Defending premiers will face minor premiers in the opening week of the NRL finals after North Queensland’s defeat of Gold Coast to seal fourth spot on the ladder.
The Cowboys’ 32-16 win on Saturday means they’ll travel to Melbourne next weekend to face the Storm in a mouth-watering finals match-up.
The Titans are still a chance to face Brisbane in their first final for six years, but only if Canberra beat the Wests Tigers on Sunday at Leichhardt Oval.
Gold Coast could have sealed a finals spot by defeating the Cowboys in Townsville but there was no way Paul Green’s men were going to play ball with the Titans’ hopes.
Justin O’Neill and Antonio Winterstein opened up an early 12-0 lead as the Cowboys held their opponents scoreless in the opening 20 minutes for the 15th time this season.
Gold Coast fought hard despite relentless pressure from the home team and came within six points at the break due to a David Mead try.
But a second-half double by Gavin Cooper ensured North Queensland headed into the finals with form and confidence.
It’s a far cry from three weeks ago when a 22-10 loss to the Sydney Roosters was the Cowboys’ third in a row and left top-four hopes seemingly dashed.
“We’ve come through that flat patch where we’ve lost a couple of games back to back and we’ve strung some good wins together,” Cowboys coach Green said.
“That’ll give us a bit of confidence going into the finals.
“We realise the finals are a new ball game altogether but I’m pretty happy with where we’re at.”
Titans coach Neil Henry said his team had simply not been good enough against the Cowboys despite a willing effort in the second half when tries to Ryan James and Konrad Hurrell nearly sparked a comeback.
Henry said the fact his team were still in with a chance of finals football is reward for their efforts this season.
“Disappointing to have to rely on results but I suppose we’ve earned the right to be in the position where the result can go our way and we’ll still be in the eight,” Henry said.
“That’s the positive out of the whole scenario. We’re still in with a chance even though we’re relying on another game.”