NORTH QUEENSLAND TOYOTA COWBOYS v BRISBANE BRONCOS
7.55pm, Friday 16 September, 1300SMILES Stadium
Referees: Matt Cecchin, Alan Shortall
Review officials: Bernard Sutton, Luke Patten, Ashley Klein
Touch judges: Michael Wise, Jeff Younis
Broadcast: Channel 9, Fox Sports, 4TO FM Call Team
Cowboys: Lost Week 1 qualifying final to Melbourne Storm 16-10
Storm: Won Week 1 qualifying final v Gold Coast Titans 44-28
Cowboys: 1 Lachlan Coote, 2 Kyle Feldt, 3 Justin O’Neill, 4 Javid Bowen, 5 Antonio Winterstein, 6 Michael Morgan, 7 Johnathan Thurston (c), 8 Matt Scott (c), 9 Jake Graville, 10 James Tamou, 11 Gavin Cooper, 15 Coen Hess, 13 Jason Taumalolo. Interchange: 14 Rory Kostjasyn, 16 Scott Bolton, 17 Ben Hannant, 20 John Asiata. Coach: Paul Green.
Broncos: 1 Darius Boyd, 2 Corey Oates, 3 Tom Opacic, 4 5 Jordan Kahu, 18 Jonus Pearson, 6 Anthony Milford, 7 Ben Hunt, 8 Josh McGuire, 9 Andrew McCullough, 10 Adam Blair, 11 Sam Thaiday, 12 Matt Gillett, 13 Corey Parker (c). Interchange: 14 Jarrod Wallace, 15 Tevita Pangai Junior, 16 Jai Arrow, 17 Alex Glenn. Coach: Wayne Bennett.
Cowboys: Sam Hoare (knee/shoulder) – season; Ethan Lowe (back) – season; Kane Linnett (hamstring) – Finals Week 3
Broncos: James Roberts (suspended) – Finals Week 3
- There have already been some confirmed team changes for both sides. Coen Hess will start in the second row for the Cowboys after regular No.12 Ethan Lowe had his season ended by a back injury. John Asiata comes into the 17. For the Broncos, centre James Roberts’s suspension means Jordan Kahu moves in from the wing and youngster Jonus Pearson comes on to the wing from outside the 17.
- History: Played 45 – Broncos 30, Cowboys 13, drawn 2. The result in the past seven matches between the sides has alternated between the sides. The Cowboys were last-start winners over the Broncos with a 19-18 triumph in Round 11, while the Broncos prevailed 21-20 in Round 4. The Broncos have won five of the past eight matches between the sides, and three of the past four.
- The Cowboys' 17-16 win in the 2016 NRL grand final makes it three consecutive one-point matches between the sides, while the Broncos won 16-12 in the 2015 qualifying final.
- The Cowboys have a slightly inferior points-scored record than Brisbane – 594 to 5,598 – but the Cowboys have conceded 371 points in season 2016 to the Broncos’ 462.
- The Cowboys have scored 100 tries in season 2016, to the Broncos’ 103.
- The hosts have conceded 60 tries this year to the visitors’ 79.
- Just three of the Cowboys’ 100 tries have come from long range, or 51-100m out.
- The Broncos defeated the Cowboys 58-4 at ANZ Stadium in 1998. The Cowboys’ 34-6 win over the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium in 2006 remains their biggest win over the Queensland rivals.
- Opposing halfbacks Johnathan Thurston and Ben Hunt will be busy with their respective kicking games on Friday night. Thurston has kicked 263 times in play this season, ranking him second in the league, behind top-ranked Hunt’s 265 kicks in play.
- Broncos hooker Andrew McCullough has three 40/20 kicks this season with four, as does Cowboys fullback Lachlan Coote.
- Thurston is equal second in the comp in line break assists this season with 24, tied with the Warriors’ Shaun Johnson and behind the Panthers’ Matt Moylan (26).
- The Cowboys are second in the comp – behind the Storm – for completed sets this season with 755, ahead of Brisbane’s 749.
KEY MATCH-UP: JOHNATHAN THURSTON v BEN HUNT
Friday night brings another meeting between two of Queensland's best halfbacks, but to put it simply, Hunt must lift to Thurston's level if the Broncos are to leave North Queensland with a win.
The 26-year-old Bronco needs to up his involvement in Brisbane's play, with Hunt having only 101 touches in the past three games between these sides compared to Thurston's 208.
He must also use the ball wisely – North Queensland have forced eight drop-outs in their past three meetings with Wayne Bennett's men, where Brisbane have forced none.
Cowboys coach Paul Green on late inclusion John Asiata: "Johnny’s played in some really big games for us."
Broncos coach Wayne Bennett: "But we've got players there to do the job for us and they have a player that I am sure will step up for them.”