NRL Grand Final Prediction: Brisbane Broncos vs North Queensland Cowboys

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For the first time ever in premiership history, two Queensland sides will clash in the Grand Final. Will the Brisbane Broncos maintain their perfect Grand Final record or will the North Queensland Cowboys claim their maiden title, 10 years after last visit to the big dance. Rugby league writer Daniel Boss provides his thought below, in the final prediction article of 2015.

2015 Matches

  • Round 3: Brisbane Broncos beat North Queensland Cowboys 44-22, Suncorp Stadium
  • Round 10: North Queensland Cowboys beat Brisbane Broncos 31-20, 1300 Smiles Stadium
  • Finals Week 1: Brisbane Broncos beat North Queensland Cowboys 16-12, Suncorp Stadium

Previous Grand Final

  • First meeting

Grand Final Record

Brisbane: 6-0 (including Super League)

  • 2006: won 15-8, vs Melbourne
  • 2000: won 14-6, vs Roosters
  • 1998: won 38-12, vs Canterbury
  • 1997 (Super League): won 26-8, vs Cronulla
  • 1993: won 14-6, vs St George
  • 1992: won 28-8, vs St George

North Queensland: 0-1

  • 2005: lost 30-16, vs Wests Tigers

Team Changes

Brisbane Broncos

  • In: Dale Copley (extended bench)

North Queensland Cowboys

  • In: Ray Thompson (extended bench)

The Broncos vs Cowboys Story

This is the first time that two Queensland sides have met to decide a NSWRL, ARL or NRL premiership. Based on the form shown throughout the finals series, this game pits the two best sides against one another. Many people were expecting Brisbane to improve in 2015, but not many thought that they would make the decider in this season. They have been a consistent outfit all season and have the most prolific premiership coach in rugby league. The Cowboys have also been good for the majority of the season and have only lost five games since Round 3. This is Johnathan Thurston’s best chance to lead the Cowboys to their first title, which is the only thing that he has yet to achieve in what has been a brilliant career.

The sides have played three times already this year, with the most recent game in the first week of the finals series. The pace of this game was ridiculously quick and if we get a game that is anywhere near as good as that one, we will witness one of the great Rugby League Grand Finals in history. The other two games between these sides in 2015 were won by the respective home side. The Grand Final will be played at night and in Sydney, which means that the game will likely be played on a dewier surface than the other three games. The Cowboys have struggled in damp or wet weather at times in 2015, but were very good on a very dewy AAMI Park surface last week. However, with hot weather forecast for Sydney on Sunday, the effect of a dewy surface should not be overly significant. To put it simply, there certainly is no outright favourite in this game.

Positional Match-Ups

Outside Backs

The composition of each side’s outside backs will not be finalised until possibly Sunday, as Justin Hodges is facing a one-game ban and may also miss the match through a back injury. If Hodges does not play, then Dale Copley will move into the centres. One position that is solidified for both teams is fullback, with Darius Boyd and Lachlan Coote at the back for both sides. Boyd is an experienced campaigner, in his third Grand Final, while Coote is only in his second finals series. While both offer another attacking option and take pressure off their respective halves, the Broncos have the edge here, just solely based on Boyd’s experience. On the wings, Kyle Feldt and Antonio Winterstein are up against Corey Oates and Kahu. Oates gives the Broncos a big advantage, as they are playing with an extra forward early in the tackle count. I’m also a little suspect on Feldt in pressure situations, as I can’t forget his case of the yips in the 2011 NYC decider, which means that I give the edge on the wing to Brisbane. In the centres, it will be Hodges and Jack Reed against Kane Linnett and Justin O’Neill. Reed is the only centre not to play a Grand Final and if Hodges does not play, then the Cowboys have the advantage. If Hodges does play, then the Broncos have the slight edge. The reason for this is the strength of the Brisbane centres in defence. Both Reed and Hodges have limited the impact of the opposing centres for most of the season. As much as I think that Linnett is a highly underrated player, I don’t see him having a great impact on this game.

Halves

This is a blockbuster contest between two very good, if not great, halves pairings. The sad fact for NSW fans is that all four players are Queenslanders and all are better than any NSW half at the moment. Brisbane’s halves combination of Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford are both very strong ball runners and the side plays to this strength, through offloads from their forwards. Both were the sole try scorers for the Broncos in the first finals match and their running games are crucial on a more slippery ANZ Stadium field. The Cowboys halves combination of Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan like to attack on the edges of the defensive line, rather than the middle. The Cowboys attack goes through Thurston and if he has a great game, then the NRL trophy will head to Townsville for the first time. Morgan is a classic foil and is able to take pressure off Thurston, especially when beating his opposing defensive player one-on-one. As the Cowboys have the best player on the field and he is in the halves, the Cowboys have the edge here.

Back Row

At lock, there is a contrast in styles, with the evergreen Corey Parker up against the dynamic Jason Taumalolo. Parker is the most likely player to provide offloads to Hunt and Milford and the limiting of such offloads is crucial for the Cowboys to win this game. Taumalolo has been outstanding in this finals series. In the past two games, he has not been able to be stopped by strong forward packs at Cronulla and Melbourne. If he has a similar impact in this game, then he will provide the outside backs with plenty of chances to score points. As much as I like both players, I have to give the slight edge to the Cowboys, as Taumalolo’s form over the past few weeks has been devastating. In the second row, representative players Alex Glenn and Matt Gillett are up against less recognised players Gavin Cooper and Ethan Lowe. Neither Cooper nor Lowe have played in a State of Origin game, so this is the biggest game of their lives by a fair margin. Both are attacking targets for the Cowboys halves and both are capable of crossing the try line. As for Brisbane, both Glenn and Gillett have played in test matches and Origins (in Gillett’s case). Both players will need to be strong in defence, in order to repel the strong Cowboys attack. Based on the experience of both starting second rowers, Brisbane have the advantage here.

Front Row

While the Cowboys second row does lack big game experience, their props do not. All four starting props have played in a plethora of big games, as Matt Scott and James Tamou go up against Sam Thaiday and Adam Blair. Scott and Tamou have a size advantage, but both are carrying injuries into the game, which may be a factor. Thaiday has had his best season in 2015, while Blair has bounced back after a few mediocre years at the Tigers. I get the feeling that Blair will certainly be up for this game, but I still think the size advantage of the Cowboys gives them the advantage here. At hooker, Andrew McCullough goes up against Jake Granville. McCullough will almost certainly play more minutes, as the Cowboys prefer to spell Granville late in the first half and early in the second half. McCullough’s work rate is always quite high and I expect him to have the highest tackle count in this game (unless Brisbane has 55% or more of possession). Granville has been very good all year, but this form has not carried on to the finals. He has been solid but not spectacular and as a result, I think Brisbane have the advantage at hooker.

Bench

The Broncos bench is comprised of Jarrod Wallace, Mitchell Dodds, Joe Ofahengaue and Kodi Nikorima. The Cowboys bench is comprised of Rory Kostjasyn, Scott Bolton, John Asiata and Ben Hannant. Of the six forwards on the bench, the stand out player is Ben Hannant. His form in recent years has not been what it once was but in 2015, he has shown that he has something left to give. All six players will be used in the middle of the field, which means that the props and lock will all get time for recovery. I do give the Cowboys the edge at both prop and at lock and it is up to Bolton, Asiata and Hannant to maintain the momentum that is likely gained by the strong Cowboys middle forwards. As for Brisbane, Wallace has had a breakout year in 2015, with some very strong performances. If he can have a highly strong back end to the first half and start to the second half, it could swing the match in Brisbane’s favour. Of the utility players on the bench, Nikorima does cover more positions, which means that Brisbane has a greater ability to cover an injury in the backline. This was evident in last week’s game, as Cooper was required to play in the centres, while Winterstein was off for a concussion test. Nikorima certainly provides more impact and came up with the match-winning play in the first final. However, I do think the Cowboys have a slight edge on the bench, based on the strength of their replacement forwards.

Reasons Why Brisbane Will Win

Wayne Bennett

Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett is attempting to win his eighth (including Super League) premiership as a coach, which is an astonishing feat. While he has had good teams in past years, he also knows how to get a side ready for a big game. In 2006, he took an underdog Broncos outfit to victory over the dominating Melbourne side. His experience in big games is a big advantage for Brisbane, as Cowboys coach Paul Green is only in his second year of coaching and this is Green’s first Grand Final.

They’ve never lost a Grand Final

Throughout Brisbane’s history, they have found ways to win big games. Their Grand Final record of 6-0 supports this theory. This has certainly been the case in 2015, most notably in the first finals game against the Cowboys. In this game, the Cowboys dominated field position and possession for most of the game. However, two defensive errors were capitalised on by Brisbane and this led to their victory. One thing is for sure and that is that Brisbane will be at or near their best on Sunday.

Goal Line defence

Brisbane’s ability to defend their own try line has been their calling card in 2015. At times their attack has been somewhat lacking, but their defence has either kept them in games or been the primary reason for victories. A big reason for the win over the Cowboys in the first week of the finals was their defence on their own line. If the Broncos are able to get to a two-possession lead (more than 6 points), then I don’t see them losing this game, despite the great North Queensland attack.

Reasons Why North Queensland Will Win

Johnathan Thurston

Earlier this week, Thurston won his record fourth Dally M medal and is undoubtedly the best rugby league player in the world. He has had a phenomenal year and his performance in last week’s game against Melbourne was sublime, despite a nagging groin injury. On many occasions, he has been able to come up with crucial plays to get his team over the line, as shown multiple times in 2015. If the game is close in its latter stages, expect Thurston to come up with a big play to win the premiership.

Size advantage in the forwards

As discussed in the positional breakdown section, the Cowboys have an advantage in size in the middle forwards. In the second week of the finals, they dominated a Cronulla pack that played back rowers at prop. The Broncos have Sam Thaiday at prop, despite being more suited as a back rower and is much smaller than the Cowboys forwards. In their last meeting, the Cowboys had field position and possession advantage for most of the game, which is a big chance of happening again.

Lady Luck

In the past few years, the Cowboys have drawn the short straw in regards to a few controversial refereeing decisions. Surely, the Cowboys luck will get some luck in this year’s finals. They haven’t needed luck yet to make the Grand Final, but in the decider, they might just be the beneficiaries of some good luck. I’m not one who believes in any conspiracy theories and I’m not expecting any favourable decisions, but the Rugby League gods may bounce a ball or two in the Cowboys’ favour.

Prediction

I’ve said this in both preliminary final prediction articles and in last year’s Grand Final article, but the first 20 minutes is very crucial in this game. Brisbane have been fast starters throughout 2015 and if they get to a fast start, then they are a big chance of winning this game. If the Cowboys can keep the game close in the first 20 minutes, then I think they will win this game. As mentioned above, I think they have the edge in regards to the two benches, so I expect the Cowboys to have the majority of momentum late in the first half.

If Brisbane do win this game, then I don’t see it happening by a large margin, specifically 1-12 points. While they have won quite a few games by a significant margin in 2015, I don’t see it happening to the Cowboys. If the Cowboys do win, then they could do it by a big margin. The Broncos have only been beaten by more than 12 points on two occasions this season, but the Cowboys have the potential to run away with the game, as Souths did in last year’s decider. In relation to points scored, I think that this will be a low scoring game, despite it likely being a fairly open game. The defence of both sides, particularly Brisbane, is at a very high level. Both sides have conceded 16 points or less in all of their finals games. As a result, I think 18 points will be enough to win the Grand Final.

When thinking about making a prediction for this game, my main thought is on the game in the first week of the finals. I thought that the Cowboys were the better side on that night, but blew too many chances in attack. On the other hand, Brisbane took advantage of their limited opportunities. I think the Cowboys learned from this experience and will be better for it. They have increased their intensity over the past two weeks and currently have a great deal of momentum. In addition to this, the Grand Final is played on a neutral venue, while their previous game was at Suncorp Stadium, which gave Brisbane a big advantage. As a result, I’m tipping the Cowboys to win. Then again, Brisbane fans might be cheering this, as my tipping form so far in the NRL finals has been well below average.

Final Predicted Score: Cowboys 22 Brisbane 12

  • Clive Churchill Medal: Johnathan Thurston (Who Else?)
  • First Try Scorer: Michael Morgan

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