The Broncos have the Raiders to thank for their current four-game winning streak, with the Green Machine’s 56-0 drubbing of the Queensland side five weeks ago the catalyst for their purple patch of form.
And they’re ready to repay the favour when they host Canberra in the final game of the NRL regular season at Suncorp Stadium this Sunday night.
The Queensland side were all but written off for 2009 following their nightmarish loss to the Raiders in Round 21. Amazingly, however, coach Ivan Henjak and his troops are now in contention for an unlikely home semi-final should results go their way this weekend.
Brisbane’s gritty 16-10 win over the Cowboys last weekend was preceded by impressive wins over the Dragons, the Panthers and the Sharks.
In contrast, Canberra have been patchy over the past month, earning wins over Newcastle and the Dragons, whilst falling to the Warriors and the Bulldogs.
To get fourth spot and a remarkable semi-final at Suncorp Stadium next week, the Broncos need both Melbourne to fail in Auckland and the Titans to overcome the Sea Eagles.
Then come Sunday night, Brisbane will know exactly what they need to do against a Raiders side buoyed by their stirring 30-14 win over Newcastle last Monday.
But they’ll have to do it without strike weapon Ben Te’o after he limped off with a calf injury just hours after the squad was named on Tuesday.
The Raiders, meanwhile, will have to make do without rising star Daniel Vidot after the winger was charged with a Grade 3 contrary conduct following Monday night’s ugly brawl against Newcastle.
Watch out Broncos: If the Raiders are on the attack, stand in line and don’t stand too deep. The Green Machine have scored more tries through the hands than any other team in the competition (26), with State of Origin I five-eighth Terry Campese leading the NRL in try assists (26). Just stay in the line and mark your man; chances are the ball’s coming his way.
The Broncos have also paid the biggest price for errors close to the line this year, conceding more tries to turnovers than anyone else in the NRL. One of the more disciplined teams in the competition, Brisbane have been guilty of conceding tries as soon as they hand the ball over.
Also, rookie fullback Josh Dugan has been a revelation this year. The boom youngster leads the NRL in kick-return metres, averaging 85.3 metres a game. Dugan also runs 189.3 metres per match – 15 metres more than man-of-the-moment, Parramatta’s Jarryd Hayne.
Watch out Raiders: Over the past four games, the Broncos have scored 29 points a game (second in the NRL), compared just 19.6 in the 21 games before that. They’re also making a staggering 15 more tackles breaks a game – led by Queensland rep Justin Hodges (91) and Corey Parker (79).
Hodges and winger Antonio Winterstein form one of the most lethal right-side pairings in the NRL, with Hodges tallying six line-break assists and five try assists to go with his three tries in 2009, while Winterstein leads his side in four-pointers with 14. Brisbane’s right-side attack has totalled 43 of the team’s 68 tries this year.
It’s not great news for Canberra’s left-side pairing of Jarrod Croker and Phil Graham, who have let in more tries than their right-side combination.
Where it will be won: Whoever makes the least mistakes wins the game. Both sides have been excellent in looking after the football, with Brisbane ranking second in errors made per game (10.9) while Canberra sit just behind them, committing 11.2 turnovers a game.
The history: Played 36; Broncos 20, Raiders 15, Drawn 1. Their past six matches have been split, although the Broncos have won their past four clashes at Suncorp. This year’s 56-0 thrashing was Canberra’s biggest ever win over the Broncos.
Conclusion: The Broncos have had the last laugh on pundits who were already writing obituaries for Brisbane’s 2009 campaign and if they can notch their fifth win in a row and possibly secure a home semi, those same pundits will be backing them to win the lot.
While the Raiders have performed well in recent weeks, particularly their wins over the finals players the Dragons and the Knights, the trip to Suncorp might be too much for coach David Furner’s men to overcome.
The Raiders don’t have a lot to play for, while the Broncos are steeling themselves for an 18th straight finals appearance.
Match officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Brett Suttor; Sideline officials – Mohamad Fajajo & Adam Devcich; Video ref – Paul Simpkins.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats