadium
Friday 7.35pm

Good luck finding a bigger regular season NRL game in 2015.

This is a showcase of Queensland's footballing talent like no other, on the eve of Origin.

Both sides come into this one at the peak of their powers with the Cowboys aiming for a club-tying seven straight wins, while the Broncos come in having won seven of their past eight.

The Cowboys are one of the league's most potent attacking weapons (scoring 22 points per game) while the Broncos rank in the top four defensively (conceding 16 points per game).

Both sides are placed in the NRL's top four, with the Cowboys just one win behind the league-leading Broncos.

For the home side, Anzac Day star Ray Thompson comes back on to the bench with young prop Sam Hoare who makes his season debut. Kelepi Tanginoa drops out and Rory Kostjasyn is 18th man.

Wayne Bennett gets the luxury of Sam Thaiday returning from suspension, but loses Josh McGuire who is himself suspended for one game. Francis Molo returns to the interchange replacing Joel Ofahengaue.

Watch Out Cowboys: What the Broncos lose in Josh McGuire they gain in the form of a rejuvenated Sam Thaiday. 

Fresh after sitting out the Panthers game due to suspension coming from the Anzac Test, Slammin' Sam will be primed for a robust display in front of friends and family.

The Townsville Brothers junior attended Kirwan State High School – only a five-minute drive from 1300SMILES Stadium – and has fond memories of watching the Cowboys play at the venue as a youngster.

Thaiday was one of only a few Kangaroos to perform in their recent loss against the Kiwis, making 105 metres and 33 tackles and scoring the opening try off the back of a typically powerful run.

Watch Out Broncos: The Cowboys dismiss it as simply "off the cuff stuff", but five-eighth Michael Morgan is suddenly finding much more space on the field at five-eighth. Two weeks in a row he has made incisive cross-field runs for tries. His size and strength with ball in hand got him a Round 3 try against Brisbane that was made to look easy, and the Broncos will need to be on guard. His match-up Anthony Milford is a key component defensively, and has been doing a job all season, tackling at 91 per cent in the middle of the field despite the small frame.

Key Match-Up: Johnathan Thurston v Ben Hunt. After a slow start to the season for his club that coincided with a personal dip in form, Cowboys co-captain Johnathan Thurston has been instrumental for his side in their current six-game winning streak.

Thurston's heroics in the Cowboys' 18-17 golden point win over the Storm in Round 4 provided the catalyst for a remarkable turnaround for the Test and Origin star.

Prior to their miraculous victory over Melbourne, Thurston only had two try assists and one line break to his name; in his six games since the champion halfback has managed seven try assists and eight line-break assists.

Ben Hunt outplayed Thurston in Brisbane's 44-22 Round 3 victory over the Cowboys but has had a lean time of it since.

Hunt has scored three tries and made the same amount of try assists and line breaks this season. 

In Hunt's defence, one of those tries and try assists have led to victories over the Roosters and Panthers respectively, so Broncos fans will hope their playmaker can deliver the goods again in another clutch moment.

The History: Played 39; Broncos 27, Cowboys 10, Draw 2. These sides met three times last season with the Cowboys winning twice, including the qualifying final where they led 24-0 at half-time, surviving a Broncos fightback to win 32-20.

Apart from Brisbane's 44-22 win at Suncorp Stadium earlier this year, results have varied between these sides in previous seasons; the Broncos won both games against their Queensland cousins in 2013, while in 2012 the Cowboys won all three clashes.

Brisbane's recent record at 1300SMILES Stadium is a poor one; winning only twice in their last six visits to Townsville.

Did You Know: North Queensland's lowest point in around half a decade came at the hands of the Broncos in Round 3. The number of tries Brisbane scored in the 15 minutes before half-time (four) equalled the number the Cowboys had scored all season to that point.

Match Officials: Referee – Jared Maxwell; Assistant Referee – Chris James; Touch Judges – Steve Carrall & Peter Gough; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Luke Pattern.

Televised: Channel Nine – 7.30pm QLD (live); 9.30pm NSW (delayed)

The Way We See It: It is a clash of styles and tempo for these teams, both head-to-head and relative to last week. North Queensland beat a massive Bulldogs unit who will grind your bones to make their bread, but now take on a Brisbane side that is more agile up the middle. Brisbane defeated Penrith who play one of the slower tempos in the game, yet face an all-out attacking assault in the Cowboys. Brisbane is a lock-down unit, while the Cowboys prefer to outgun opponents with sheer brilliance. We're tipping the +20,000 home crowd to get them over the line. Cowboys by six in a Friday night thriller.