Raiders v Broncos
Boom, crash, pillage and plunder – the Raiders are out to prove they belong in prime time after an impressive first-up savaging of the Sharks. But the Broncos, long-time competition draw cards, won’t be ready to roll over without one hell of a fight, giving us a mouth-watering clash in the nation’s capital.
The early to mid-’90s was all about the massive Brisbane-Canberra clashes, with the likes of Allan Langer and Ricky Stuart going head-to-head, but Canberra hasn’t seen a grand final since it won in 1994 and over time their ‘star’ faded in terms of drawing power.
But now – with a team full of exciting young talent – the Green Machine looks a real premiership force. They have a chance to prove themselves here against a Broncos team that did everything except win against the Cowboys last week.
Canberra are set to welcome back new-signing Matt Orford, who has been named at halfback. This pushes out last week’s suburb debutant Sam Williams – although given the wily nature of coaches, don’t be surprised if Williams does in fact suit up and Orford is given another week’s breather.
Alan Tongue has sustained a bad shoulder injury, which gives Glen Buttriss a start at hooker, and Brett White accepted a one-match judiciary ban for a knee lift meaning there are three new faces on the five-man bench in Travis Waddell, Josh Miller and Danny Galea.
Josh Dugan has not been named but could still come in at fullback before kick-off, something many fans will be hoping for (no offence intended to David Milne who got the job done brilliantly against the Sharks).
The Broncos have retained the 17 players who lost narrowly to the Cowboys with the only change being the naming of Sam Thaiday to start ahead of Shane Tronc at prop. Last week coach Anthony Griffin held Thaiday out of the opening exchanges and despite once again handing him the No.8 jersey, the late switch may occur.
With Tongue out David Shillington and Bronson Harrison have been handed the tiller as co-captains of the Raiders’ ship.
Watch Out Raiders: The Broncos were the best team in Round 1 in terms of metres gained across the ground. Brisbane managed to make 1460 metres with the ball in hand and while it didn’t translate into an avalanche of points it might well do so once their combinations blow off a little more rust and the young backline starts to fire.
Seven Broncos gained in excess of triple figures last weekend, headed by lock forward Corey Parker (175 metres), winger Dane Gagai (157 metres), fullback Josh Hoffman (149 metres), centre Gerard Beale (120 metres), Props Shane Tronc (116 metres), Josh McGuire (116 metres) and Scott Anderson (107 metres).
The Raiders might want to pay special attention to Anderson if he gets close to the line – white line fever is surely starting to itch as he leads all active NRL players for the most games (46) and minutes (1583) without scoring an NRL try.
The Raiders gained just 1216 metres in Round 1 for those looking for a comparison.
Danger Sign: Keep an eye on where the Broncos are kicking from at the end of sets early in the match. If they are in the Raiders’ territory they are already dominating field position and the defence isn’t getting up quickly enough to stem their go-forward.
Watch Out Broncos: The Raiders’ right-edge attack is top notch. Bronson Harrison is a real danger man for the Raiders on the edge of the ruck and must be contained if the Broncos want to take the points here. The barnstorming back-rower is one of the best off-loaders in the league, as evidenced by his popped ball for Dane Tilse to score against the Sharks.
Then there is Joel Thompson, who is playing right centre. He led his side with 129 metres on the weekend, made a line-break, broke five tackles and contributed three good offloads.
Danger Sign: When the Raiders shape to spread the ball wide to the right, keep an eye on Harrison as the flat-ball running option. If he isolates a defender one-on-one he’ll either run over the top of his opposite or will get his arms free waiting to pop a ball to support.
Plays To Watch: Darren Lockyer switching the attack to the short side; Matt Gillett searching on the left edge; Daniel Vidot coming in for blockbusting dummy-half runs; Matt Orford poking through clever grubbers.
Where It Will Be Won: “Shutting the Gate” – defence on the inside – will be the critical factor. Both sides showed vulnerability last weekend when it came to the opposition team changing the angle of attack and if they don’t become better at closing the gaps as they slide defensively, they will face some tough tests in 2011.
The Broncos were constantly torn up by Matt Bowen through the middle of the ruck as defenders chased to the outside, but their mates didn’t cover inside. The Raiders looked extremely vulnerable against Sharks fullback Nathan Gardner every time he ran an inside line and was passed the ball, scoring once and having another called back for a forward pass.
With both teams no doubt seeing the weaknesses on video this week you can be assured they’ll test each other out.
The History: Played 39; Raiders 17, Broncos 21, drawn 1. The Raiders have started a revival against the Broncos in recent times and are catching up on the overall head-to-head totals. Canberra have won five of the past eight against the Broncos, including the past two matches, which were both last season. They also hold a 10-7-1 record at Canberra Stadium where they have won four straight against Brisbane. The Broncos haven’t won in Canberra since 2005.
Conclusion: The loss of Tongue and White is a body blow for the Raiders but one they can overcome if they stick to their game plan.
It will be good to see old heads Orford and Lockyer take charge of their teams. Lockyer will need a vintage display to help his side home – the Raiders in a close one.
Match officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Steve Lyons; Sideline Officials – Steve Chiddy & Grant Atkins; Video Ref – Steve Clark.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (Qld), delayed 9.30pm (NSW); Fox Sports – delayed 1pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.