A top-two finish to the regular season is within sight for the North Queensland Toyota Cowboys under-20s team as they host the Brisbane Broncos in Round 26 NYC action at 1300SMILES Stadium tonight.
NYC Cowboys v Broncos, 5.30pm Thursday – BOOK NOW
Currently placed fourth heading into the ultimate round of the regular season, the young Cowboys (32 points) can possibly move into second place with a win in front of their home crowd.
Penrith (second) and St George Illawarra (third) are both on 34 points and will play Manly and Canterbury-Bankstown respectively, meaning losses for both sides will have the Cowboys finishing on equal points in the event of a home-town victory.
And with the Townsville-based side having a superior for-and-against record (+184) to both the Panthers (+174) and the Dragons (+40), second place could well and truly be up for grabs.
“This is crunch time and we know what’s at stake,” said NYC Cowboys coach Aaron Payne of the match against an eight-placed Broncos team (30 points), who will be desperate to hold off a looming Newcastle Knights (29 points) and clinch a spot in the finals.
“We returned to the winner’s circle last week against the Tigers, which was pleasing, but we’ll need to step it up another level, which I’m confident we can do.
“We trained really strongly in our final session, and we’ve got some good continuity there with the team, so all the pieces are in place for us to put in a good performance in front of our home crowd.
“The boys really deserve to be where they are on the ladder; they’ve had a good year overall and have put together some impressive performances. We’ll have to be good against the Broncos though.”
Payne looks likely to retain the same 17 from last week that defeated Wests Tigers 26-18, with cool-headed halves Mitch Dunn and Jake Clifford again set the task of steering the team around the park.
Out wide, the Cowboys have plenty of strike with fullback Kalyn Ponga, wingers Murray Taulagi and Michael Carroll, and centre Enaria Tuala scoring plenty of tries this year.
Tuala looms as a real danger man for Payne, the teenager recently making his National Rugby League debut in Round 24 against the Sharks.
Up front, the team has benefitted from the recent return from injury of prop Emry Pere and back-rower Hiale Roycroft, who have provided more grunt through the centre, with Pere recently signing to the Cowboys’ NRL squad from next season.