Wests Tigers v Broncos
Campbelltown Sports Stadium
Saturday, 7.30pm (AEST)
It was all the way back on the opening weekend of the 2000 season when eventual premiers Brisbane escaped Campbelltown with a 24-all draw against the newly formed Wests Tigers in what was their first match as a joint venture.
Just over 15 years on and both sides meet again in Sydney's south-west on Saturday night hoping history doesn't repeat itself.
Despite the historic celebration, the full two points will be the main focus for two teams separated by one win – but five rungs – on the NRL Ladder.
Both clubs returned to the winner's circle last weekend and avoided three-game losing streaks in the process. Brisbane took care of business at home, keeping little brothers Gold Coast at arm's length for the whole 80 minutes in a 22-8 victory.
The Wests Tigers, on the other hand, held on for a pulsating 22-20 win over Cronulla where neither side scored in the final quarter of the match.
It all makes for a match-up where both coaches will be hoping to take advantage of weakened squads gatecrashed by the demanding Origin period.
Tigers skipper Robbie Farah and prime prop Aaron Woods will still be in camp at Coffs Harbour this weekend with the Blues, while the Baby Broncos will be without their experienced Maroons triumvirate in Justin Hodges, Corey Parker and Matt Gillett.
Key men James Tedesco (ankle – Rd 13), Liam Fulton (back – Rd 13) and Sam Thaiday (calf – Rd 12) are also missing from their respective sides.
The game could mark the return of luckless Broncos utility Jordan Kahu, who has been limited to just a handful of NRL games due to three major knee injuries in the past three years.
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Watch Out Wests Tigers: Ben Hunt's two try assists last week took the little fella to seven for the year so far. And with the same number of tries to his name – the most of all halfbacks in the League – Hunt's burgeoning attacking game is clearly finding a good balance. The key is his running game – the late bloomer has a team-leading nine line breaks so far this season, just two behind competition pacesetter Steve Matai.
Watch Out Broncos: The Wests Tigers have been forced into just 10 line drop-outs 10 weeks into the new season, suggesting that their rushing defence has found some success in dictating how and where they get possession back. Ball-pressure, particularly by the likes of re-born forward Adam Blair, means rookie fullback Kurtis Rowe and his wing pair of David Nofoaluma and Pat Richards aren't in any real pressure when retrieving the ball.
Plays To Watch: Promising Wests Tigers halfback Luke Brooks has made giant strides over the past few weeks, including a breakthrough performance against the Sharks where he was directly responsible for three tries – two of them through short side raids. Brisbane need to be very aware of his movement behind the ruck.
On the flipside, Dale Copley's move to the centres in place of Hodges could be an inspired. He mightn't have a party trick bag as deep as his savvy teammate's, but his brace of four-pointers last week proves the kid knows where the try line is. Look for the hesitation or the double pump pass from a running Ben Hunt onto the chest of a running Copley.
Where It Will Be Won:
The Wests Tigers have often been the worst culprits this year when it comes to discipline, conceding a League-worst 86 penalties so far in 2014 – that's good for nine a game. Should the trend continue against Brisbane, the onus is on Brisbane's playmakers to take full advantage. The Broncos are going to get theirs, they've just got to make the most of it.
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The History: Played 23; Wests Tigers 4, Brisbane 17, drawn 2. No other club in the competition gives the Wests Tigers more problems than the Broncos, who have a 74 per cent stranglehold over the merger club. In fact, Brisbane have won their past four, and eight of the past nine, against the Tigers. Last year Griffin's men ran out 32-12 victors at home, where Josh Hoffman bagged a double on the wing.
What Are The Odds: This is the most even match of the round, but punters are thinking the Tigers are good value at $2.20 with Sportsbet.com.au.
Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Gavin Reynolds; Sideline Officials – Michael Wise & Dan Eastwood; Video Referees – Matt Cecchin & Luke Phillips.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 7.30pm (AEST).
The Way We See It: The one-sided history ledger makes us loathe to go with a home side without its talismanic skipper in Robbie Farah. And we haven't even brought up first-choice fullback James Tedesco yet, two players that the side has won without already this year. But against a Broncos side whose spine is fully intact? We expect the hoodoo to continue. Broncos by eight points.
*Statistics: Champion Data