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Cowboys v Broncos: Holmes primed for debut; Croft and Carrigan co-captains

Club games don't come much bigger these days than the Broncos-Cowboys derby, with the neighbouring teams having played out plenty of recent classics.

Throw into the mix that North Queensland are unveiling their new Queensland Country Bank Stadium and this match has all the ingredients for a round one thriller.

Both teams are looking for improvement after underwhelming 2019 seasons – the Cowboys came 14th while the Broncos limped into the finals and were then demolished 58-0 by the Eels.

The Rundown

Team news

Cowboys: A late change to the 17 with Shane Wright making way for Corey Jensen on the bench. Tom Opacic was the other player to drop out an hour before game time. Valentine Holmes will make his highly anticipated Cowboys debut, meaning a shift to five-eighth for playmaker Scott Drinkwater. Ex-Tiger Esan Marsters makes his first Cowboys appearance in the centres. Josh McGuire has a knee injury but couldn’t have played anyway because of a suspension from last season. Connelly Lemuelu and Jake Clifford dropped off the reserves list 24 hours before kick-off.

Broncos: With Jack Bird out for the season after suffering a torn ACL at training on Wednesday, Jamayne Isaako takes over at fullback. Isaako's place on the bench is taken by Herbie Farnworth, who played two games in his debut season in 2019. New skipper Alex Glenn failed to overcome his hamstring injury leaving young back-rower Patrick Carrigan and playmaker Brodie Croft to co-captain the side. Corey Oates completed a successful comeback from an infection to take his place in the season opener. New recruit Jesse Arthars gets a start on the wing while Jamil Hopoate will make his NRL debut off the bench after impressive form with Redcliffe during the past two seasons. Xavier Coates and Tom Dearden dropped off the reserves list on Thursday night while Ethan Bullemor was the last man cut an hour before kick-off.

Key match-up

Scott Drinkwater v Anthony Milford. Two men under the microscope for very different reasons. Milford simply must step up and take control of the Broncos and form a partnership with Brodie Croft as quickly as possible while Drinkwater will be out to make a home for himself in the No.6 with Val Holmes taking the fulback spot.

For the Cowboys to win

Holmes will attract the focus, but Michael Morgan could have the biggest influence on the team. By his own admission, the captain didn't perform at his best in 2019 and the Cowboys suffered. With the halfback leading the way, North Queensland will be right in this.

For the Broncos to win

Even without the injured Matt Lodge, Brisbane have arguably the best young forward pack in the game. The extra responsibility could enhance the performances of Payne Haas, David Fifita, Patrick Carrigan and Tevita Pangai jnr. They hold the blueprint to success.

Brett Kimmorley says

Riding the atmosphere of their new stadium, I've got the Cowboys to beat Brisbane in another epic. Michael Morgan's now had 12 months without Johnathan Thurston and he's got to stand up for his side to shine. I think Valentine Holmes will remain the match-winning player he was at Cronulla, while Anthony Milford will show his class for Brisbane. Cowboys by 7.

Stat Attack

Broncos winger Corey Oates chalked up an NRL-high five intercepts last season, while Brisbane topped the intercepts among teams with 16. The Broncos also had more tackle breaks (939) than any other team.

And another thing ...

North Queensland coach Paul Green played for both the Cowboys and Broncos during his 162-game career. After starting his career at Cronulla, Green moved to Townsville in 1999 and played 35 games for the club he now coaches. He later had stints at the Roosters and Eels before finishing his career in Brisbane in 2004.