Sunday Afternoon footy at Suncorp Stadium. The punters love it, the players love it. Michael Ennis certainly loves it. Despite the pounding headache after last night’s round of footy, I love it enough to crawl out of bed too.
And what a game we have! Given the last few seasons of football quality offered up by both the Broncos and Cowboys, one would be forgiven for forgetting the brilliance of nearly any match-up between these northern rivals.
After a wooden spoon and a lean period, Brisbane are now starting to rediscover their soul under the tutelage of club legend Kevvy Walters.
The boom addition of Premiership-winning halfback Adam Reynolds has Red Hill fans dreaming of the 90s.
The Cowboys meanwhile, continue to adapt to life with former Warriors coach Todd Payten, with some useful additions of their own.
While neither team necessarily demands to be taken seriously as a top eight contender, their most enthusiastic fans may disagree.
At any rate, history has proven that this game will be semi-final intensity, regardless of the bodies currently filling the jerseys.
The spirit of both clubs allows for nothing less. From the kick-off and Haas’ first run, the purpose in every movement was clear.
The first eight minutes was fast and frantic, two sets of players with equal enthusiasm and, possibly equal skill level.
Not exactly the grace of the ballet in the opening exchange, the effort was unrelenting from both sides as the position of the Steeden swinging from end-to-end until a penalty twenty metres out saw the Cowboys settle things down with an early two-pointer.
Directly after points, the Cowboys managed to go the length of the field.
Starting with an offload from the maligned Jason Taumalolo, newly-minted centre Valentine Holmes achieved the first semi-break of the game.
Rolling down the field, the Cowboys would earn a repeat set at the expense of Coen Hess, who left the field with a shoulder injury.
It would only take another set for Chad Townsend to slip a grubber through the Broncos defensive line, with young second-rower Jeremiah Nanai pouncing on the opportunity to put the Cowboys up by six points with nearly 15 minutes gone.
Holmes would provide the extras from out wide and North Queensland suddenly found themselves ahead by more than a converted try early.
More pain looked set to follow for the Broncos almost immediately as an incisive Holmes cut through the Broncos’ soft defence, ducking and weaving to within an inch of the line.
The Cowboys simply had to spread the ball wide to score. Sometimes, simple is not so simple, with Oates rushing out to intercept the pass and shut down the play.
Regardless of Valentine’s preferred position, we haven’t seen him play this well since his sojourn to the NFL.
While Cowboys were clearly making more metres up the middle, it was the high bombing of Chad Townsend that consistently saw Broncos in trouble.
Tom Dearden, after some starring roles, has settled into his position as second fiddle to the man they know as The Chad.
Fortunately for Brisbane, they now employ the services of world-class kicker Adam Reynolds, who managed to keep the Broncos in the game towards the end of the first half with his deft touches into goal.
With 20 minutes to go, the Broncos would also lose a member of their pack, with Jordan Riki leaving the field in discomfort with a rib injury. It was now 16-on-16.
Shortly after, Herbie Farnworth dragged his team down the field with a good run through the middle.
Spreading the ball wide, Farnworth managed to get a toe to the ball before he was dragged to the ground without the ball by a desperate Kyle Feldt.
A confusing onside/offside explanation later and the Broncos were awarded the penalty try.
Adam Reynolds converted the try, to reduce the lead to just two points.
It looked like the Broncos would strike back next set, when Reynolds himself sliced through for a try.
The joy would immediately turn to ash with the blast of a whistle and the call of obstruction. Refusing to give up, the ever-improving Farnworth again went within an inch of the line.
Spreading to the right and it looked like Cobbo was sure to cross before some tryline heroics from the man of the moment in Valentine Holmes.
The game hung in the balance as halftime approached, with Broncos mounting increasing pressure.
A handy penalty 30 metres from their end would see the Cowboys storm into the Bronco’s defensive third.
A few sets later, Taumalolo (who had been impressive up until this moment) produced one of the greatest try assists you will see from a big man when he delivered a sublime flat pass to Griffin Neame 20 metres out which saw the youngster burst through the line and extend the lead to 12-6 as the half-time siren blared.
More ill fortune would follow for the Broncos as the second half began, with Reynolds uncharacteristically putting the ball dead from a line drop-out.
The Cowboys had been applying pressure early and the Broncos cracked almost immediately, with Holmes turning his already impressive game into a classic for the centre with a flying try out wide.
Valentine Holmes, welcome back.
The Broncos would have wanted to begin the first half with a flying start, were now staring down the barrel of a demoralising 20-6.
They would be rueing the rescinded Reynolds try that would have seen them take the lead in the first half. Now, the game began to slip away from them.
Brisbane bravely attempted to work their way out of their end, and Reynolds kicked strongly but turnovers and penalties would see their efforts stunted.
North Queensland kept their foot on the throat of the Broncos and, despite the strong completion rate of both teams, the Cowboys were clearly dominating the arm wrestle.
As the final quarter approached, the increasingly involved Dearden dropped a perfect bomb right on top of Nanai five metres out.
Despite a potential knock-on, Nanai was awarded his second try with 20 to go on the clock. What a game these young players are having. What a nightmare it was becoming for Brisbane.
Less than five minutes later and you could’ve sworn you were in the Matrix, the deja vu was so strong.
A repeat set of 6, followed by a bomb from Dearden would see Nanai pluck the ball out of the air and put it down for a hat trick.
At 19 years old and seven games into his career, I likely needn’t tell you that it was his first hat trick. 30-6 with 15 to go and the Broncos’ stout effort melted away.
The rest of the game went as one might expect. An increasingly frustrated and fatigued Brisbane were unable to stem the tide and Tom Dearden was another player rewarded for his effort, scoring a try of his own against his former club.
A consolation try to Farnworth would give Broncos fans something to cheer about, however, a tang of disappointment remained.
What might have been one of the finest battles between these two Queensland clubs, ended up becoming a bit of a one-way affair.
Nevertheless, exciting signs for both teams. Tom Dearden and Chad Townsend appear to be forming a strong partnership, with some exciting young forwards to round out the team.
The Broncos have much work to do, their squad needs time to gel but they are in a much more competitive space than they were two years.
North Queensland Cowboys 38 (Nanai 3, Neame, Holmes, Dearden) def Brisbane Broncos 12 (Farnworth 2)
NRL News Player of the Match
3 Points – Valentine Holmes (NQL)
2 Points – Tom Dearden (NQL)
1 Point – Herbie Farnworth (BRI)