Next episode in derby drama!

For a proud Queenslander who has spent significant periods of his career at both clubs, North Queensland Toyota Cowboys winger Antonio Winterstein knows better than most how big his team’s rivalry is with the Brisbane Broncos.

And in a showdown which already has the hallmarks of a humdinger – based on both history and expectation – Thursday’s night’s Round 26 blockbuster at 1300SMILES Stadium takes on greater import given what’s at stake for the hosts in terms of finals footy.

The equation is simple: A Cowboys win in front of an expected bumper crowd secures the team a seventh straight finals appearance, while a loss means a nervous wait over the weekend as the club sweats on results in two key games: Manly v Penrith and St George-Illawarra v Canterbury-Bankstown.

Logan product Winterstein, 29,  played the first two seasons of his near-decade-long National Rugby League career at Red Hill, notching up 47 games before making the move north for the 2011 season.

Since then, he’s racked up 146 games in Cowboys colours.

He’s been part of many recent thrillers between the sides, including 2015’s epic grand final and a Round 2 cliffhanger in Brisbane earlier this year.

There have been four one-point results between the teams in their past five encounters, while the fifth match – in last year’s finals series – was decided by a golden-point try.

Winterstein – who made a successful return from injury against Wests Tigers last-start – said he always looked forward to the Queensland derby, with the raised stakes simply adding to the drama.

“It’s always a game that both teams get up for. It’s always a good contest when we come up against the old Broncs,” he said.

“It won’t be any different this Thursday.”

Winterstein said the Broncos will come out firing given that the Eels put 52 points on them last start.

“Parra didn’t do us any favours, so the Broncos will be looking to come up here and tear in and get a good lead-in going into the finals,” he said.

“So are we and it’s important that we put on a good performance heading into the finals. The boys are really looking forward to it.”

When asked about what makes the rivalry so special, notwithstanding the recent close results, Winterstein added: “I think just the respect we have for each other, there’s no grubbiness in those games; you just go out there and play footy.

“That’s why it’s a good contest, because both teams are just looking to play footy.”

Thursday’s game kicks off at 7.50pm.