Wests Tigers v Broncos
Sydney Football Stadium
We are accustomed to seeing the Broncos at the Sydney Football Stadium on Good Friday, however usually it is against the Roosters.
The annual clash was forced a week early this year due to the annual Anzac Day fixture falling in the same round. But the Wests Tigers are more than happy to accommodate the high-flying Broncos in what should be a mammoth start to an action-packed weekend of football.
It is fair to say the Broncos have been the surprise packets of the season thus far, especially when you consider they lost their coach just weeks out from the season and didn’t play in the finals last year.
They have been defensive powerhouses on their way to a 5-1 start and sit in second place behind only Melbourne, who most would admit have been a little better offensively.
The Wests Tigers have been a little less consistent due to massive disruption from injuries and are hurting after letting the Titans run them down last weekend.
With an impressive 14-0 lead after just 15 minutes, the Tigers were cruising. They had been gifted 97 per cent of possession and should have gone on with the match – but the Titans clawed back in and won it at the death, leaving the Wests Tigers in eighth place with a mediocre 3-3 record.
This week they welcome back fullback Wade McKinnon which allows Tim Moltzen to play halfback. Young Jacob Miller misses out.
Beau Ryan, a dropout last week, is due back on the wing in place of Sam Latu and Todd Payten is out with the return of Keith Galloway at prop.
Andrew Fifita will start in the other front row spot, with Bryce Gibbs relegated to the bench.
Liam Fulton makes a return from injury, sending Alan Schirnack out of the side, while Mark Flanagan also makes way off the bench for Aaron Woods.
Chris Heighington has been named but needs his legal challenge on the grading of a careless high tackle charge on Greg Bird last week to be successful if he’s to suit up here.
It’s a big game for hooker Robbie Farah who celebrates his 150th NRL appearance.
Down the other end of the park the Broncos are a much more settled unit, with their only change concerning the bench. Ben Hunt comes in for Corey Norman, leaving a very similar side to the one that trounced the Roosters.
Incredibly, this might be the last time Darren Lockyer plays on the SFS. In all Lockyer has played at the venue 34 times – 28 of those for the Broncos (for 19 wins) – and this weekend he will join Steve Menzies and Daryl Halligan for most games by an individual at the venue as a member of the away team. The SFS was the scene for Locky’s Origin debut (1998) in which the Maroons snatched victory in the opener, then returned to clinch the series 19-4 in the decider.
Watch Out Wests Tigers: Origin centre Justin Hodges continues to play vintage rugby league. Last week against the Roosters he toyed with his former club, running for 154 metres. After missing most of last season Hodges is actually on a winning streak greater than the team – he has won 11 of his past 12 games. His importance to the side is punctuated by the fact Brisbane has won only 31 of 68 games (46 per cent) without him since he returned to the club in 2005.
Danger Sign: Hodges’ trademark is running hard on the outside line of his opposite (towards the right) forcing them to scramble across to catch him. He then steps in off his right foot in deadly fashion, turning the defender inside out and leaving them with nothing but a loose arm to try to tackle with. The powerful Hodges can then just brush past and swat away the resistance with ease. The secret is he doesn’t look to be travelling all that fast – but he is. He has a great length of stride that catches oppositions out – they think they have him covered but – bam – away he goes!
Watch Out Broncos: The Brisbane defence has been top notch this season but they get a massive test against Benji Marshall this week.
For the first time since July 1999 the club has held opponents to 10 points or less in five consecutive matches; the world’s best player will see this as a great challenge. Already the Broncos will have to deal with a team that has scored more tries from close range (0-10 metres) than any other this year with 15. So far they have conceded just two tries from this distance, a miraculous effort – but can they do the same against the best attack?
Marshall has 11 try assists this season to lead the NRL and he also has 10 line-break assists, the second most in the competition.
Danger Sign: If the Benji hop, skip and jump is on display early you’ll know his energy is up and he is ready to rumble. There is none better at the no-look pass, so if the Broncos stay as solid in defence as they have been to date, they are for sure and certain the real deal in 2011.
Plays To Watch: Simon Dwyer on the left edge; Robbie Farah probing from dummy-half; Lockyer running on the last tackle; Jack Reed hitting the ‘crash’ line on the left, Jharal Yow Yeh looking to crunch Beau Ryan in defence and out-leap him on Lockyer bombs.
Where It Will Be Won: It’s hard to go past the battle between the Australian and Kiwi captains. Lockyer and Marshall have had some ding-dong battles in the past and this should prove no different.
With the lure of the Easter/Anzac Day weekend off should they put in great performances, both players will be pumped to guide their side home. As stated above, Marshall will see the Broncos’ defensive wall as a challenge and we are probably about to see him produce an all-star display – particularly after he let old friend Scott Prince get the better of him last weekend.
Lockyer is playing each game like it's his last, probably because he knows it very well could be, and we are getting class on just about every touch.
It will be a monumental surprise if we aren’t talking about a special play from either of these two gentlemen as the clincher post-match.
The History: Played 18; Wests Tigers 4, Broncos 13, drawn 1. The Broncos have won four of the past five against the Wests Tigers but it was the black-and-golds who won the last match, a 16-14 win last season.
The sides last met at the Sydney Football Stadium during the 2005 finals series when the Wests Tigers crushed the Broncos 34-6 on their way to the premiership. It remains their biggest win over Brisbane. The past three matches have been much closer, with the margins being just one, two and two points respectively.
Conclusion: Brisbane have famously loved Good Friday contests in Sydney – it’s an event they lift for. They are in form and the Wests Tigers are still a little scattered, with players coming in and out. However, there is the sniff of Benji brilliance in the air and if he can produce the goods, the home side might just knock off the in-form Broncos.
Don’t be afraid to tip either way in this game – it’s set to be a cracker.
Match Officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Brett Suttor; Touch Judges – Russell Turner & Grant Atkins; Video Ref – Tim Mander.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (NSW & Qld); Fox Sports – Delayed 11.30pm.
* Statistics: NRL Stats.