And so it has come to this. For the first time, two Queensland teams will contest the NRL grand final — and what teams they are!
In the early stages of the competition I wrote that Cowboys fans had every reason to expect that this might (finally) be their year. I was somewhat less confident about a Broncos team that was in the process of re-building under Wayne Bennett. Most fans thought it would take a year to adapt to a new style and for players like Anthony Milford and Ben Hunt to form a combination powerful enough to challenge. There was also a very big question mark against some of the stalwarts, including Sam Thaiday.
That they have made it to the first weekend in October reflects immeasurable credit on the entire organisation, headed by a Coach who -like all fine leaders – knew what he wanted and how it could be achieved. Critically, the players bought into it.
The team’s strategy would be premised on defence and only then would the attacking reigns be loosened. Darius Boyd has proved a revelation both personally and professionally (although the two are often linked). His speed,experience and skill has added a spark to the attack; given the Coach options and taken the pressure off Hunt and Milford. Freedom brings confidence and success.
If they are to win on Sunday the forwards will again lay the foundation with the indomitable Corey Parker supported by a reinvigorated Adam Blair and a team that now approaches every game with the certain knowledge that there is not a weakness across the park.
And what of The Cowboys? The forwards are big and mobile and they make a lot of ground up the middle. This gives JT and the rest of the backline plenty of room to perform their magic. The Cowboys look far more dangerous now that -with Coote and Morgan playing so well -they have options in their backline . Johnathan no longer demands the ball every tackle,making him much more dangerous when he does.
It is a game to savour which makes some of the whinging out of Sydney (because there are no NSW teams) sad to witness. This is a national competition and they need to lift their gaze beyond parochial concerns.
If they are true Rugby League fans they will do as Queenslanders have often had to do — sit back and watch the best players in the land fight for supremacy.
Predictions are no less easy at the end of the year than the beginning but this is The Cowboys’ best chance. Time, age and the salary cap might soon start to catch up.
The Broncos will again be tough to beat but, at a time when the north of the state has had little to celebrate, Sunday night could well see the champagne flowing. If that happens, not even the staunchest Broncos fan will begrudge them their finest moment.
Bring it on!
Who do you think will win? Have your say in the comments below!