Broncos v Knights Preview

Broncos v Knights
Suncorp Stadium
Friday 7.35pm

Both sides in this Friday night encounter are widely tipped to stay in the bottom half of the eight in 2010, but the road to changing popular opinion could very well start here as both look to bounce back from heavy defeats in Round 7.

Aided by the Melbourne Storm salary cap drama, both teams are now just a win out of the top eight and can easily turn around their fortunes despite winning just two of their opening seven matches.

Brisbane were trounced by the Bulldogs despite putting up some fight in sections of the match last weekend and are now down in 13th spot on the NRL ladder.

They have been hit by an injury to in-form hooker Andrew McCullough, which has forced a complete reshuffle of the forward pack.

Shane Tronc and Mitchell Dodds will now start at prop, with Alex Glenn the new dummy-half and Dunamis Lui shifts into the second row, with Scott Anderson reverting to the bench.

In other team changes, Antonio Winterstein is out, with his wing spot taken by the returning Denan Kemp, while Gerard Beale is also out leaving Corey Norman and Steve Michaels as the new faces on the bench.

The Knights, now 12th after being embarrassed by Cronulla last week, are slowly slipping towards oblivion themselves.

Currently ahead of the Broncos by just 11 differential points, the Newcastle boys need a form turnaround – and quickly – if they are to compete in the 2010 finals series.

Sadly, they will make the trip to Brisbane without Steve Simpson; his place is taken by Mark Taufua at lock. Dan Tolar returns to the top side at prop, which sees Evarn Tuimavave revert to the bench, while Con Mika has been added as an 18th man.

Watch out Broncos: Fijian fast man Akuila Uate is a wrecking ball on a mission and word out of the Newcastle camp is they are going to try to get him even more ball.

Uate is making inroads as a ball runner, averaging 132 metres a game, while his seven line-breaks has him ranked second in the NRL behind only Willie Tonga.

The giant winger has six tries already this season and could be odds-on to add to the tally in this match after a quiet match against Cronulla. He already has 33 tackle-breaks this season and, while he also commits way too many errors, his ability grows with each game.

For the Broncos it’s a little bit ‘catch 22’. Do they target Uate and hope he stumbles, or would this just give the big unit more chance to shine?

Watch out Knights:
Corey Parker, who returned to the Brisbane line-up last weekend, provides much-needed leadership along with Sam Thaiday in the Broncos’ pack.

Parker averages 123 metres gained a match this season, while Thaiday is up at 128 metres. This pair will be the meat of the Brisbane forward assault. While yardage is their main aim, Parker and Thaiday have broken the line this season (two for Parker, one for Thaiday) and Thaiday has also provided three line-break assists.

Parker showcased a neat dummy against the Bulldogs to score, something the Knights better be wary of. He has 13 tackle busts and eight offloads while Thaiday has 24 tackle-breaks and eight offloads.

Where it will be won: Defence is the critical factor here; not just making the tackles, but reading the plays and being in the right positions.

Both sides have shown a real problem reading opposition plays on occasions, and way too often they are caught out.

The Broncos especially have allowed an enormous amount of clean line-breaks – 31 to be exact – while the Knights’ 19 clean breaks conceded is better… but not great.

The reality is this figure would be higher if teams shifted the ball more against them, as both wingers are still making critical errors in defensive reads.

Defence, particularly out wide, is a collaborative team effort and each defender must communicate with his team-mates otherwise the breaks will continue to flow.

We are talking about the fourth-worst defensive team Knights (leaking 25.4 points a game) against the worst defensive team Brisbane (leaking 29.2 points a game), so it stands to reason that if one of them can tighten it up just a little, they should head towards victory.  

The history:
Played 33; Broncos 23, Knights 10. Newcastle won the only battle between the two clubs last year by 28-12 but the Broncos had won the previous five matches.

At Suncorp, the Broncos hold a heavy 6-2 winning record over the Knights, with the past two matches having a combined 95-8 score-line in favour of the home side.

Conclusion:
If the Knights of last weekend turn up, put the house on Brisbane. But if not, they are half a chance.

The Broncos should once again lift at home and, being a little more rested, they deserve to be favourites. But don’t be surprised if the Knights finally step up to the plate and compete.

Match officials: Referees – Steve Lyons & Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood & Chris James; Video Ref – Chris Ward.

Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (Qld), delayed 9.30pm (NSW); Fox Sports – Delayed 1pm.