The Newsroom previews the semi-finals of the National Rugby League.
The contenders are proven survivors, having got through the first week of the finals series, but the competition is getting tighter and only two teams will progress to next weeks preliminary finals.
The winner of the Broncos and Cowboys match will have a date with the Cronulla Sharks next week; the winner of the Canberra Raiders and the Penrith Panthers match will face the Melbourne Storm.
But both Cronulla and the Storm will have had the benefit of the bye this weekend, giving them extra time to plan, plot, and to nurse their players to full fitness.
Brisbane Broncos v North Queensland Cowboys
Last year’s grand finalists meet again, but only one team will survive Friday night’s clash to progress towards the final. There is strong rivalry between these teams, with no more than a point separating them on several occasions. Brisbane have lost their lightning fast centre James Roberts who was found guilty of contrary conduct for his kicked on Gold Coast Titans forward Ryan Simpkins last week. Jonus Pearson is expected to fill the spot.
The Cowboys are also missing a centre, Kane Linnett, who has injured a hamstring injury; Javid Bowen steps in. The Cowboys went down to the Storm last week and will need to lift their game substantially, in both attack and defence, if they are to have any hope of retaining the premiership title. The game starts at 7:55pm in Townsville. The highly experienced props Sam Thaiday of the Broncos and Matt Scott of the Cowboys will be the players to watch as they attempt to stamp their authority on the game and inspire their respective forward packs.
Canberra Raiders v Penrith Panthers
Another famous rivalry will drive the Panthers and the Raiders at GIO Stadium on Saturday night. Penrith were on fire last week against the Dogs; the young team is looking more and more of a threat to take out the title for the first time since 2003. The Raiders, who have not won a grand final since their glory days of 1994, will at least have a home crowd to spur them on.
The Raiders’ Blake Austin returns from a hand injury, adding much-needed spark to their attack. Hooker Josh Hodgson has been named for the team despite suffering a leg injury last week. That may be wishful thinking intended to confuse the opposition; he remains doubtful for this match. . Players to watch are the two opposing wingers Josh Mansour (Penrith) and Jordan Rapana. Both players are super strong and lightning fast and know exactly where the try-line is. The other match up to watch is are the contrasting five-eighths , with his big step and good agility, and Bryce Cartwright, who capitalises on his upper body strength to make cheeky off-loads a specialty. – Jesse Mullens
The road to the finals:
Photo of Matt Scott from the North Queensland Cowboys’ Facebook page.