Brisbane will be hoping the return of former international Tonie Carroll – as well as Queensland stars Israel Folau and Justin Hodges – will end a worrying four-game losing streak when they face the Warriors at Suncorp Stadium.
After being dumped out of the top eight for the first time this year, Broncos coach Ivan Henjak has reacted by making five changes to the side that went down 21-14 to Parramatta last Sunday.
Folau takes his place on the wing, forcing young Dale Copley back to the NYC, while Hodges’ return from a knee injury sees Alex Glenn move into the back row.
Josh McGuire shifts to prop for the injured Nick Kenny, who faces six weeks on the sideline with a medial ligament strain.
Carroll will make his comeback from the bench alongside Lagi Setu, with Ashton Sims and Aaron Gorrell being sent to the Queensland Cup.
Youngster Josh Hoffman has also been named on an extended bench as cover for Karmichael Hunt, who has been cleared of an ankle injury sustained in their loss to the Eels.
The Broncos are equal 6th but occupy 9th spot on the ladder courtesy of a poor for-and-against record. A win here will help distance them from a pack that includes the Cowboys, Sea Eagles, and the Panthers all sitting on 18 points.
The 11th-placed Warriors, however, are three points adrift of the top eight and may struggle to keep pace with another loss.
Coach Ivan Cleary has made just one change to the side that fell 28-12 to the Titans last Friday: Jerome Ropati takes the place of Patrick Ah Van, who has been named alongside Russell Packer on a six-man bench.
Souths and Parramatta are beside New Zealand on 15 points, meaning another loss and it’s likely to be curtains for the Warriors in 2009.
Other than playmaker Nathan Fien - who wasn’t considered after signing with the Dragons mid-week - only Brent Tate sits on the sidelines, while Brisbane’s Ben Te’o will return from suspension next week.
Watch out Broncos: Much has been made about the vulnerable defence of Darren Lockyer, but statistics continue to warrant the criticism. Lockyer missed four tackles against the Eels last Friday, and is fourth for most missed tackles in the competition with 58.
More concerning, however, is how contagious the problem is becoming, with the Broncos averaging a league-worst 43.7 missed tackles per game. Also guilty are fellow State of Origin representatives Peter Wallace (56) and Sam Thaiday (51). And even when the Broncos do tackle, it seems they can’t wrap up the ball, giving up another league-worst 14.5 offloads a game.
Expect the likes of Wade McKinnon and Lance Hohaia – who have 65 and 54 line breaks respectively – to be directed towards Brisbane’s little men.
Watch out Warriors: Although Darren Lockyer and Peter Wallace form the backbone of Brisbane’s structure, fullback Karmichael Hunt has this year led the club creating opportunities for his team-mates.
The Queensland representative has 16 try assists (2nd in the NRL) and 12 line-break assists (4th in the NRL) – more than the New Zealand halves have combined. Stacey Jones and Lance Hohaia only have 10 try assists and 6 line breaks between them.
Where it will be won: On New Zealand’s goal line. The Warriors’ defence has been fairly solid all year but if Ivan Cleary’s men can stop Brisbane's highly rated backline from scoring, then they’ll keep the vultures circling around Ivan Henjak and his five losses in a row.
But saying it is far easier than doing it. For four years NSW have struggled to contain Folau, Hodges, Lockyer and Hunt. Now that the Broncos have their star players back, as well as the evergreen Tonie Carroll, what chance do the Warriors have?
The history: Played 24; Broncos 15, Warriors 9. The two early season favourites have split their past eight clashes, with the Broncos winning their most recent clash 26-10 in Round 3 in New Zealand.
The last time halfback Stacey Jones played for the Warriors at Suncorp, he notched a Warriors’ record 16 points against the Brisbane by kicking a perfect six from six to go with his try. The Warriors won 24-12.
Conclusion: The Broncos will be buoyed by the return of Tonie Carroll, who Henjak says will provide experience, stability and toughness. Having Folou and Hodges come back from injury will also allow Brisbane to go back to a familiar structure in attack and defence.
After the Warriors’ magical run to last year’s semi-final, they have since battled to find the consistency needed to maintain a top-eight spot. Expect a more spirited performance, but Henjak will have his charges primed for a return to the winner’s circle in front of their home crowd.
Match officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Bernard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Phil Haines; Video Ref – Steve Clark.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (Qld), delayed 9.30pm (NSW).