Broncos v Raiders Preview

Broncos v Raiders
Suncorp Stadium
Friday 7.35pm

The phenomenal finals record of the Brisbane Broncos goes on the line at Suncorp Stadium this Friday night when the razzle-dazzle Raiders come to town hell bent on being the ones to knock them onto the scrapheap for the first time since 1991.

The Broncos must not only beat the Raiders to take an unprecedented 19th straight trip to the finals, but they must do so by 15 or more points and they must do it without some key personnel. And if that’s not hard enough, they then must sit back and rely on the Dragons beating South Sydney on Sunday night!

Currently 10th on the ladder there is a slight chance they could in fact get as high as seventh but this would also require Manly to fall heavily to the Bulldogs along with the above-mentioned scenarios falling their way.

A loss means the end of the road, pure and simple, and could potentially see their official placing be as low as 12th.

Halfback Peter Wallace has joined the casualty ward and skipper Darren Lockyer has ruled himself out again, putting all sorts of pressure on Corey Norman and new halfback Ben Hunt.
 
The new man on the bench is prop forward Nick Kenny.

The Raiders have been on fire of late, adding the Cowboys to their list of scalps last week and only the deer-in-the-headlights phenomenon stands in their way of being alive next weekend.

With plenty now on their bandwagon, the youthful Raiders might finally feel some pressure after riding the wave to seven wins in their past eight games.

With the world of finals football at their feet, can they stay focussed and not choke up in front of a potential sold-out, boisterous, away crowd?

They enter the round in eighth and know a win is enough to give them a spot in the finals. A good win can actually get them as high as fifth if the Warriors lose to the Eels, the Roosters lose to the Cowboys and the Raiders can overtake the differential of those teams and also Manly.

A loss by 14 or less could still net the Raiders a finals berth, but only if the Rabbitohs also lose against the Dragons on Sunday night.

Inspirational skipper Alan Tongue is out injured, giving Glen Buttriss a start at hooker. Three new names come onto a six-man bench in Trevor Thurling, Troy Thompson and Travis Waddell.

Watch out Broncos:
The Raiders are deadly on kick-returns thanks to young gun fullback Josh Dugan and if the Broncos don’t provide a good kicking game and an impressive chase they will be burned big time.

Dugan has 18 line-breaks this season, the equal fourth most in the NRL but it’s the fact the Raiders have nine line-breaks direct from kick-returns which is a major worry for the Broncos. No other side has as many breaks from kick-returns and to make matters worse the Broncos have conceded seven line-breaks from the kick return, ranking them last in the NRL. With 3222 metres gained this season Dugan is behind only Paul Gallen and Jarryd Hayne – his average per game is a staggering 161 metres. As far as kick-return metres goes Dugan is second in the NRL behind Lachlan Coote and his average 12.4 metres per return is right up there with the best also. Just to add to his resume Dugan has an NRL high 170 tackle-breaks and is equal fifth with try saves with 16.

Watch out Raiders:
The best way to ensure the young Broncos’ halves can have a positive influence on this game is to direct them to hitting the strengths of the team time and time again. In Brisbane’s case this is the edges of the ruck. The Broncos have forwards who can tear apart a team on the fringes. Guys like Sam Thaiday, Matt Gillett and Ben Te’o are extremely adept at poking through holes on the edges and breaking through arm tackles.

Brisbane has scored more tries on the right edge (28) than any other team in the NRL and the third most tries on the left edge (24). Considering the Raiders’ edge defence is spotty, particularly their right-side defenders who have let in 26 tries (the second worst in the NRL), it makes perfect sense for the Broncos to head this way.

Where it will be won: In big games like this, obviously defence is critical but we’ll bypass the generalisation of defence and highlight two specific parts that will be crucial. Firstly, defending at marker, against dummy-half runners, is especially vital. Why you ask? Answer: the Broncos have 13 line-breaks from dummy-half this year (ranked second in the NRL) and the Raiders have 10 (ranked fifth in the NRL).

When it comes to tries scored from dummy-half the Broncos have eight, the Raiders seven. For the Broncos, hooker Andrew McCullough is the danger man; he has seven line-breaks from dummy-half, the second most in the NRL.

But while the Broncos have more dummy-half line-breaks and tries than the Raiders, they also concede more of both. They have let through nine dummy-half line-breaks compared to the Raiders’ four and have conceded nine tries from dummy-half compared to the Raiders’ three. Next we move on to defending tries from long range. Both these sides have been deadly from range, with Brisbane scoring 12 tries from over halfway, Canberra 10. They are likely to try from distance if they get a chance, particularly the home side who needs to score points. But once again, while the Broncos score more, they also concede more.

Opposition teams have scored 17 tries against the Broncos from distance, while the Raiders have let in just 13.

The history: Played 38; Broncos 21, Raiders 16, drawn 1. The Raiders beat the Broncos 22-14 earlier this season in Canberra, which has continued a win-loss trend over the past eight games that has stayed on home ground lines.

The Broncos have an 8-3 advantage over the Raiders at Suncorp Stadium and have won the past four in a row at the venue. All of these numbers point towards a Brisbane victory, completely against current form.  

Conclusion: You could argue the script has been written for either side here. The Raiders are on a massive roll and are an enjoyable side to watch. Plenty would love to see them in the finals… except maybe Dragons fans who are worried about the hoodoo the side has over theirs.

As for the Broncos, they have a proud record at stake in front of a massive crowd… perhaps they can produce the goods after all, despite being under-strength and give Lockyer at least another game this year?

The Raiders have the form and should get the lean here – but the Broncos have been in the finals for 18 years for a reason… they aren’t dead yet.

Match officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner & Phil Haines; Video Ref – Tim Mander.
 
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (Qld & ACT), delayed 9.30 (NSW); Fox Sports – Delayed 1am.