Broncos v Sharks? More like Shetland Ponies v Guppies!
Fans of both sides have had to endure some major struggles this season and while the odds are certainly against them doing anything remotely positive in the run home, this game nonetheless shapes up as an important one for both teams.
Brisbane is in the midst of rugby league hell. For a club used to success they have just been terrible over the past few months and have plummeted to 10th on the ladder after their humiliating 54-0 loss to Canberra last weekend.
With allegations of an off-field party lifestyle and potential salary cap dramas thrown into the mix, the side must be really struggling to find the motivation to be at their best.
But they should do everything they can to dig deep as the finals are still within their reach – as long as they can take care of a Sharks outfit decimated by injuries and in a horror season of their own.
The Broncos need four wins out of five to be a real chance of playing in the finals, due to a shoddy differential, and with matches to come against the Panthers, Dragons, Cowboys and a rematch with the Raiders, this is not the game they can “afford” to drop.
Meanwhile the Cronulla boys did have a small buffer keeping them out of the wooden spoon zone but a Roosters win last week has them back in a dogfight to avoid it.
It is likely just one win in the past five games would keep the dreaded cutlery out of the Shire (they could still avoid it without any wins) and this game sets up as a good chance to get the points.
They must face the Wests Tigers, Titans, Manly and the Rabbitohs in the final month – none of whom are facing the drama of the Broncos.
The home side is looking forward to getting halfback Peter Wallace back on deck, which pushes Karmichael Hunt back to fullback and Josh Hoffman onto the bench. Steve Michaels has been given the chop, with Alex Glenn to start at centre. Winger Dale Copley is also gone, replaced by Jharal Yow Yeh.
Joel Clinton is out of the side, with Nick Kenny coming back at prop and Sam Thaiday is also back, not a moment too soon, replacing Ben Te’o who moves to the bench.
David Hala makes way and Josh McGuire comes onto a five-man bench.
For the Sharks, fullback Nathan Stapleton has been dropped to the bench with Bronx Goodwin to wear the no.1 jersey.
Blake Ferguson is off the wing, replaced by Misi Taulapapa, while five-eighth Blake Green has also been cut with Matt Wright moving from centre to five-eighth and Mitch Brown joining the centres.
Reece Williams is also out with Jack Afamasaga set to start in his place; Ian Donnelly is the new face on the bench.
Watch out Broncos: Paul Gallen is back for the Sharks (although he did play last weekend) – and he is one man who hates losing. If he fires, he’ll be a handful. He is averaging 131 metres a match for the Sharks, has five line breaks and five tries plus 36 offloads.
Restricted to just 11 games thus far this season in club football, it has been a lean one by Gallen’s standards – a but if he has designs on being in the Australian touring party at the end of the year then he knows he has to really put in over these last few weeks.
Also, the Broncos need to keep an eye on some individuals who are still looking for their first try of 2009. Players like Luke Douglas, Corey Hughes, Terence Seu Seu, Johnny Mannah and Scott Porter, among others, are still yet to cross the stripe and know they are running out of matches to do so or face a dreaded end-of-season consequence.
Watch out Sharks: It’s hard to imagine the Broncos can get any lower. They have been absolutely hammered both on and off the field over the past week and while confidence is down, there is a chance they could fight fire with fire and produce a “Brisbane-of-old” display.
This means vintage performances from the likes of Darren Lockyer, Justin Hodges, Sam Thaiday and Karmichael Hunt and further quality from players like Peter Wallace, Tonie Carroll and Dave Taylor.
It would be very surprising indeed to see Lockyer especially play poorly after the embarrassment of Canberra Stadium. When champions are down, they usually come back twice as hard and the Sharks better be prepared for some Locky magic.
You can expect he’ll revert to some of his faithful plays… like finding Hunt on second-man plays or switching the attack to a stacked blindside or running the ball when pressured on the last tackle.
If you have a lazy $20 in your pockets it might not be a bad idea to have it on the Australian captain being man of the match.
Where it will be won: Good old-fashioned defence. The reality is that we have two of the comp’s worst defending teams coming head-to-head, with the 13th-ranked Sharks’ defence up against the 15th-ranked Broncos’ defence. Both sides have lacked steel and a willingness to put their bodies on the line but it is the side that can lift, even just for brief periods under pressure, that will triumph.
Unfortunately, confidence in the Brisbane defensive structure is non-existent. They have now conceded 26.8 points a match for the season and are coming off the back of the club’s worst ever defeat against a side that wasn’t even travelling well.
More than 10 of their players are some of the worst in their respective positions defensively and, quite frankly, on some occasions the side couldn’t even yell ‘touch!’, such have been their poor attempts.
The Sharks have been better defensively, even without their best troops, but are still leaking 22 points a game. On average as a unit they are ineffective about 14 per cent of the time (Brisbane are bad 18 per cent of the time) which is just enough to cause significant problems.
To win this game they need to break it down to every tackle and make sure concentration is paramount. If the team with the least amount of missed tackles doesn’t win here, it will be a miracle.
The History: Played 41; Broncos 25, Sharks 16. The Sharks touched up the Origin-depleted baby Broncos 46-12 earlier this year at Toyota Park but Brisbane has still won five of the past eight. The Sharks have a terrible record against Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium, winning just once in nine games.
Conclusion: Who knows what Brisbane are going to dish up next? They are surely at rock bottom and have to go up, right?
Luckily for them they come up against a decimated and inexperienced Sharks side that surely won’t put up a huge fight. They’ll have a dig, of that there is no doubt, but they just don’t have the cattle the Broncos have.
If Brisbane cannot win this game, they haven’t a hope of keeping the streak of finals appearances, which stretches from 1992 onwards, alive. Give them one last chance; tip the home side and hope they can show some sort of heart.
Match officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Phil Haines; Sideline Officials – David Abood & Grant Atkins; Video Ref – Sean Hampstead.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.