Saturday NRL Finals

Image courtesy of, Photo: Getty Images/Mark Nolan
As always, Jonathan Thurston will be a key man for the Cowboys. Photo: Mark Nolan/Getty Images
Cowboys v Broncos

NRL promoters couldn’t have scripted this weekend’s clash between the Cowboys and Broncos any better. The two Queensland sides are locked in a battle to keep their 2012 premiership dreams alive when they clash in the first elimination final at Dairy Farmers Stadium on Saturday night. The Cowboys finished the regular season in emphatic fashion downing the Sharks 36-22 to record their first win in Sydney from their past nine outings. The Broncos limped into the finals series after scraping home against the Panthers in Petero Civoniceva’s final game at Suncorp stadium. Inspirational Cowboys skipper Matt Scott will add plenty of strike power to an already imposing Cowboys pack when he returns after being sidelined last week.

History – Until recent seasons the Cowboys traditionally struggled against their big brothers, North Queensland recorded narrow victories in both games between the two sides this season. The Cowboys boast an impressive finals record at their home crowd winning all three home finals played in Townsville including their first ever win over Brisbane in 2004. Overall Brisbane has won 24 of the 33 games between the two clubs.

Dangermen – Cowboys fullback Matt Bowen finished second in this year’s Dally M voting and rightly so, the devastating fullback has had a stellar 2012 season after twice recovering from knee reconstructions and is a worthy selection for first try scorer. The Broncos wouldn’t be where they are without livewire centre Justin Hodges . When fit, Hodges has been undoubtedly the Broncos most consistent performer and is capable of creating something out of nothing in attack.

Prediction – The Cowboys are on fire, winning seven of their past ten games and should be too classy for an underperforming Brisbane side. Cowboys 1-12 .

Storm v Rabbitohs

Melbourne  and Souths  meet in the second qualifying final of the 2012 NRL Finals series at AAMI Park on Saturday, with the winner moving within a game of the season decider. The Storm have played finals football every season since 2003 – excluding 2012 when they were docked competition points for salary cap breaches – and are in familiar territory, but this is just the second finals appearance for Souths since 1989.

Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire returns to face former mentor Craig Bellamy for just the second time since spending five years as an assistant under the Premiership winning coach between 2004 and 2009. He is not the only former Melbournian set to don the famous red and green, with Greg Inglis, Michael Crocker and Matt King all lining up against their former teammates.

The hosts welcome Justin O’Neill back into the side at the expense of Will Chambers, while Todd Lowrie has been ruled out with a pectoral injury. Jason Ryles also returns after being rested for the round 26 clash with the Tigers. Souths have stuck with the same squad that defeated Newcastle last weekend.

History – Melbourne has historically had the wood over Souths, winning 16 of the 19 meetings between the sides, including both clashes at AAMI Park. The Storm were 24-10 victors in the round two match between the sides here earlier this year.

Dangermen – It is no coincidence that the Storm has improved in the past six weeks since Billy Slater  has returned to the side. Although he has scored only one try in that period, the Australian fullback has shown glimpses of his best form and his combination with Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith will be sure to cause the Rabbitohs defence plenty of headaches.

While much of their game is built on good go forward by a big, strong forward pack, Greg Inglis  is undoubtedly the one man in Souths ranks that can break a game wide open. He is arguably having his best season yet and will be determined to put in a good showing against his former teammates.

Prediction – Melbourne ended the season with five straight wins to edge Souths – who won just two of their final four - out for second place on the ladder and that could prove decisive here. AAMI Park is always a difficult place for visiting teams to go and home ground advantage should be just enough to see the Storm get home. Melbourne 1-12

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