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Roosters v Broncos preview

Greg Prichard, NRL.com Thu, Mar 21, 2013 - 1:00 PM

Sonny Bill Williams played 80 minutes last week and isn’t far away from peak fitness and form. Copyright: NRL Photos

Roosters v Broncos
Allianz Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm

The Roosters and Broncos are two teams still very much trying to find their way during the early rounds of this season. Both teams were beaten in the opening round, and although both won in the second round, neither side was convincing. They are each getting used to new players in key positions, and it takes time to bed down combinations in circumstances like that.

So which team is more likely to beat the other at a time when neither is playing as well as they would like and should have improvement in them further down the track? The home-ground advantage is certainly significant when a team is looking for a boost, so that's a tick for the Roosters here. And the Broncos have one of their key players in doubt in Justin Hodges, who was taken off in last week's win over St George Illawarra because of a hamstring twinge. Hodges can make things happen when his team is otherwise on the back foot, and the Broncos will miss him a lot if he doesn't play.

The Roosters will be much better now three of their new recruits – James Maloney, Sonny Bill Williams and Michael Jennings – have each had two games for the club, and Luke O'Donnell has had one. Five-eighth Maloney is fast getting used to his teammates, and is bound to start making things happen on a more regular basis soon. And Williams isn't far away from having a big game either. He was always going to need a bit of time to get back into the swing of things, back playing rugby league.

The Broncos were 22-6 winners over the Dragons last weekend, but the Dragons had a lot of opportunities on which they failed to capitalise. In the first round, the Broncos were run over in the second half by Manly, who beat them 22-14 on the road despite being without a couple of key forwards. The Roosters lost first-up to premiership contenders South Sydney, 28-10, and then held on to beat the Warriors 16-14 after leading 16-0. The Broncos are going to have work hard in defence to keep an improving Roosters attack in check.

Roosters coach Trent Robinson has stuck firm with the 17 who got the job done against the Warriors last week, adding Dylan Napa as 18th man; meanwhile Broncos coach Anthony Griffin has made just the one change, with injured interchange forward Josh McGuire (calf) replaced by Ben Hunt. Dunamis Lui and Nick Slyney form a six-man bench at this stage.

Watch Out Roosters: Sam Thaiday is working into form for the Broncos. He upped his runs from 12 to 14, and metres gained from 73 to 102, from Round 1 to 2, and was busier in defence as well, making 38 tackles against the Dragons after coming up with 31 against the Sea Eagles. The Broncos need him to start cracking a few tackles when he runs the ball, and he's working up to that.

Watch Out Broncos: Michael Jennings hasn't scored a try for the Roosters yet, but he has looked very dangerous with the ball in his hands during the first two rounds. It's only a matter of time before he starts touching down, and it is often the case with Jennings that he gets his tries in clumps. Last year, he scored 10 tries in 17 games for Penrith when he wasn't playing particularly well.

Plays To Watch: The Roosters like to spread the kicking around, between James Maloney, Mitchell Pearce and Jake Friend. Watch for them to try to put Corey Norman, the Brisbane fullback who is not used to playing in that position at this level, under pressure with attacking kicks from within the red zone. 

Broncos five-eighth Scott Prince ran the ball a bit more against the Dragons, but he has got to register another increase in that area here. Running the ball is when he's most dangerous, and the Broncos need to ask more questions in attack. To date Prince has yet to offer a try assist, line-break assist or line-break; expect him to get on the board in one of those categories here. 

Key Match-Up: Mitchell Pearce v Peter Wallace. They are different types of players. Pearce (a try assist and three line-break assists so far) is the more brilliant and Wallace (two try assists and two line-break assists to date) the more studious, but the work they do will be equally critical to the outcome of the game. These two teams need leadership from their No.7s as a priority at the moment.

Where It Will Be Won: The Roosters have got the edge in the backline, and have arguably the most dangerous centre combination in the competition, with Michael Jennings and Shaun Kenny-Dowall. If the Broncos can't at least break square in the forward battle, they are not going to be able to stop the Roosters from racking up the necessary points to win.

The History: Played 36; Broncos 23, Roosters 13. Brisbane have dominated in recent times, winning seven of the past nine clashes. Allianz Stadium will hold no qualms either – they’ve won 14 of 20 games played at Roosters HQ, including a comprehensive 40-22 victory in Round 14 last season. 

Match Officials: Referees – Gerard Sutton & Brett Suttor; Sideline officials – Steve Carrall & Matt Noyen; Video Referees – Shayne Hayne & Luke Patten.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live, 7.30pm.

The Way We See It: There are better signs from the Roosters than the Broncos so far this season, and playing at home they should go into this game with confidence. It's no 'gimme' – far from it – but if the new players for the Roosters keep improving then this is a game they should win. Tricolours by four points.

*Statistics: NRL Stats