Ben Blaschke,, NRL.com
Raiders v Broncos
Could this be make-or-break time for Brisbane?
A side that has traditionally started the NRL season at a million miles an hour before having to fight their way through the representative season, the Broncos find themselves in unfamiliar territory in 2013 having won just five of their opening 12 games to sit 11th on the NRL ladder.
Not that it started out that slowly. As recently as Round 7 Brisbane was well and truly entrenched in the top eight, but four losses from their past five games has seen them tumble down the ladder to the dangerous territory they now find themselves languishing in.
However, it is last week’s dismal outing against the Warriors – who themselves have struggled to find any sort of rhythm this season – that is of most concern. Even without their quartet of State of Origin stars, their 56-18 capitulation on home soil was a disastrous showing for a side that once revelled in defying the odds at this time of year. Who could ever forget the ‘Baby Broncos’ who upset Wests Tigers 28-14 back in 2002?
Now Brisbane must produce a different kind of fight – a show of unity and pride in the jersey as they look to complete a big turnaround in the space of just seven days.
The one saving grace for the Broncos is that they aren’t the only side to be on the wrong end of a hiding in 2013, with plenty having made amends with a stunning win a week later. In fact, nine teams this season have lost by 30 points or more only to emerge with a victory in their very next game!
The Broncos will welcome back Sam Thaiday, Matt Gillett and Corey Parker from Origin duty this week but they won’t have it easy against a Canberra side that has enjoyed far greater consistency of performance this year.
After a slow start to the season, the Raiders have improved considerably over the past two months and although they sit just two points and one position above Brisbane on the NRL ladder, they will be feeling pretty good about themselves as the halfway point of the season looms. They may have also lost their past two games – a narrow 30-20 loss to Cronulla at Sharks Stadium and a hard-fought 16-10 loss to Manly at Brookvale – but they will take some solace in the fact that they fought to the end at tough away venues and could easily have come away with the points.
Still, having played four of their past five games away they will welcome the chance to return home this Monday night where they recorded an impressive 44-14 win over Newcastle last outing and remain undefeated in 2013.
Returning from Origin duty will be David Shillington and Blake Ferguson while back-rower Josh Papalii will be better for the experience of spending time in camp with the Maroons.
For Brisbane, Peter Wallace moves from hooker back to his preferred No.7 jersey this week with Andrew McCullough back at dummy-half and Ben Hunt dropping back to an extended seven-man bench.
The Raiders will be looking for nine straight home wins for the first time since 2000 and will be confident of doing so given that they have won 16 of 22 home games played on a Monday night. Brisbane have two of the past three Monday night games they’ve played but have won just once in their past six trips to Canberra. Only once have these teams previously met on a Monday night, Canberra prevailing 22-14 courtesy of a Josh McCrone try late in each half.
Watch Out Raiders: If Justin Hodges’ ongoing knee problems prevent him from being a late inclusion in the Broncos side, Josh Hoffman will play in the centres for the second week in a row and given his efforts out wide for Brisbane he looms as perhaps their greatest danger man.
With 10 tries from 12 games this year, an average 113 metres per game and a team-high 47 tackle-breaks Hoffman is certain to be heavily involved. He also played a key role in one of the few bright spots in Brisbane’s loss to the Warriors last week – finishing off a great team try with a dummy and dash to the line.
Watch Out Broncos: It will be interesting to see what sort of confidence boost his State of Origin debut gives Raiders centre Blake Ferguson – not that he has ever been short of that!
Ferguson has been dynamic for the Raiders this season with seven tries from eight games, 105 metres per outing and 31 tackle-breaks. His ability to power through the tackle makes him a real handful in one-on-one situations and he certainly caused Newcastle all sorts of headaches the last time he played at Canberra Stadium a month ago with a brilliant hat-trick.
Plays To Watch: Canberra’s quick hands to the right. By far their preferred side to attack to given the presence of Josh Papalii, Blake Ferguson and Sandor Earl, Canberra love to up the ante when they earn a quick play-the-ball and put it through the hands in fast motion as they look to get it to either Papalii or Ferguson with as much room to move as possible.
And when they get it right they can be impossible to stop, with the pair having the speed and raw power to burst through the opposition defensive line when the ball reaches them before the defence does.
Key Match-Up: Alex Glenn v Josh Papalii. Such an important man in the Broncos line-up these days, Alex Glenn admitted last week that his performance was well below the standards he expects of himself. At his best he is a physically imposing presence with good ball skills – creating a fascinating battle against powerhouse Raider Papalii on Brisbane’s left edge.
Where It Will Be Won: In the forwards. The Raiders boast one of the biggest packs in the NRL and they’ll be looking to run over the top of their opponents in front of their home crowd. Likewise, the Broncos struggled up the middle against the Warriors last week but welcome back three key men from Origin duty to bolster their usually highly physical pack. This promises to a classic battle of the big men.
The History: Played 43; Broncos 24, Raiders 18, drawn 1. Brisbane hold an overall lead but have struggled in the nation’s capital of late with the Raiders having scored 174 points in their past six home clashes against Brisbane.
Match Officials: Referees – Gerard Sutton & Luke Philips; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Dave Ryan; Video Referees – Steve Clark & Reece Williams.
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 Raiders v Broncos clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays
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Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 7pm.
The Way We See It: Canberra can expect a fired-up Broncos outfit this weekend as they not only look to make amends for last week’s embarrassment but also welcome back their State of Origin stars. In fact, the fact that they were so poor last week could actually help their cause this week given the impressive records in 2013 of teams coming off a thrashing. But the Raiders have been superb at home this season and on form have been comfortably the better side over the past five or six weeks. We think they will have a bit too much firepower. Raiders by eight points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats