NSW State of Origin legend Andrew Johns concedes Queensland is now the heartland of rugby league.
As Brisbane prepare to meet the Townsville-based Cowboys in Sunday’s first-ever all-Queensland NRL grand final, a closer look shows north Queensland is currently the sport’s most successful region.
The Cowboys’ under-20s side fell one game short of the Holden Cup decider.
The Townsville Blackhawks play in the Intrust Super Cup grand final on Sunday in just their first season, while the Townsville Stingers also took out under-16 and under-18 honours this year.
Just last week, Kirwan State High took out the national schoolboys title.
Even Kirwan Primary School participate in a state final on Sunday.
“It is the heartland of rugby league now,” Johns declared on The Sunday Footy Show on the Nine Network.
“You look at all the great young players coming through, you look at the performances from schoolboy level – 16s, 18s … Queensland dominate right through.
“Unfortunately for us, it hurts.”
Four-time premiership-winner Peter Sterling said Sunday’s local derby against the Broncos is the Cowboys’ best chance of lifting the trophy, 10 years after losing their only grand final appearance against the Wests Tigers.
Skipper Johnathan Thurston is the only current player remaining from that team.
“This is the best Cowboys team we’ve ever seen,” Sterling said.
“Even going back to when they played in the grand final in 2005, with all due respect, Justin Smith was the five-eighth that year.
“Michael Morgan, once he was back into contention to playing the season out, all of a sudden they were a chance. I thought they were gone without Morgan.
“I thought he was close to their best again last night.”