Broncos v Storm
Friday 7.35pm (Qld time)
THE Broncos can deny it all they like but victory against the Storm on Friday would be the sweetest of them all.
Almost six months have elapsed since Greg Inglis’ last-second try bundled the Broncos out of the race for the 2008 title, after the home side had led 14-12 inside the last minute. Broncos skipper Darren Lockyer’s body language said it all: he winced, clenched his fists, shook his head up and down and shouted to the heavens.
Meanwhile the Storm revelled in their moment, high-fiving and hooting and hollering while their vanquished foes lay prone on the Suncorp turf.
The Broncos are playing down the “revenge” and “retribution” tags that go with this game – but that’s exactly what this game is all about. And that makes it a cracker for fans of both sides – and indeed all NRL fans.
It’s also the first NRL game for Israel Folau up against his former Storm team-mates.
Both sides enter the arena one-point winners from Round 1 – the Broncos scraping home against the Cowboys 19-18 in a frantic-paced but rag-tag affair, while the Storm edged home 17-16 against St George Illawarra in golden point.
Both asides remain unchanged, with Storm lock Dallas Johnson and five-eighth Inglis overcoming their hip and knee injuries to take their places.
Watch out Broncos: The Storm have strike weapons all around the park, even allowing for Folau’s “defection” north.
Inglis, bulked up and with a new crop of shaggy hair, was awesome against the Dragons, scoring a try, offloading three times and making six tackle busts in the no.6 jersey.
Also it’s unlikely Billy Slater will ever drop more ball in a game than he did last week (three errors) – but he still ran for 110 metres.
And Cameron Smith slotted into dummy-half like he was continuing on from last season, giving the type of service and guile (four dummy-half runs) you’d expect from a Test rep.
Watch out Storm: All the focus will be on Folau up against the lesser credentialed Willie Isa. Expect Wallace and Lockyer to go high to the flanks when within range on tackles four or five – there’s no better exponent in the game than Folau at fielding bombs and transferring them into points.
But that’s also exactly what the opposition will be anticipating, so don’t be surprised if they pull a few “hoodwink” plays and transfer the point of the attack back down the blindside to find flyers like Karmichael Hunt and Steve Michaels searching out the try line.
Also, the Storm need to nullify the impact of boom prop Dave Taylor. The 20-year-old has had huge raps on him for the past three years but has been slightly disappointing when used sparingly to date. But last week against the Cowboys he stamped his arrival with a stirring hit-out – 14 hit-ups for 121 metres in just 39 minutes. And there were six tackle breaks in there, too.
Where it will be won: There isn’t a struck match between these sides. It will all boil down to which team handles the pressure cooker atmosphere generated by what’s likely to be a crowd of around 40,000. Last week the Broncos missed 19 tackles… the Storm missed 18. The Broncos made 14 errors… the Storm made 14 too. The Broncos kicked 16 times… the Storm kicked 16 times. The Broncos made 1249 metres… the Storm made 1223 metres.
The History: Played 24; Storm 14, Broncos 9, drawn 1. The Storm have won seven of the past eight clashes, including the past five straight since the Broncos’ upset 15-8 win in the 2006 grand final. The Storm hold a commanding 5-2 lead in games played at Suncorp.
Conclusion: It’s tough to know how the ongoing saga concerning the re-signing of Karmichael Hunt is affecting other team members – or if it is at all.
The Broncos announced during the week they had taken their offer to Hunt off the table, which at face value sounds worrying for the Red Hill outfit. But scuttlebutt has it Hunt is simply holding out until the Broncos finalise their plans for Lockyer for 2010 – he doesn’t want Lockyer to be squeezed out because of any deal he does. If that’s the case, expect the side to be focused for this game.
Still, it’s difficult to go past the visitors. They had a comfortable 20-6 win in a trial game and look well-oiled even at this early stage. But you can never underestimate the home-ground advantage.
Match officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – Steve Chiddy & Adam Devcich; Video Ref – Bill Harrigan.
Televised: Channel 9 – live from 7.30pm (Qld); delayed 9.30pm NSW. Fox Sports – delayed 1am.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.