Sentiment favours Cowboys in grand final

It’s lucky for Brisbane they are such a well-supported NRL club.

Because much of the rest of the rugby league world will be cheering for Johnathan Thurston to deliver North Queensland the inaugural premiership his region craves and his career deserves.

NSW fans may have been left without a team of their own in Sunday’s NRL grand final, but there is plenty to be excited about when the two Queensland-based powerhouses do battle at Sydney’s ANZ Stadium.

The Broncos’ qualifying final win over the Cowboys three weeks ago provided a mouth-watering appetiser, a free-flowing thriller that was one of the matches of the season.

More of the same is in the offing for the first-ever all-Queensland grand final, despite the higher stakes.

“A lot of people have commented on that game as a spectacle,” Cowboys coach Paul Green said.

“If the refs referee the same way, we will probably get a similar game.”

Brisbane have been a revelation since the return of supercoach Wayne Bennett, who is aiming to add to the six premierships he guided them to in his previous tenure.

But much of the sentiment at the ground, at home and in the pubs around Australia, and even those watching overseas, is expected to be with popular Cowboys co-skipper Thurston, who pulls the strings on North Queensland’s entertaining brand of football.

For all he has achieved in a career that earned him a record fourth Dally M this season, Test and Origin star Thurston is driven by the expectation, no, the demand, that he bring the title back to Townsville with him before he retires.

He was part of Canterbury’s 2004 premiership win and the Cowboys’ first grand final in 2005. But like the 32-year-old superstar himself, many fans forget that.

“I can’t really remember those two grand final weeks,” Thurston admitted.

“I was just a kid then.”

While Cowboys players have been determined to deliver for their leader, Brisbane, too, have powerful motivation in seeking a fairytale result for their captain, with Justin Hodges playing his final game before retirement.

But it is Brisbane’s in-form halves, Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford, and their battle with their Cowboys opposites Thurston and Michael Morgan, who will hold the key on Sunday.

And the playmakers’ jobs will be made easier, or otherwise, by their forwards.

Cowboys props Matt Scott and James Tamou have been at their bullocking best in finals wins over Cronulla and Melbourne after the loss to Brisbane.

Another intriguing battle will be in the coaches box, with the master Bennett up against relatively inexperienced Cowboy’s mentor Paul Green.

Bennett has a scarcely believable 7-0 grand final record as a head coach, having also triumphed with St George Illawarra in 2010.

Brisbane veteran Corey Parker revealed for all of Bennett’s four decades of experience, his message was remarkably simple ahead of the biggest game of the year.

“He said it is about grabbing your moment,” Parker said.

“You have to. Nine years was the last time I won one and I don’t think I have another nine years left.

“It’s about moments and now we’ve given ourselves a great opportunity to win a grand final.”

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