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Broncos v Panthers
Suncorp Stadium
Friday 7pm

It’s spot-the-veteran night this Friday as the hot Panthers visit the rising Broncos in Friday Night Football at Suncorp Stadium.

They mightn’t be the youngest team in the competition, but Penrith’s up-and-coming stars are not only showcasing their talents, but are beginning to display their mettle in 2010, taking them to outright second on the ladder.

He might only be in his third year, but the rugby league world is only now starting to take notice of the exciting talents of Lachlan Coote, as well as halfback skills of Luke Walsh, who’s been around since 2007. Prop Tim Grant has also been around since then, but is only now starting to flourish under the tutelage of captain Petero Civoniceva.

On the other hand, Brisbane’s unit – with seven of the club’s 2008 under-20s players on hand in their 50-22 drubbing of the Rabbitohs last Sunday – have risen above their disastrous 2-6 start to the year and have strung together five on the trot.

Josh Hoffman has entrenched himself as the Broncos’ custodian, Jharal Yow Yeh and Alex Glenn are fixtures in the backline, Andrew McCullough is the resident hooker, while Ben Hunt, Mitchell Dodds and Josh McGuire have all contributed at various stages of the year.

It’s certainly a sign that rugby league is now a man’s game, and with all the exhilarating genius on show every week, the elder statesmen of the game including Luke Lewis, Petero Civoniceva, Darren Lockyer and Sam Thaiday, can almost pick and choose when to insert themselves into the game.

With the exception of former Bronco Civoniceva and the injured Justin Hodges – and Origin casualties not withstanding – all the above players will be on show on Friday, making the second-versus-seventh clash the game of the round.

Watch out Broncos: If there was ever a team Penrith’s little men in Coote, Walsh, Michael Jennings and Michael Gordon can take advantage of, it’s the Broncos, who have missed more tackles (527) than any other team in the competition.

Those with targets on their backs include the ageing Lockyer (46 missed) and second-rowers Thaiday (39) and Ben Te’o (39). Brisbane also tally the most ineffective tackles in the NRL (303) and are 15th in tackling efficiency (82.7 per cent).

The pint-sized Coote (14 tries and 64 tackle busts) and speedster Jennings (56 tackle busts and 16 offloads) loom as the most dangerous of the mountain men.

Watch out Panthers: The major irony to this game is that while the Panthers – who rank last in line-breaks – attempt to bust their way through the worst tackling team in the competition, Brisbane are second only to Souths in line-breaks so far in 2010 with 74. AFL-bound Israel Folau leads the way for his team with 10, while Hoffman and re-born second-rower Te’o have eight apiece.

The weak links in Penrith’s defence are their little general in Walsh, who has missed 35 tackles and has a tackling efficiency of just 73.3 per cent, and the defensively out-of-sorts Adrian Purtell, who has amassed 47 tackles at a rate of 73.8 per cent efficiency.

Where it will be won: The ruck. While most teams like to control the speed of the ruck, both these sides are notorious for playing the game at their own tempo. This is evident in their use of flops, with the Broncos ranked second in the NRL with 107, while the Panthers are fourth with 100.

It’ll be interesting to see how the main referee, Gavin Badger, polices this trait, and at what speed the game is played at given it’s between the side that has made the most tackles in the competition – Brisbane – against the side who’s had to make the fewest – Penrith.

The history:
Played 41; Brisbane 27, Penrith 13, drawn 1. The Broncos seem to have the wood on the Panthers in recent years, with Penrith tasting victory just once in their past seven outings. (And that one win came back in 2007, where former Panther and now Bronco Peter Wallace slotted a dramatic, game-winning field goal in the dying moments of the match.)

Conclusion: Without their inspirational skipper and away from the surrounds of the Blue Mountains, the Panthers could struggle against a side that have enjoyed recent dominance over them and are on the hottest streak in the competition.

There’s also no doubting that the Broncos and their fans will be buoyed by the Queensland’s likely fifth straight series win at the same ground two days prior, meaning Brisbane have the slight edge in this one.

Match officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Brett Suttor; Sideline officials – Russell Turner & Gavin Morris; Video Referee – Steve Clark

Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7pm (NSW & Qld)

Acknowledgement of Country

National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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