Broncos v Bulldogs Preview

Broncos v Bulldogs
Suncorp Stadium
Friday 7.35pm

The top-of-the-table match of the round sees Ivan Henjak’s Broncos attempting to back up after their flogging at the hands of the Storm in Melbourne, up against a side sprinkled with former Broncos who have taken the 2009 premiership by storm.

That said, the Bulldogs hit a roadblock before their bye last week, falling to the Knights in Newcastle after lacking composure early. And the Broncos need to reassert themselves too, given they’ve lost three of their past five.

Missing Darren Lockyer and Justin Hodges, the home side were no match for a hungry Storm outfit backing up after Origin. Although Hodges remains sidelined much will be expected of Lockyer who returns in the no.6 jersey.

Joel Clinton will sit this one out, having been overlooked after his $50,000 fine for breaking team rules on the road last week.

Meanwhile the Bulldogs are yapping fit, with all players available for selection – including swine flu “sufferer” Ben Hannant (133 metres gained average, leading Bulldogs forward) who remains symptom-free despite testing positive to the virus.

Significantly, refs boss Robert Finch has pulled out all stops to avoid refereeing controversy, appointing the Origin team of on-field whistleblowers Tony Archer and Shayne Hayne as well as video ref Bill Harrigan. (But then again, if memory serves the trio didn’t have it all their own way in Origin I…)

Watch out Broncos: The Brisbane side ranks third in the comp for dominant tackles with 382. Why is that something to worry about? Well, it seems the Broncos’ forwards might be burning too much energy trying to drive their opponents backwards – overall their tackle effectiveness (82.3 per cent, with 512 misses) is the worst of all teams.

Given that, and with emerging talent Jamal Idris averaging nearly four tackle breaks a game, expect the youngster to be fed the ball on the fringes around the Broncos’ 10-metre line.

Idris’ centre partner Josh Morris (six tries, seven line breaks) will be used to good effect too.  

Watch out Bulldogs: The Broncos have made 40 fewer offloads than the Bulldogs, but have broken the defensive line on 36 more occasions. Even without gamebreaker Justin Hodges, expect the Broncos to test out the Bulldogs’ defence rather than try to overpower them with razzle dazzle.

Leading the way will be the centre pairing of Israel Folau (52 tackle breaks) and Steve Michaels (38), plus Antonio Winterstein (38) and Karmichael Hunt (28).

And expect the Broncos’ forwards to roll up their sleeves and claw more territory than they have so far this season – only Nick Kenny (108 metres) and Sam Thaiday (100 metres) have cracked the century for average metres gained.  

Where it will be won: The kicking games of both sides will be crucial.

To date the Broncos are gaining 625 metres a game, compared to the Bulldogs’ 634 metres.

The advantage Ivan Henjak has is the knowledge the Bulldogs are unlikely to go to the air close to the line to post points – they’ve bombed on just 14 occasions in 2009, the fewest behind only the Wests Tigers and Cowboys (9). This is because their outside men Hazem El Masri and Bryson Goodwin lack size and a good vertical leap.

The Broncos, however, won’t hesitate to send it high to see if towering centre Israel Folau can add to his 11 tries from 12 games.

The History: Played 38; Broncos 22, Bulldogs 15, drawn 1. The Broncos have won five of the past eight but the Bulldogs sprung a surprise 26-18 win last time they met at Suncorp. Well, maybe not all that surprising – given they hold a commanding 6-2 advantage over the Broncos at the venue.

Conclusion: Suncorp Stadium will hold no fears for the Bulldogs – they recorded their biggest ever win over the Broncos there, a 40-4 demolition in 2003.

However, it all boils down to attitude. The Bulldogs are fresh off the bye and should be focused – with ex-Bronco Michael Ennis likely to be at the forefront and terrier-like in his involvement. But the Broncos are unlikely to lie down after their dismal showing last week. They can’t afford another loss here and then head to Sydney to take on the Sharks minus their Origin contingent next round, so they’ll be ready.

If the Bulldogs are to show they are the real deal in 2009 they have to win big games like this one. That said, it really is a toss-of-the-coin job.

Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Shayne Hayne; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Gavin Reynolds; Video Ref – Bill Harrigan.

Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 11.30pm.