Sea Eagles v Broncos Preview

Sea Eagles v Broncos
Brookvale Oval
Sunday 3pm

A real danger game for the Sea Eagles, whose “Fortress Brookvale” reputation looks to be on shifting ground. They have just three wins from their five games there to date, including two losses from their past three at the venue.

They squeezed home against the Cowboys in Townsville last week, the week after resting up with the bye. Before that they suffered an uncharacteristic form and intensity drop-off at home to fall to Parramatta in Round 10 – the week after arguably their most impressive performance of the season when dominating the Dragons at home.

Jekyll and Hyde? You bet.

Still, they’ve clambered to second on the ladder – although Origin and injury will severely test them in the coming weeks.

Their major problem is the loss of centre Jamie Lyon with an ankle injury, plus the suspension to Steve Matai (he’ll also miss next week’s away game against the Titans).

It’s forced coach Des Hasler to shift regular five-eighth Kieran Foran to the centres in his return from injury and leave the less-creative Chris Bailey at pivot.

A plus though is Josh Perry’s return at prop, which pushes Brent Kite to the bench. Terence Seu Seu remains on an extended bench of 18.

The Broncos enter the clash on a three-game winning streak, having accounted for the Storm, Titans and Sharks and banking two points for a bye; after a shaky start to the season that saw them ranked 14th on the ladder with a points differential of -69 through Round 9, they’ve now climbed to 8th spot and whittled their deficit to just -9.

It’s a big game for centre Israel Folau, who announced his defection to AFL during the week. Expect the Brookvale crowd – and perhaps a few of the Broncos fans who make the journey there – to give him a hostile reception.

Watch out Sea Eagles:
Des Hasler will be sweating on his forced positional changes coming off.

While Toyota Cup youngster Dean Whare set a record against the Cowboys last week, becoming the first player to score a hat-trick of tries in his first grade debut for the Sea Eagles (he also contributed a try assist), things could be a little leaner without injured partner Jamie Lyon this week.

With Lyon sidelined and regular centre partner Steve Matai suspended, the Sea Eagles could struggle for penetration on the edges. To date, the Lyon-Matai partnership has yielded 10 try assists between them, as well as an NRL-high nine line-break assists.

Also, the last time these sides met last year, Lyon destroyed the Broncos with three tries and three goals in their 22-20 win.

It remains to be seen how Foran’s shift wider to partner Whare in the centres will affect the Sea Eagles’ attack.

For the Broncos, lock Corey Parker looms as a danger man. While Sam Thaiday will be a focus for the defence, they shouldn’t take Parker for granted – his 124 metres a game is the most by any Broncos forward. He also has 42 tackle-breaks and 12 offloads in 2010.

Watch out Broncos: Josh Perry’s grip on his Blues jumper isn’t real strong – and should Perry be overlooked, there’s every chance NSW selectors may opt for his Sea Eagles’ front row partner Jason King for Game Two in Brisbane. That being the case, expect plenty of motivation and work from the pair.

To date Perry is averaging 98 metres, King 103 – but watch those numbers be dwarfed in this game with a rep jersey on the line.    

Elsewhere, Anthony Watmough will be looking to make a statement; at his best he is the most devastating back-rower in the game, but he has been a little quiet of late. Expect him to wind up and punch out more than his current 111 metres a game and three tackle-breaks.

Where it will be won:
Controlling the football and gaining good field position. It will be interesting to see who assists Trent Hodkinson in clearing the ball for the Sea Eagles. Normally Foran is the back-up, but with him playing wider Bailey may be called upon more – or else Foran may move himself in late in tackle counts to get his hands on the ball.

The logical option with such disruption though would be to hand hooker Matt Ballin more responsibility – don’t be surprised if the Maroons’ substitute rake keeps the Broncos on the back foot with a series of probing kicks from dummy-half.

As for completions, there’s not much between the sides (77 per cent Manly, 74 per cent Brisbane), so whoever wins the “battle of the bustle” will gain an advantage.

Obviously Folau will be out to impress and the disruption to the Manly centres should provide him with excellent opportunities, both with the ball in hand and also contesting cross-field bombs that Peter Wallace and Darren Lockyer will deliver (the Sea Eagles have defused just 22 per cent of cross-field bombs – the worst rate in the comp).

The history: Played 30; Broncos 15, Sea Eagles 14, drawn 1. The home side have won five of the past eight clashes between the sides, including the past four. At Brookvale Oval they hold an 8-4 advantage, with a draw.

Conclusion: Not even Darren Lockyer in his prime has been enough to see the Broncos a threat at Brookvale in past years. In fact, Lockyer has just the one victory on the northern beaches from five games in his 16-year career to date – at his last appearance there in 2006.

You can make a case for both sides, and certainly a case for an upset. The smart selection is the home side, but it’s no lock.

Match officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Jeff Younis & Russell Turner; Video Ref – Sean Hampstead.

Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports – Delayed 6pm.