It’s crunch time for Brisbane. Not often do they head into the representative season with so few points up their sleeve and now, despite this weekend’s Test match only taking three of their men, they sit stagnant near the basement of the ladder in danger of being a mere footnote in the 2010 season.
Perhaps it’s fate that the Broncos face a must-win match against a team who are already a footnote in this season.
Melbourne have already sewn up the wooden spoon due to the salary cap rorts but with a carefree attitude and a killer instinct they are loving taking apart other sides as they push for personal glory.
Here’s the bottom line: Brisbane probably won’t get a much better chance to beat the Storm in Melbourne, something they haven’t done in eight years.
As we all know, the benefit for the Storm players to continue to play great football is purely personal and will eventually start to fade just a little.
Eight of their stars will be attempting to back up from representative football, something you can’t imagine they will do if they are even the slightest bit banged up.
And Cronulla has the bye, meaning a loss could easily have the Broncos last of all teams still competing for a shot at the title, three wins away from the finals zone with the Origin series still to come.
Melbourne, fresh from another worthless victory, has named the same side that belted the Cowboys, with the addition of Hep Cahill, Brett White and Willie Isa to a seven-man bench.
Billy Slater, Greg Inglis, Cooper Cronk, Cameron Smith, Jeff Lima, Adam Blair, Ryan Hoffman and White all need to make it through representative games to take their places.
The Broncos, who lost to the Knights to fall to 14th spot on the ladder, will be without Steve Michaels. Ben Te’o moves from second row to centre and Lagi Setu joins the starting forward pack. Scott Anderson will start at prop, sending Mitchell Dodds to the bench, while Nick Kenny and Gerard Beale have been added to the reserves list.
Darren Lockyer, Alex Glenn and Sam Thaiday are on Test duty Friday night and as such could be in doubt.
Watch out Storm: Discipline could be a problem here if the Melbourne boys aren’t careful. The Broncos are the second-least penalised team in the competition, with just 41 for the season, while the Storm are the third worst in the NRL with 57.
This equates to two penalties more a match and if given at a crucial stage it could be the difference.
Cameron Smith is the main offender with seven penalties conceded, while Adam Blair and Brett Finch have six each.
Watch out Broncos: The defence coming from the Brisbane boys just isn’t cutting it and if the Storm is given free rein this could get really ugly.
Brisbane’s defence is only 80.8 per cent effective – the worst in the NRL – while the Storm runs at 87.3 per cent, the second best in the NRL. In terms of missed tackles alone, the stats show a massive difference between the sides. Melbourne’s 197 missed tackles (24.6 a game) is streets better than the Broncos, who have missed a mammoth 377 tackles – or 47.1 each match – the most in the competition.
Winning a match when missing that amount of tackles is almost impossible.
Where it will be won: Desire to defend in the back-field. Believe it or not, both of these teams have made the same amount of line-breaks this season (42 each). Brisbane wont be able to change their defensive woes in one week and the Storm are likely to be cracked as they don’t respect ball security as much these days while they look to have fun, so it will be the team that reacts to the breaks who will win.
Here is where it starts to get worrying for the Broncos. They have conceded a massive 59 line-breaks compared to the Storm who have conceded just 18 breaks.
The history: Played 27; Storm 16, Broncos 10, drawn 1. Melbourne have been all over the Broncos in recent times, winning seven of the past eight, including a 40-10 belting in the grand final qualifier last season.
The Broncos haven’t won in Melbourne since 2002 but perhaps a new ground will bring new fortunes. The past four games in Melbourne have an average score line of 39-6 in favour of the home side.
Conclusion: Melbourne’s rep stars are the key to your tip here. If they all come through and play, you can almost be certain they’d love nothing more than confine the Broncos to join them at the bottom of the ladder, such is their rivalry.
If most fail to back up, the Broncos should be more desperate and are a chance of an upset… but don’t bet the ranch.
Match officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Steve Lyons; Sideline Officials – David Abood & Chris James; Video Ref – Steve Clark.
Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm.