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Broncos v Titans
Suncorp Stadium
Friday 7.35pm

The NRL’s Heritage Round kicks off with two amazing Friday night clashes, one of which is this cracking Queensland derby.

Both the Titans (fifth) and the Broncos (third) have 12 competition points going into this encounter, just two points off the competition lead, and both are primed to continue their impressive seasons.

The match is screaming for a sell-out atmosphere, so if you haven’t booked tickets, do so quickly; you won’t be disappointed.

Brisbane is in the middle of a mini-slump after losing back-to-back matches to Newcastle and Manly. They are well aware the time is now to reverse their worrying fall from grace before the Origin series hits.

The Titans fell in a controversial, close match to the Knights last weekend, making them just as desperate to turn things around and rejoin the winner’s circle.

The rivalry between the two clubs has always been intense, even in the previous incarnations of the Gold Coast. In fact the first win for a Gold Coast side against Brisbane came in a huge upset in the first season in 1988, a result which ultimately cost the Broncos a chance at the finals.

When the Titans joined the competition in 2007 the hype around the two sides was huge and it has continued, with two of the four matches between the sides going to golden point and all four being down-to-the-wire encounters.

The Broncos hope to welcome back Karmichael Hunt and Justin Hodges to the side, which moves Gerard Beale out and Alex Glenn back to the bench, while Andrew McCullough has been added to a five-man bench.

The Titans have named the same side from last weekend; however Anthony Laffranchi has a date with the judiciary tonight (Wednesday) and coach John Cartwright has named a seven-man bench with Aaron Cannings, Esi Tonga and Will Matthews as the new faces.

Watch out Broncos: The Titans have managed to become an attacking force from long range this season, something that wasn’t the case in recent years. Despite scoring only three tries from over halfway in the entire 2008 season, the Gold Coast boys already have six this season, to be equal league leaders.

The Broncos have conceded five tries from over halfway this season so the Titans may just look to spread the ball wide early to find some weaknesses in the Brisbane defence.

Watch out Titans: Brisbane will be attacking through the boot when they get an opportunity. With 11 tries from kicks so far this season the Broncos lead the NRL and with a player like Israel Folau just waiting to leap to the heavens to pull down the football, they would be mad not to.

The Gold Coast have been reasonable thus far at defusing cross-field kicks but they are yet to go up against Folau.

 And while Preston Campbell will never shirk his role and will always put his body on the line, he does drop bombs on occasions and will no doubt be peppered by Peter Wallace and Darren Lockyer.

Where it will be won: The battle of the halves, and the inclusion of fullbacks as ball players, will be downright critical. The Gold Coast trio of Scott Prince, Mat Rogers and Preston Campbell come head-to-head with Peter Wallace, Darren Lockyer and Karmichael Hunt in what shapes as an exciting sub-plot.

Both Hunt and Campbell are ball-playing fullbacks who are crucial links in their side’s attacking machine, making Hunt’s return from injury vital. Should he miss out again, the Broncos will be behind the eight ball.

Prince, in his 200th first grade game, is primed for a massive performance after being the ‘villain’ who was penalised at the death against Newcastle, cruelling any chance his side had at a late win.

Wallace, on the back of a great performance for City Origin, needs to continue his claim for a New South Wales berth with a dominant display against one of Queensland’s great halfbacks.

Then there is the battle between the veteran five-eighths Lockyer and Rogers: each man knows they need to chime in with the crucial plays at the crucial times if their side is to prevail. Looking at try assists we see Wallace has 10, Hunt eight and Lockyer five, while Prince and Campbell have six each and Rogers has two.

The History: Played 4; Broncos 2, Titans 2. In the short history between these two clubs the one certainty has been a cracking match. They share the head-to-head title at two apiece although the Broncos have a 2-1 lead at Suncorp Stadium.

There has been a win-loss trend over the first four clashes, going Titans-Broncos-Titans-Broncos – so does that mean it is time for another Titans win?

With the average margin between the two sides being just 4.75 you can once again expect a close match. Also, the Broncos haven’t lost three matches straight since late 2007.

Conclusion: Karmichael Hunt’s inclusion, or late withdrawal, will have a massive bearing on this clash. With Hodges also in doubt and Anthony Laffranchi and Luke Bailey also potential withdrawals the match dynamic won’t be known until just before kick-off.

In terms of picking a side here, you can be sure either choice has its merits. It should be a very close match where one small error or great moment decides the result. If Hunt plays, lean towards the Broncos; if he is out, the Titans have the edge.

Match officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Gavin Badger; Sideline Officials – Steve Chiddy & Grant Atkins; Video Ref – Tim Mander.

Televised: Channel 9 – Live 7.30pm (Qld), delayed 9.30pm (NSW); Fox Sports – Delayed 1pm Sat.

* 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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