It’s being widely billed as Wayne Bennett versus Johnathan Thurston, the supercoach pitting his wits against the guile of the master playmaker.
But both know neither hold the key to Sunday’s historic all-Queensland NRL grand final between Brisbane and North Queensland.
“The forwards will determine who wins the game,” Bennett said as he plots a seventh premiership with the Broncos in his first season back at Red Hill.
“Whoever does the job best in that area will allow the halves to play.
“The halves can’t play if the forwards don’t lay the groundwork for them. The Cowboys and the Broncos are in the same boat.”
Thurston modestly credited his “middle men” after collecting his record fourth Dally M Medal on Monday night and is banking on North Queensland’s Test props Matt Scott and James Tamou getting the better of Brisbane’s reluctant – but effective – front-rowers Sam Thaiday and Adam Blair at ANZ Stadium.
Telling statistics indicate it will be an intriguing battle up front as the Broncos look to deny the Cowboys their maiden premiership in their own quest for grand final glory for the first time since 2006.
Scott and Tamou average 126 metres and 136 metres respectively in 2015 against far more modest figures from Blair (81m) and Thaiday’s 93m.
If Scott and Tamou are allowed to continue in that vein, they will likely set the platform for a famous Cowboys victory.
The key lies in making the Cowboys duo work in defence to limit their effectiveness with the ball.
Tamou made just nine tackles but surged for 135m in the win over Melbourne, Scott managed 19 tackles and 185m.
In a 39-0 thumping of Cronulla, Scott made 142m and 13 tackles, Tamou running 174m and effecting 14 tackles.
But in the week-one loss to Brisbane, Scott made just 85m after being forced to make 22 tackles, while Tamou made 129m and still made 31 tackles.
If Blair and Thaiday can at least match the efforts of Scott and Tamou, that could pave the way for Broncos halves Anthony Milford and Ben Hunt to do their thing.
Brisbane great Gorden Tallis, the Clive Churchill Medallist in the Broncos’ 1998 grand final victory over Canterbury, has no doubt Sunday’s showdown will be won in the engine room.
Townsville-born Tallis is tipping the Cowboys in a thriller, chiefly because he believes it’s impossible to nullify Thurston’s impact.
“You can’t shut the great players down. What you’ve got to do is limit their opportunities,” he told AAP.
“So with Scott, Tamou and (Jason) Taumalolo, if he gives him opportunities like they did against Melbourne last week, he will make them pay.
“You can make him have what we call a quiet game, but he’ll still be the best player in their team.
“The Broncos just can’t have him having one of those days where every pass leads to a try.
“But, no, you can’t shut him down.”
Triple premiership-winning front-rower Petero Civoniceva, who helped quieten champion Melbourne halfback Cooper Cronk in Brisbane’s 2006 grand final win, agrees the Broncos’ best hope is to limit Thurston’s impact on the match.
“It’s tough, it’s very tough,” he said.
“But one of the great things about the Broncos this year has been the standard of their defence.
“A big key to shutting him down obviously will be trying to seize the momentum of their big forward pack, which is going to be a huge battle.
“If the Broncos forward pack can hold their own and control – or limit – the amount of territory that the likes of James Tamou and Matt Scott and the rest of that great Cowboys pack make, that will hopefully limit the amount of opportunities that Johnathan has.”
UP-FRONT EFFORTS FROM BRONCOS PROPS SAM THAIDAY AND ADAM BLAIR AND COWBOYS JAMES TAMOU AND MATT SCOTT IN 2015:
AVERAGE METRES: James Tamou (136), Matt Scott (126), Sam Thaiday (93), Adam Blair (81)
AVERAGE HIT-UPS: Tamou (14), Scott (13), Thaiday (11), Blair (10)
AVERAGE TACKLES: Thaiday (28), Blair (24), Scott (24), Tamou 21
AVERAGE MISSED TACKLES: Scott (2), Tamou (1), Thaiday (1), Blair (1)
TACKLE BUSTS: Scott (33), Tamou (27), Thaiday (14), Blair (5)
OFFLOADS: Blair (26), Scott (18), Tamou (15), Thaiday (2)
ERRORS: Tamou (11), Scott (6), Blair (5), Thaiday (4)
PENALTIES: Tamou (16), Blair (12), Thaiday (10), Scott (6)
Stats courtesy of Fox Sports Stats