Friends turn to foes in ‘local’ derby

IT is mate against mate and in a way Queensland cannot lose.

But the best of friendships will be put to the side for 80 minutes tonight when the Brisbane Broncos and Melbourne Storm clash with a spot in the NRL grand final on the line.

The showdown at AAMI Park in Melbourne will see the cream of Queensland’s rugby league talent on show in what could be the best game of the season.

In the purple corner are Melbourne’s Maroons legends Cameron Smith, Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater — three of the most loved characters in the game.

Looking to spoil their season are Broncos stars Darius Boyd, Matt Gillett and Anthony Milford with super coach Wayne Bennett at the helm.

There will be an incredible 13 players on the field who represented Queensland during this year’s State of Origin series, which saw the Maroons claim a miraculous victory.

“I don’t think too many people would be disappointed if Melbourne beat the Broncos because they are like the fourth Queensland team,” former Maroons legend Gary Belcher said.

“They have guys like Cameron Smith, Billy Slater and Cooper Cronk, who have been so integral to Queensland’s success in State of Origin.

“If the Storm play the Cowboys next week, it will be like an all-Queensland grand final anyway.”

Rugby league Immortal Wally Lewis said the Broncos, Storm and Cowboys were the best teams in the competition to watch when they battled.

“It’s impossible to not get excited,” he said.

“If you don’t get excited for this game then you are hard to please.

“Every time it’s Melbourne and the Broncos or Cowboys and the Broncos there are quite extraordinary outcomes.

“The standard and level of perfection makes it the most impressive game you’ve seen for quite a while.”

The Broncos have battled through injury concerns for much of the season and Lewis said beating the Storm in Melbourne could be a bridge too far for Brisbane.

“I admire what Brisbane have done but it’s impossible to not favour Melbourne,” Lewis said.

“The Storm are clinical. Craig Bellamy (Melbourne coach) turns players into fine footballers that didn’t make it at other clubs.

“It’s an outstanding promotion for rugby league. They are in the AFL capital and attracting attention down there.

“They are a hell of a side.”

The Storm have held the wood over Brisbane for the past decade, winning 19 of the 23 clashes between the NRL heavyweights.

The Broncos can take some confidence knowing three of those four wins have come in Melbourne and they nearly toppled the Storm at AAMI Park earlier this year.

The healthy rivalry and respect between the players has come from their years playing for Queensland and Australia together.

The Storm provided six Maroons players — Will Chambers, Cameron Munster, Tim Glasby, Smith, Slater and Cronk — during Queensland’s successful Origin campaign this year.

Brisbane had Corey Oates, Sam Thaiday, Ben Hunt, Josh McGuire, Boyd, Milford and Gillett wear Maroon jerseys in 2017.

Bennett, the coach behind Brisbane’s six premierships, said the Broncos were ready for anything.

“We are ready to play, we are ready to go,” he said.

“A lot of these guys have played Origin together so both teams know what they are up against.

“We have to believe in ourselves and if we do that, we can stay in the competition. It will go against us at certain stages and we have to handle that.”

Brisbane’s last NRL premiership came in 2006 with a 15-8 win against Melbourne in the decider.

The Broncos will have to put together their best performance of the season to qualify for this year’s grand final but it is a challenge they are ready for.

“The Melbourne Storm are the biggest game we’ve had this year and if we want to get to a grand final we have to get through this,” Hunt said.

Either way, Queensland will have plenty to cheer for in next Sunday’s NRL grand final and if the Cowboys can topple the Roosters on Saturday night then the Sunshine State cannot lose.

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