Brisbane Broncos v Newcastle Knights
Heritage Round comes to a close with this blockbuster between two clubs who entered the league together back in 1988 at a time when the game looked to create one-town teams and expand the competition.
The Broncos and the Knights have always been supported ferociously by their fans and while the Brisbane trophy case has a formidable six titles in their 24-year history, the Knights’ two premierships is also impressive.
It’s almost funny timing for this clash – considering the Knights have just now taken the plunge into private ownership, a model the Broncos utilised to huge success from early on.
Will the new Nathan Tinkler takeover ensure the Knights will be in the best place to become a powerhouse like the Broncos, who have missed only four out of 23 finals series since they entered the competition? Only time will tell.
The Broncos come into this clash having started the round on top of the competition table thanks to a superior points differential. Their 18-10 win over Penrith last round has them as one of four teams with a 3-1 record.
The side will start with the same 13 that took the field against the Panthers but their bench is missing Ben Hunt; a handful of players in Mitchell Dodds, Dane Carlaw, Nick Kenny and Corey Norman are in line to take his place.
Newcastle are in fifth position after suffering their second straight defeat last Sunday. Try as they might the Knights couldn’t climb over the top of a determined Dragons outfit, falling 20-18.
They have stuck solid with the same 17-man squad for this showdown in Brisbane.
Some milestone watches: Darren Lockyer requires just one more line-break to become the first player in stats history to record 200 busts and Corey Parker is poised to overtake Tonie Carroll (218) for the seventh-most games for Brisbane.
Watch Out Broncos: The Knights are making enough breaks to win every match they’ve played and while the Dragons’ defence was rock solid and the Broncos have only let in two second-half points this year, this will be a big test for the home side if Newcastle can keep busting through.
It stands to reason the more breaks you make, the more chances you’ll have to score, and the Knights rank second in the league so far with 23 line-breaks.
The Broncos on the other hand haven’t really had their attack firing, registering just 14 line-breaks. They have won games on defence. If they have a slightly off night defensively, the Knights could rack up a score.
Danger Sign: The multiple line-breakers in the Knights’ line-up are Chris Houston, Cory Paterson, Junior Sa’u, Zeb Taia and Akuila Uate. The Broncos need to pay extra attention to them.
Watch Out Knights: The Broncos haven’t been afraid to put on a move or two from outside the green zone when it comes to attack. They have scored five tries this season from 21-50 metres out, the second most in the NRL.
If Darren Lockyer senses an opportunity, he’ll take it so the Knights’ boys have to ensure they don’t switch off just because they’re not defending their line. The Broncos are certainly the type of side that will run the ball on the last tackle.
Danger Sign: If the ball gets spread early to Justin Hodges you can be sure Lockyer and co have sussed out potential lazy defenders.
Plays To Watch: Ben Hannant taking the ball close to the line – three of his eight career tries have come against Newcastle. He has an 8-3 record against the Knights. First or last try-scorer at big odds, perhaps?
Where It Will Be Won: It looks as though defence will be the key here and if the Broncos continue their form in this regard they’ll be very tough to beat. They currently have the best record in the league, conceding just 9.5 points per game. Last season they conceded 22.3 points per game so there has obviously been a marked improvement. As stated earlier they have only let in a solitary penalty goal in all four of the second halves they’ve played this season (… isn’t Wayne Bennett still at the Dragons?).
The Knights’ defence is letting in 19 points a game, which is actually fourth best in the league. If they can keep the Broncos’ attack down around their average 16.5, then get their potent offence in order – which has been posting 26.5 points a game – then they could spring an upset. But they’ll need to pose a few varied questions to ensure the Broncos’ defenders don’t get settled.
The History: Played 35; Broncos 23, Knights 12. Brisbane might have the wood on the Knights overall but the Newcastle boys have won the past three in a row against the Broncos, including two wins last year. The Broncos haven’t had success against a Newcastle team since 2008. At Suncorp Stadium the two teams have met nine times, with Brisbane winning six and Newcastle three.
Conclusion: This is one of those games that most people would immediately think ‘Brisbane to win’. They have always been a great club, they are great at home and the Knights aren’t one of the superpowers right now… but this way of thinking comes as much from pre-conceived ideas as any real basis.
It is true the Broncos have been great this year but the Knights have also been awesome. They had two great wins to start the year and then battled hard against Manly despite injuries before coming from behind to almost nail the premiers. They have won three in a row against Brisbane and while you shouldn’t put your house on it, don’t discount them making it four on the trot.
Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Phil Haines; Sideline Officials – Luke Potter & Grant Atkins; Video Ref – Chris Ward.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.