The Panthers' Nathan Cleary is bound to attract plenty of attention from the Raiders on Saturday night.
The Panthers' Nathan Cleary is bound to attract plenty of attention from the Raiders on Saturday night. DARREN PATEMAN

Durko's Dissections for week two of the finals

TOMORROW

COWBOYS V BRONCOS

First semi-final

1300 SMILES Stadium, 7.55pm

History: Played 45, Broncos 30, Cowboys 13, drawn 2

In Townsville: Played 24, Broncos 15, Cowboys 8, drawn 1

Last met: Cowboys 19-18, round 11, 2016

A miserly seven points has separated these champion teams in the past four occasions they have met, with two wins apiece, so expectations of yet another nail-biter in the Queensland derby are well founded. And not only have those clashes been close, they have provided spectacular entertainment and quality rugby league. Unfortunately for Queensland fans, one local team will bow out tomorrow night with the hopes of a second successive season finale gone. On paper, and taking their recent home record into account, the Cowboys look the winners. But after a long and stressful season they also look tired and a six-day turnaround from last weekend's loss in Melbourne won't help. Conversely, the Broncos had an eight-day break after their round 26 clash, followed by seven days off before this final, and should be fresher. Kane Linnett and James Roberts are big losses for their respective sides, but the Broncos lose more as Roberts is a genuine game breaker. While this match, like most finals, will be decided by whichever pack dominates, the clash of champion halves Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan against Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford will no doubt be crucial. To win, the Broncos need to reproduce their form of three weeks ago - anything less will not be good enough.

TIP: Broncos

SATURDAY

RAIDERS V PANTHERS

Second semi-final

GIO Stadium, 7.45pm

History: Played 69, Raiders 34, Panthers 34, drawn 1

In Canberra: Played 26, Raiders 18, Panthers 8

Last met: Panthers 19-18, round 9, 2016

The way these teams play, the score in this could be anything. Both sides have conceded an average of 19 points per game in 2016, so defence has not been a total priority. But attack certainly is, with the Raiders scoring at a phenomenal season average of 29 points and the Panthers 24. On those stats the Raiders, at home, should be in the box seat, but the loss of brilliant dummy half Josh Hodgson is a savage blow, although five-eighth Blake Austin looks likely to return. Two major issues face the Raiders - can coach Ricky Stuart rekindle their self-belief after last week's shock loss following 10 successive wins, and can their leaky defence handle the brilliant ad-lib attack of the youthful, seemingly fearless Panthers? For Penrith, they simply need to reproduce their brilliance from last Sunday and play the same brand of footy that has them on a run of six wins. No doubt the massive Raiders pack will try to intimidate teenage half Nathan Cleary, but many have tried and few have succeeded. Again, his role is pivotal. On what they have achieved in 2016 the Raiders deserve to advance one more week, but there is little room for sentiment in the NRL.

TIP: Panthers


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