Norman needs to rise to challenge
Danger zone ... the Cowboys have conceded 14.5 per cent of tries from dummy half. They'll have to watch Brisbane's Andrew McCullough, pictured, at hooker. Photo: Getty Images
1. Can the Cowboys take advantage of the home ground?
The Cowboys have only won three of 18 appearances against the Broncos at Dairy Farmers Stadium. But they'll take plenty from their victory in Townsville in round 15. The last time the teams met up north in a final, the Cowboys claimed a 10-0 win in the second week of the play-offs. It's likely to be a sell-out with mainly Cowboys fans, but Brisbane skipper Sam Thaiday said his side holds no fears about the trip. ''We have got a lot of fans in Townsville and I hope they show up,'' he said.
2. Will Corey Norman stand up?
Success ... the Cowboys have scored 48 per cent of their tries from the right edge where Brent Tate and Ashley Graham are positioned. Photo: Getty Images
When Darren Lockyer retired, he passed the burden of expectation on to the young shoulders of Norman. That pressure didn't seem to affect him in a blistering opening to the season, but as Brisbane slumped post-Origin, so too did the form of Norman. He was dropped to the bench before moving to fullback when Josh Hoffman was dumped for disciplinary reasons. He returned to No.6 last week to help end the Broncos' five-game losing streak and will need to be at his best against Johnathan Thurston if they are to progress.
3. Will Gavin Cooper play?
It might seem irrelevant in the scheme of this match, but Cooper has been the unsung hero for the Cowboys this season. He's been one of their best and his work often goes unnoticed. He suffered a shoulder injury in the second half of last Sunday's win against the Sharks and is under a cloud. If he is out, it will have a big impact on Thurston, because he loves using the wide-running Cooper when he takes on the line.
Weak link ... the Broncos have been vulnerable on their left edge where Gerard Beale, Justin Hodges and Sam Thaiday reside. 41 per cent of their conceded tries have been scored in the area. Photo: Rohan Thomson
4. Are Brisbane back in form or will their joy be short lived?
Having lost five-on-the-trot before their last round victory against Penrith, many were willing to write off the Broncos. But skipper Thaiday insists their form isn't as bad as results suggest. ''We struggled there for a little while, but we were never playing terrible football,'' he said. ''A lot of people were reading into scorelines … but we weren't playing that bad. We were very unlucky and played a lot of top teams that are in the top four now, so we've got a lot of confidence heading into these finals series.''
5. What effect will the Petero factor have on the Broncos?
Long-distance raids ... Brisbane have conceded 12.6 per cent of tries from inside their own half. They can't give Matthew Bowen an inch. Photo: Getty Images
Sending off Lockyer in style was the motivation behind Brisbane's finals campaign last year. Doing the same for Petero Civoniceva is sure to be in the back of players' minds, but the veteran won't let it be a driving force. The Broncos got caught up in Lockyer hysteria last year and can't afford to do that again.