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Blockbuster matchups set to determine finals makeup

It may only be the penultimate round of the Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup this weekend, but a number of scintillating matchups will all but determine the teams destined to play finals footy in a fortnight.

With this year's competition played in a new regional format, it's crunch time in two of the four pools, with top-of-the-table clashes set to give an indication as to who'll progress to the semi-finals played during the Anzac Day long weekend.

The pools format of the competition hasn't allowed teams from the state's north to face those from the south of the state and vice-versa like in previous seasons, but it has helped accentuate a number of local rivalries, pleasing Queensland Rugby League statewide competitions manager Dave Maiden.

"Whilst we understand there are considerable distances travelled within the regional pools, the level of competition and rivalry has been fantastic," Maiden said.

"Budget constraints this year meant we were limited in what we could do in terms of travel, which was why the pools format was adopted.

"Most pools have been hard fought, but played in the right spirit.

Player to bank on - Dudley Dotoi

"Many of these players and coaching staff have never been exposed to the level of scrutiny they are now currently under and it certainly takes time to get used to.

"It is tough and we would like to align all competitions, but it was the only way we could have true statewide competitions in 2021, so we thank everyone for their adaptability and resilience."

As only three teams feature in Pool A's North Queensland conference, the dominant Townsville Blackhawks have wrapped up their golden ticket to the finals following their 32-0 clean sweep of Mackay Cutters in Round 4.

This weekend, they will be able to sit back and enjoy a week off before their final regular season clash against Northern Pride ahead of facing the winner of Pool B.

The Cutters and Pride will meet in Townsville this weekend to battle for bragging rights after the Blackhawks' assertion of authority in the north.

All is on the line for both the Central Queensland Capras and Western Mustangs when they face off at Theodore in the hope of qualifying for that sudden-death semi final.

The Capras have the upper hand with an extra two competition points in the bank after knocking off the Mustangs in Round 2 and a win will not only keep their undefeated streak alive, but also allow for coach Kane Hardy to rub out his tentative finals plans written in pencil and rewrite the confirmed plans in pen.

If the Mustangs gain revenge for the early season loss, next week's final round results and margins will be the crux in determining who progresses through to the regional Queensland showdown.

The Wide Bay Bulls and Sunshine Coast Falcons will play for pride in Kingaroy in the other Round 5 clash of Pool B.

In Pool C, Wynnum Manly Seagulls have the opportunity to sew up top spot when they meet Redcliffe Dolphins at Moreton Daily Stadium.

The boys from the Bay are two wins clear of the next best in their conference, so should they fall short this Saturday, a Round 6 redemption is possible in front of a packed house at BMD Kougari Oval when they take on Brisbane Tigers.

At Bishop Park, it's a must-win encounter for Norths Devils who are up against the Tigers if they want to remain an outside chance to clinching top spot should the undefeated red and green Seagulls slip up in their final two regular season matches. 

Pool D is a very similar scenario to their northern metropolitan cousins with the Tweed Seagulls flying nicely on top. However, Tim Maccan's players will be wary of a hungry Souths Logan side who will be coming out with a vengeance and aiming to get one back after going down to the 'Gulls at home in Round 2.

A win for Tweed at either Tugun this weekend or in next week's Gold Coast derby against Burleigh Bears will see them edge closer to defending their 2019 Auswide Bank Mal Meninga Cup title.

The Bears are still an outside chance of qualifying should they win their final two matches and results go their way, so a classy showing will be expected on the big stage at Cbus Super Stadium against the plucky Ipswich Jets whose efforts can't be faulted this season.

With some big blockbuster games on the schedule - most notably in Pool B and D - Maiden is expecting the matches to be absolute crackers for fans who will be there to witness them live.

"I can’t pick a winner in either," Maiden said.

"Essentially, the winner of the Capras v Mustangs game will likely win the pool and advance to the semi finals against Pool A which looks likely to be Townsville.

"Tweed and Souths Logan have had a fantastic rivalry in this age group for a number of years and it is going to be one hell of a match."

Acknowledgement of Country

Queensland Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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