Gee, when was the last time a Broncos opposition was quoted as low as $1.18 to win an NRL game? Anyone? That’s all punters will get should the Dragons dispose of the once-mighty Brisbane on Friday night.
And given their form over the first four rounds, and that of the Broncos, even that price looks tempting – especially given the lack of experience Brisbane coach Ivan Henjak has to draw on after their firepower drain through injuries and disciplinary measures.
Henjak has dropped centre Ben Te’o and winger Antonio Winterstein for turning up late to training, handing jerseys to Gerard Beale (for Winterstein) and Toyota Cup centre Dale Copley (for Te’o).
Another bombshell is that Ashton Sims will start at prop, with Nick Kenny relegated to the bench. Lagi Setu starts in the back row, with former Toyota Cup Player of the Year Ben Hunt, Mitchell Dodds, Josh Hoffman and 100kg Toyota Cup prop Dunamis Lui making up an extended bench.
Not a lot of experience, or weaponry, there…
After simply flying against the Eels, Bulldogs and Cowboys the Dragons were comprehensively out-enthused and outplayed by the Storm last week. They didn’t play poorly, although a 68 per cent completion rate after playing the first three rounds averaging 88 per cent, dented their cause no end.
Still, they retain continuity in this game with an unchanged line-up.
Watch Out Dragons: Complacency and a motivated Darren Lockyer are the only obstacles for Wayne Bennett’s men.
If they take their opposition lightly they could get burned – it may surprise but the Broncos lead the NRL for clean line-breaks (17 – the Dragons have a miserly seven) with Lockyer leading the way for his side with three. Peter Wallace and lock Matt Gillett are capable, with two each.
The Broncos lead the comp for line-break assists too, with 20 (with Corey Norman second in the comp with five), so chances are they will have bodies in motion asking questions of the Dragons’ defenders – last week Dane Nielsen and Billy Slater scored wonderful tries after the Dragons’ fringe ruck defenders, including the normally reliable Matt Cooper, were sucked into commitment and left confused.
Having announced he’ll play on at representative level expect Lockyer to put in maximum effort and lead by example, showing his young team-mates he’s with them all the way and still fair dinkum about putting in at club level.
Watch out Broncos: The Dragons will expose any soft underbelly in defence, either through the ruck or out wide. Unless Ivan Henjak has been able to find a magic band-aid, it’s likely they Broncos will continue to bleed points.
Too many of their players have tallied too many misses through four rounds. Two tackle misses a game is borderline acceptable at first grade level (although some coaches won’t cop even that). So the likes of Gerard Beale (17), Sam Thaiday (18), Peter Wallace and Nick Kenny (16 each), Lockyer (15) and Matt Gillett (14) really need to lift their games.
Where it will be won: Experience and a cool hand. Whether that falls to the home side or to Darren Lockyer remains to be seen. But in all likelihood if the Dragons play the smart, controlled style they’ve shown over the opening month they will lay a platform for the speedsters like Brett Morris (130 metres a game, equal second on the try-scoring list with five)) to capitalise.
Tellingly, the Dragons have made just 33 mistakes with the ball in hand, the Broncos 52.
Expect the kicking duel between Jamie Soward (averaging 504 metres a game) and the Broncos pairing of Lockyer (229 metres) and Wallace (254 metres) to be a highlight.
The history: Played 23: Dragons 12, Broncos 11. The Broncos have won the past two clashes between the teams, including bundling the Dragons out of the 2009 premiership race 24-10 at Suncorp Stadium in their semi-final. Also last year they secured a 12-2 victory at WIN Stadium. However, the Dragons won the six previous clashes.
At WIN Stadium the ledger is square four games apiece.
Conclusion: The Broncos are really going to miss Te’o and Winterstein. Brisbane thrive on open play and Te’o has been pivotal in providing that so far – his 10 offloads ranks him second in the comp. And Winterstein is their next best ‘provider’ with five. In fact, between them they account for 30 per cent of the side’s 48 offloads to date!
The Dragons ended last week a frustrated unit. They weren’t humbled, but it was shades of late 2009 as their attack started to look ultra-dependent on left-side plays to Ben Creagh, Darius Boyd and Brett Morris.
What they need is a breakout game, where they can open the throttle and post a lot of points to boost confidence in their attacking ability.
They’ll never get a better chance to do that than this week.
Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Grant Atkins; Video Referee – Sean Hampstead.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 11.30pm.