Last week the Green Machine was spluttering… now it’s broken down. Last week the Broncos were limping… now they are facing the veterinarian’s shielding curtain and a shotgun if they don’t find something fast.
This Saturday-afternoon game pits two struggling sides desperate to get something back into their season.
The Raiders, languishing in 14th position on the ladder, basically lost all hope of a fairytale run to the finals when they were taken apart 25-4 by the Wests Tigers last weekend.
They can still push up to 28 competition points if they remain undefeated for the final six rounds, which might be enough to sneak into the top eight – but the chances of that happening are akin to you winning Lotto and Powerball in the same week.
Halfback Marc Herbert is out injured with Josh McCrone set to wear the no.7. Hooker Glen Buttriss has been dumped. This sees Alan Tongue start at dummy-half with Travis Waddell joining the bench. Also, Daniel Joyce has been added as an 18th man.
The Broncos are still certainly capable of making the playoffs. They are currently ninth on the ladder, only outside the finals zone due to a dismal for-and-against record, and with some victories in the run home they could easily continue their amazing streak of playing in the finals every year since 1992.
But their brand of football recently has been appalling, with their defence almost non-existent. The loss to the Gold Coast last weekend means they have won just one of their past seven matches and things could get even uglier if they can’t regroup.
Injuries have certainly played a part in the Brisbane demise, so they are very glad to see the trio of Darren Lockyer, Karmichael Hunt and Tonie Carroll return for this trip to the nation’s capital.
Hunt’s return at fullback pushed Josh Hoffman to the bench while Aaron Gorrell is out of the side for Lockyer’s return.
Carroll comes onto the bench for Guy Williams, while David Hala has been added as an 18th man.
Watch out Raiders: The Lockyer/Hunt combination is back and both champion players are acutely aware of how important it is for the side to win this weekend.
While every team knows the Broncos like to send the ball from Lockyer to Hunt on a second-man shift it is still one of the hardest plays to defend against thanks to Lockyer’s skill and Hunt’s strength, speed… and skill. The Raiders need to keep an eye on Karmichael and be ready for his involvement. Then, when the move is on, they must be careful to trust each other in defence and not over-commit to an option.
If they can read Lockyer’s choice of pass, then they can hone in on the ball and defuse any potential problem.
Karmichael has seven line breaks and 13 line-break assists this year already, plus 17 try assists and seven tries, so he must be feared.
Watch out Broncos: While defence obviously is a concern for the Broncos it would help if they fixed up the accuracy of their long kicks also.
The Brisbane kicking machine is the worst in the league when it comes to trying to find space on long kicks, doing so on just 45 per cent of occasions. When you kick directly to the opposition it makes life much more difficult for your kick-chase team to dominate the opening tackles in the set and gives the other side the chance to get on a roll.
Considering the Raiders are the third most accurate team in the competition, with just under 60 per cent accuracy, this discrepancy could be vital in this clash. If the Raiders are constantly winning the early tackles Brisbane could be hard-pressed getting good field position. Lockyer and young Ben Hunt need to find space as often as possible.
Where it will be won: Class. The reality is both teams are out of form and are struggling so it’s likely a touch of class will turn this match. Sadly for the home side, it appears the Broncos have the edge in these stakes even without the services of injured Origin reps like Sam Thaiday and Peter Wallace.
Brisbane still have the likes of Justin Hodges, Karmichael Hunt and Lockyer and one gets the feeling these three stars could prove the difference. Take nothing away from the likes of Joel Monaghan, Terry Campese and Alan Tongue but the Broncos’ boys have been there and done that consistently on the highest stages and as such the class is in-grown.
They won’t have it all their own way but if they can put their stamp on this clash it should be enough to lift the youngsters around them to reach a higher level.
The Raiders have some sensational youngsters like Josh Dugan, Daniel Vidot, Jarrod Croker, Joel Thompson and Travis Waddell so they won’t be lacking enthusiasm – but in the crucial moments of this game will they have the ability to hold their own against some of the game’s very best?
The History: Played 35; Raiders 14, Broncos 20, drawn 1. Brisbane has won five of the past seven matches between the two teams, although the past five have gone on a win-loss trend which, if it continues, points to a Canberra victory.
In the 16 games played at Canberra Stadium Canberra has won eight, Brisbane seven with one draw. Significantly the Broncos haven’t won in Canberra since 2005.
Conclusion: The enthusiasm of youth will keep the Raiders well in this contest, not to mention the paper-thin Brisbane defence. But the Broncos have made a habit of pulling out of Origin hangovers in the past and usually that happens right about now.
With the big guns coming back into the side Brisbane look much stronger and the Raiders gave us no reason to fear them at home with a lacklustre showing last week. They are by no means out of this, but Brisbane has so much more to play for.
Match officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Peter Kirby & Mohamad Fajajo; Video Ref – Chris Ward.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.