The first match of a huge double-header at Suncorp Stadium represents a pivotal point in both the Brisbane Broncos’ and South Sydney Rabbitohs’ seasons.
With the competition officially entering the run home post-Origin there are only eight games left to find a way into the finals zone, and for the Rabbitohs particularly each loss is a nail in a half-built coffin.
The home-side Broncos are no certainties to push their consecutive finals series streak to 18 years despite currently sitting in seventh spot in the ladder, as their defence continues to look shaky in the big games. But they have a reasonable run home with a mixture of games against top-eight sides and bottom-eight sides, so if they can get the results when expected they should be there when the whips are cracking.
This means they need to kick-start the post-Origin section of the year with a win against a desperate, 10th-placed Souths, who despite winning last week against the depleted Panthers, still find themselves three competition points adrift of the top eight.
With Darren Lockyer, Justin Hodges, Sam Thaiday and Karmichael Hunt looking to back up after Origin III there are no certainties in the Brisbane line-up but with the rest of the side fresh from the bye there will be no excuses.
The changes from their last-start win against the Warriors will see Hunt back at fullback, with Josh Hoffman out, while Israel Folau’s major injury opens the door for Alex Glenn to start on the wing and for Ben Teo to return to the side on the bench.
For South Sydney, it well and truly remains crunch time. A win here would be a huge step in the right direction for a charge home that is pretty difficult.
In their eight remaining games they take on five current top-eight sides including the top-three Dragons, Bulldogs and Titans, plus they face the current ninth-placed Sea Eagles to boot.
They come into the match on the back of a good win over the Panthers. with Origin players Craig Wing and Michael Crocker set to back up from the bench. Beau Falloon misses out.
Watch out Broncos: While this game will probably be decided by close-range attack and defence (see below) the Broncos still need to muscle up and be wary of the Rabbitohs’ long-range attacking skills.
The Brisbane side has conceded 10 tries from over halfway this season – the third worst in the NRL – while South Sydney are the second most prolific side at scoring tries from distance with 11 for the season. If the Broncos compress their defence too much the Bunnies will look to go around them early.
Watch out Rabbitohs: The Broncos’ team is full of stars but the one with the most penetration this year is not one of the Origin players but rather centre Steve Michaels, who leads the side with 11 line breaks for the season.
He averages 96 metres a match, which is impressive in a side that usually contains Justin Hodges and Israel Folau on the other side. Michaels has eight tries for the year and also 53 tackle breaks, proving he is a valuable weapon the Rabbitohs should be wary of.
Where it will be won: This game will be all about metres made across the ground and who can dominate in this area.
Both the Broncos and South Sydney have been well below average in both metres gained and metres conceded; the time has come to improve or perish. The Brisbane side makes just 1226 metres gained a match which ranks them 14th in the NRL while the Rabbitohs aren’t much better, ranked 13th with a 1264-metre average.
But the Rabbitohs fall down further in terms of metres conceded, letting their opposition trundle forward for a massive 1408 metres a match while the Broncos are only a little better with 1363 conceded. This equates to the home side being 137 metres worse off than their opponents on average and the Rabbitohs being 144 metres worse off.
So what will happen when they face each other? No doubt a lot of easy territory and therefore a lot of great field position to attack from. If you look at tries scored and conceded from within 10 metres of the line Brisbane has the edge. They have scored 35 tries compared to Souths’ 25 and conceded 31 compared to Souths’ 39.
The history: Played 21; Broncos 17, Rabbitohs 3, drawn 1. The Broncos have won seven of the past eight between the clubs and have a convincing 6-1 advantage over the Bunnies at Suncorp Stadium. History certainly leans towards the home side with the past five games at Suncorp between the clubs bringing an average score of 31-15 in Brisbane’s favour.
Conclusion: The Rabbitohs certainly did show a little more ticker against the Panthers last week but the Penrith side was severely under-strength so if they have false confidence they will be shot down quickly.
The Broncos managed to get to a result against the Warriors in their last game before the bye but their form hasn’t been great either. However they do look much stronger than the Bunnies, particularly if their rep players get through Origin III relatively unscathed. Stick with the home team.
Match officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – Steve Chiddy & Phil Haines; Video Ref – Tim Mander.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 7.30pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 1.30am.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.