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Broncos v Rabbitohs preview

Broncos v Rabbitohs
Suncorp Stadium
Friday 8pm

Is this a clash between a team on the rise and one that's on a slide? Is it the re-emergence of a powerhouse in Brisbane and the temporary closing of a Rabbitohs premiership window that only opens once every odd decade?

If not for a gut-wrenching Trent Hodkinson field goal on Good Friday these two teams would have entered this one with remarkably similar records but as it is, the Broncos are the side well entrenched in the top eight and growing in confidence.

After their polished performance against the Knights, Brisbane are still without Sam Thaiday due to a calf injury, while the Rabbitohs welcome back Ben Te'o and George Burgess, two heavy hitters who would have been handy against the big Bulldogs pack last week.

The two halves will have critical roles to play, with the improving Ben Hunt looking to string together three consecutive fine games, while Adam Reynolds has been struggling to ignite South Sydney's right-edge attack, the ball often dying in his hands as the defence rushes up.


Even though they didn't come away with the two competition points, there was plenty of courage in South Sydney's display against the Bulldogs as they battled on gamely without the use of Apisai Koroisau, Dave Tyrrell and Kyle Turner at various stages. Coach Michael Maguire often espouses the values of "working hard for each other" and while ever the Rabbitohs do that they will remain competitive.

It's a characteristic that the Broncos have re-discovered and has been the cornerstone of their defensive resolve that has netted them four wins from their opening seven games.

It's the two most well-supported teams in the competition playing on Anzac Day in front of 50,000 people at the best rectangular rugby league stadium in the world ... Yeah, this is going to be big.

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Watch Out Rabbitohs: For a guy working through difficult personal issues on the back of ankle surgery and being asked to play a slightly different role at a new club, Ben Barba is giving Broncos fans the hint that they may soon to be able to stand on the banks of the Brisbane River and proudly proclaim: "He's back!"

Coming off a night against the Titans that all fullbacks dread yet know they will eventually endure, Barba was superb at both ends of the field against the Knights and was a key reason that the Broncos' attack looked the sharpest it has for a couple of years.

His pace to get on the outside of a defender and perfectly timed hand-off created the space for Matt Gillett to charge through for the first try of the game, he scored his first for his new club when he backed up some ad-lib footy down the left-hand side, then sparked a try for Dale Copley by running around Chris Houston and drawing Tyrone Roberts out of the line before setting Justin Hodges free.

If Barba delivers a similar display against South Sydney, Broncos fans will rock Suncorp in a way they haven't since Darren Lockyer's heroic farewell three years ago.

Watch Out Broncos: John Sutton debuted as a centre against the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium way back in 2004 and after a brief flirtation with life in the forwards to start 2014, the most capped Rabbitoh of all time is back where he belongs at five-eighth.

His powerful running game and innate ability to get an offload away are naturally suited to a life lived on rugby league's edges and the improved form of South Sydney in recent weeks is in large part due to his return to the No.6 jersey.

Last week against the Bulldogs, Sutton laid on the try for Sam Burgess and then powered over himself to give his side an advantage they were unable to maintain until the 80th minute. He has a wonderful combination with Greg Inglis and Nathan Merritt and South Sydney are a better team when Sutton is calling the shots.

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Plays To Watch: While Josh Hoffman showed some nice touches on the left edge against Newcastle, it is when the Broncos shift to their right that they look most dangerous.

Barba is playing effectively as a second five-eighth and his pure pace puts the opposition defence in doubt and creates opportunities for his outside men. He is developing a lethal combination where he brings Matt Gillett back under and has a burgeoning partnership with good mate Justin Hodges.

For the Rabbitohs – other than pure muscle up the middle – the go-to play late in each half is some quick interplay between Sutton, Inglis and Merritt. Young hooker Koroisau is growing in confidence and has the skill to hold the markers up long enough to give Sutton time close to the line. A quick inside pass to a flying Inglis is hard to stop at the best of times and with Merritt in support it's a play designed to test any tiring defensive line.

Where It Will Be Won: In 2014 the Broncos have become a team who are happy to take it to the death and after a couple of tough losses discovered how to close one out against the Knights. Under Michael Maguire the Rabbitohs have been a team who have almost dared opposition teams to go with them before eventually using their star power at the back to provide the winning edge.

In order to remain in the contest until the very end you need a good completion rate and it's an area that South Sydney have been below par in over the opening seven weeks of the season. Heading into Round 8 their 95 incomplete sets were the most of any team in the NRL, a stat for which the Broncos are currently ranked equal ninth alongside the Bulldogs.

It may not be glamorous but complete sets through the middle of the ruck will decide this one.

The History: Played 31; Broncos 22, Rabbitohs 8, Drawn 1. The Rabbitohs will have to create a piece of history for meetings between these two clubs to win on Friday night, as they have never won two consecutive games against the Broncos. The Rabbitohs were convincing 26-12 winners in front of more than 39,000 at Suncorp in Round 8 12 months ago but victories since 1988 have been few and far between. Having defeated the highly-fancied Brisbane team 27-26 in the 1994 Tooheys Challenge Final in Albury, South Sydney fans had to wait until June 10, 2006 to again inflict defeat on the Broncos, and they have only four wins from 17 total clashes at Suncorp.

What Are The Odds: Punters investing at Sportsbet.com.au are tipping another upset here, with more money coming for the Broncos as $2.03 outsiders despite the fact they have drifted from $1.84 over the past two weeks. Rabbitohs are $1.79.

Match Officials: Referee - Gavin Badger; Assistant Referee - Grant Atkins; Touch Judges - Nick Beashel and Rickey MacFarlane; Video Referees - Bernard Sutton and Luke Patten.

Televised: Channel Nine – Live from 7.30pm (Qld and NSW).

The Way We See It: Six weeks ago this was a game Souths fans would have pencilled in as a win but there are plenty of reasons to suggest that the Broncos are the form team heading into this one.

They were clinical in disposing of the Knights last week and should have notched wins against the defending premiers (Roosters) and the high-flying Titans. They boast an attitude in defence that enables teams to win more than they lose. The Rabbitohs, on the other hand, are a team who tried to reinvent themselves but are now morphing back into the team that came within one game of a grand final the past two years.

It shapes as a good test of where both teams are at but the big home crowd may be enough to get the Broncos home. Brisbane by four points.

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