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Broncos v Sea Eagles
Suncorp Stadium
Sunday 3pm

Brisbane has the chance to not only get their season back on track after a minor hiccup last weekend but they can also bury the reigning premiers deep in the proverbial should they hand them another defeat.

Before last weekend’s loss to the Knights, the Broncos were looking the strongest of the NRL’s teams but Brian Smith and his troops showed they have their vulnerabilities.

They still sit equal first (third on differential) but will be hoping to bring a bit more mongrel to this clash against a Manly side who is lost down ‘struggle street’.

The Sea Eagles are languishing in 14th spot on the ladder with just two wins to their name, eight points adrift of the Broncos.

They are still yet to win without Brett Stewart and haven’t shown any real glimpses of hope for their fans either.

Melbourne outplayed them last week at Brookvale without even really hitting top gear and time is running out for Des Hasler and his men.

Brisbane will be sweating on the safe return of Justin Hodges, Israel Folau, Darren Lockyer and Peter Wallace from representative duties (although there are suggestions they may be prepared to rest Lockyer and Hodges altogether) while the Sea Eagles are desperate for Glenn Stewart, Anthony Watmough, Brent Kite, Jamie Lyon, Josh Perry and David Williams to make it to Sunday unscathed.

The Broncos have called PJ March into the starting line-up at hooker, with Andrew McCullough back to the bench while Ben Teo also comes into the back row, pushing Ashton Sims to the bench. Lagi Setu has also been added to the reserves list which has seven players at this stage.

Manly will be without the services of Adam Cuthburtson, who did enough to be picked for City Origin only to be ruled out through injury. His place is to be taken by either George Rose or under-20s player Jared Waerea-Hargreaves.

Watch out Broncos: Manly are one of the most prolific offloading teams in the NRL and if they are allowed to pop the passes at will they could easily recapture some of their lost form.

The Sea Eagles have amassed 105 offloads so far this season, which has them ranked fifth in the NRL, while the Broncos have only managed 61 offloads to be last in the competition. Obviously the two sides’ positions on the ladder show you don’t need to be offloading to be winning, but if the Sea Eagles are to catch the Brisbane defence on the run they’ll need to create second-phase play and attack a retreating wall of defenders.

They are without their best offloader in Adam Cuthburtson but still have Watmough and Stewart in the side (provided they make it through the Test) who can make the ball sing in traffic.

Watch out Sea Eagles:
Brisbane centre Steve Michaels could be primed for a huge match, aware the Brisbane right-side combo of Israel Folau and Justin Hodges will have already played one match on the weekend.
Michaels will no doubt see more ball in this match and with possible Queensland Origin selection on his mind he’ll want to perform at his peak. So far in 2009 he has averaged 96 metres gained a match and has managed five line breaks, a line-break assist, a try assist and three tries.

This might not sound impressive but remember: the Broncos invariably attack towards the two Test players on the right, not to Michaels on the left. When his chances come, he takes them – and chances are he’ll have more opportunities in this match.

Where it will be won: Attitude. Both sides will have players backing up, or at worst, late inclusions coming into the side, which means the side that refuses to look for excuses, and just muscles up, will likely come out on top.

There will come times in this match where something extra is needed – a big effort-on-effort to save your side, or a last-ditch tackle or an extra hit-up. The lactic acid will be burning and the body will be screaming ‘no!’ but the side with the players who fight through the pain barrier and make the effort, who leave nothing in the tank and exploit the reserve tanks… that will be the side that gets home.

With that in mind, if you had to gauge the attitude of both sides up to this point in the season, you would put your house on Brisbane.

The History: Played 29; Broncos 15, Sea Eagles 13, drawn 1. The Broncos have won five of the past eight; however the last two games have gone to Manly, both of which were at Suncorp. But in the 11 games at Suncorp between the two teams the Broncos have won seven.  

Conclusion: Only the tough will survive this match. Brisbane had a slight hiccup last weekend when they were a little complacent and a shrewd coach and gutsy playing roster exposed them – but they won’t be ill-prepared this weekend.

There are a few Broncos on notice, particularly in the forwards, and they’ll want to show why they should be in the top 17. Manly have more players backing up, have been pretty awful all season and still need an attitude adjustment, so back them at your own peril. They may just surprise some people and pull off an upset – but it’s long odds.

Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Chris James; Video Ref – Paul Simpkins.
Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 7pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.
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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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