When Brisbane and North Queensland occupied the top two this season, many predicted the first all-Queensland grand final. The Sydney Roosters spoilt that plan – at least for now – meaning parochial Queenslanders have to settle for a qualifying final at a (presumably) sold out Lang Park this Saturday night.
It adds another chapter to the Broncos v Cowboys September rivalry.
2004: After being also-rans since 1995, the Cowboys made their first finals appearance in 2004, finishing seventh. After upsetting second-placed Canterbury in week one, they met the Broncos in week. While the Broncos had the home ground advantage, they decided to play the game in Townsville. Nearly 25,000 fans watched the Cowboys win 10-0 and eliminate the Broncos. David Myles scored the only try, with three goals to Josh Hannay. It was a bitter-sweet moment for retiring Bronco Gordon Tallis, playing his final match in his home city. While the Cowboys lost the preliminary final to the Sydney Roosters, they would make the 2005 grand final, losing to Wests Tigers.
2012: Eight years after the first historic final, the Broncos and Cowboys met for round two in Townsville. This time the Cowboys earnt home ground advantage, finishing fifth, with the Broncos limping into eighth. The Cowboys were too strong for the fading Broncos, winning 33-16. Michael Morgan scored a hat-trick for the Cowboys. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, their finals campaign ended controversially against reigning premiers Manly the following week.
2014: It was Groundhog Day two years later; the Cowboys (5th) hosting the Broncos (8th) in an elimination final at Townsville (now ridiculously named 1300SMILES Stadium). The Broncos were lucky to get that far, squeezing into eight ahead of the NZ Warriors by just 13 points. The Cowboys, coming off their first trophy (Auckland Nines), won 32-20, with two tries to Gavin Cooper. A week later the Cowboys were controversially eliminated 31-30 by the Roosters.
So since 2004, the Cowboys hold a 3-0 finals record against the Broncos. With the exception of 2004, the Cowboys have faced a tried, struggling Broncos team ripe for a flogging. Saturday night will be different. Both teams finished with a 17-7 record, with the Broncos’ 63 point differential advantage enough to separate them. The Broncos boast a 9-3 record at Lang Park. More importantly, the Cowboys are 9-3 AWAY from Townsville. The Broncos have hit their usual post-Origin slump, with a 4-5 record since round 18. They showed enough in their round 25 thumping of Souths to suggest the slump is temporary, while the Cowboys tuned up with a nice thumping of the Gold Coast.
Clear your calender Saturday night: this Qualifying Final could be one of the classic Queensland clashes.