More than a decade after helping them come of age, Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett has admitted the Cowboys are Queensland’s No.1 team ahead of Saturday night’s NRL qualifying final.
Bennett said North Queensland’s recent record spoke for itself after Brisbane lock Corey Parker (hamstring) was cleared and Cowboys pivot Michael Morgan (ankle) completed training ahead of their derby clash at a sold-out Suncorp Stadium.
It cast his mind back to the first time the teams met in a final in 2004.
History shows “little brother” North Queensland finally emerged from Brisbane’s shadow with a 10-0 semi-final win in Townsville – their first victory over the Broncos since their 1995 inception.
Bennett held the Broncos’ reins then just as he will again for No.2 seed Brisbane on Saturday night, in his first season back from a seven-year absence.
Asked if that was a seminal moment for North Queensland – now in their 20th year – Bennett said: “I think so, it was important to them and to the game in the state.
“That’s why we made the decision that we did.”
Back in 2004 Bennett helped the Broncos successfully lobby for the first all-Queensland final to be relocated from an uninterested Sydney to ex-minnows the Cowboys’ hometown of Townsville, where a sell-out was assured.
“We made that happen for them,” Bennett said.
“We made a choice to go to Townsville because we value the game and no one would have watched the game in Sydney.
“It was a pretty special night up there.”
Bennett backed re-signed Broncos back-rower Sam Thaiday’s call that the Cowboys were now Queensland’s top NRL team.
“They are in the records, they played better last year than the Broncos,” Bennett said of No.3 seed North Queensland who hold a 3-0 finals record against Brisbane.
“But I am not worried about being No.1 team in the state.
“It’s great to see the (sold out) response from the fans and I hope we play well here and give them what they deserve.”
Parker ran strongly on Friday in encouraging signs after he was forced to leave Wednesday training early.
“He was never in doubt,” Bennett said.
The Broncos mentor expected Morgan to play after Cowboys coach Paul Green could not guarantee a start on Friday.
Green will monitor how Morgan backs up after he cruised through Friday’s training session.
“Given the fact that we do have a second chance regardless of what happens in the game on Saturday night we’re not going to take any stupid risks,” Green said of Morgan.
If North Queensland win they earn a preliminary final and a week off.
If they lose, they next week host the winner of Sunday’s Cronulla-South Sydney playoff.
North Queensland have won just two of their past seven finals matches and not won an away playoff since 2005, losing six straight.