Broncos v Bulldogs
The Broncos are out of the finals race. The only thing left for them is to find out exactly where they finish. They are currently 13th, and will finish there if they lose this game. If the Broncos win, their finishing position will then depend on what happens with the 11th- and 12th-placed Panthers and Raiders, who are each one point ahead of them. Pride is the only motivation left for the Broncos. Hopefully, that's enough for them to put in a big effort to try to go out with a win in front of their home crowd on Thursday night.
The fifth-placed Bulldogs can only finish fifth... or sixth. Either way, they would get a home city game in the first week of the finals and be eliminated if they lost that, so the result of this match doesn't matter much for them on the grand scale. The only effect it will have is on deciding their opponents. But why the result does matter is that the Bulldogs would love to enter the finals with some momentum. Injuries have hurt them recently, and they continue to be without some key players not only because of injury but also suspension.
The Bulldogs have been up and down in the closing rounds, going loss, win, loss, win over the last four. After scoring first they trailed 14-6 during the first half against the Panthers last weekend, before cutting the deficit to two points just before halftime. It was all the Bulldogs in the second half, as they marched on to a 34-14 win. The week before that, they lost 28-20 to the Rabbitohs, one of the teams they eliminated in last year's finals series along the way to making the grand final against the Storm.
The Broncos have found it a real battle this season. They put themselves back in with a chance of making the finals when they went on a win, draw, win, win run, but then they stalled with losses to the Panthers (28-12) and Knights (26-18) in the last two rounds. It's fitting that they can't make the finals, because the fact is they're not up to that standard. But that doesn't mean they can't go out with a bang. The pressure is off them now, for this season at least – and that makes them dangerous opponents if they feel like having a crack on the way out.
The Broncos have an unchanged starting side. Scott Anderson is added to what is a five-man bench. The Bulldogs also have an unchanged starting side. Sam Kasiano returns from injury on what is a five-man bench.
Watch Out Broncos: Tony Williams isn't back to his best, but the Bulldogs forward is at least showing genuine signs of life recently. In his 68 minutes against the Panthers, he ran 13 times for 95 metres and had one line-break and two offloads. Any advance on that here would certainly make him a major threat in this match.
Watch Out Bulldogs: Broncos back-rower Matt Gillett isn't one you can blame for the team's woes. He has run for more than 100 metres in nine of his past 10 games, making four line-breaks and scoring three tries along the way. He has seven tries in 21 games this season. His combination of strength and mobility makes him a constant threat wide of the ruck.
Plays To Watch: Bulldogs big man Kasiano is back, and in his past two games before getting injured he scored two tries and made three line-breaks and four offloads. If the Broncos display the sort of lack of enthusiasm in defence that is not unusual for a team that can no longer make the finals, Kasiano will run straight through them.
Broncos halfback Scott Prince is not retiring before time. He doesn't run the ball nearly as much as he used to. But in what is his last game don't be surprised if he is pumped up to go out with a bang – and maybe with a bit of his old trademark show-and-go along the way.
Key Match-Up: This game, with the Broncos out of the running for the finals, could be a bit "loose". It could open up a fair bit, and, under those circumstances, if you're starting your sets from good field position it's going to put you well on the road to victory. That's why the rival fullbacks – the Broncos' Josh Hoffman and the Bulldogs' Josh Morris – are so important here. The amount of ground they can eat up on kick returns will dictate how this game is played.
Where It Will Be Won: In a game that likely opens up, plenty of attacking opportunities will be created for the wide men, whose finishing will mean everything. On the wings for the Bulldogs, Sam Perrett has scored 17 tries in 23 games and Mitch Brown 12 in 22. The Bulldogs are getting plenty of good ball out there. Rookie Broncos winger Corey Oates has scored six tries in eight games, and Hoffman has scored 15 in 23. Most of Hoffman's tries have come when he was on the wing, but he is also very dangerous when he links up from fullback.
The History: Played 43; Broncos 23, Bulldogs 19, one draw. The Bulldogs have won six of the past 10 clashes, including four of the past five. The Bulldogs have also won three of the past four at this venue.
Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Michael Wise; Video Referees – Luke Phillips & Justin Morgan.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week including the Broncos v Bulldogs clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live, 7.30pm.
The Way We See It: The Bulldogs have got a good recent record against the Broncos at all venues, and more to play for in this match. And they are just better than them, really. Even with a couple of stars out, the Bulldogs have got more gamebreaking players on deck than the Broncos do, and we probably won't have to wait until deep in this game before they make the difference. Bulldogs by 10 points.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.