Sharks v Broncos
Toyota Stadium
Friday 7.35pm
 
The struggling Sharks meet a Broncos unit sure to be fired up after the roasting it copped from coach Anthony Griffin in the wake of their second-half capitulation to the Sea Eagles last week. That, plus the return of rested Origin players Darren Lockyer and Sam Thaiday add up to some potential pain for the 14th-placed Shire side.

The Sharks, one of five sides on the minimum eight competition points, gave the Storm a fright in Melbourne last week but despite an overwhelming advantage in possession (81 per cent completions compared to 65) and territory (1311 metres to 1186) they still fell short. They will have added motivation here, knowing that other results could see them plummet to the bottom of the ladder halfway through the competition.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan has dropped a selection bombshell in naming Taulima Tautai at prop to replace Luke Douglas, who is expected to miss a month with a leg injury. Josh Cordoba is out with a hamstring strain, elevating Broderick Wright to the extended interchange which includes the injured Johnny Mannah who remains in doubt.

The Broncos know this is a game they can ill afford to lose. They were ranked equal second heading into last week but the loss to the Sea Eagles has dropped them to sixth on percentages behind the Cowboys on 16 points. They are in danger of dropping further down the ladder should they lose and the Bulldogs beat Manly.

This week they get back the Origin strike-power and experience they missed last week in Darren Lockyer and Sam Thaiday. Also, Josh Hoffman’s return at fullback sees Gerard Beale move to the centres, with Dale Copley reverting to the wing and Dane Gagai missing out.

Other changes see Scott Anderson (in his 50th NRL game) start at prop for the injured Nick Kenny, with Thaiday taking over from the reinjured Ben Teó in the second row. Dane Carlaw is the new face on the bench.
Veteran Sharks centre Colin Best, making his 18th appearance against the Broncos in 13 years, will be keen to add to his 97 career tries having been stuck on that mark for his past 19 games. It will also help erase the memory of his clanger error last week that gifted the Storm late field position and led to their winning try.

Watch Out Sharks: Last week after a scoreless first half the Sharks blitzed their opponents with an 87 per cent completion rate but unravelled with 24 missed tackles to the Storm’s 13. Other weeks they don’t make as many tackle misses but their errors or their poor completions let them down. The Sharks just need to better balance their performances – they can’t afford to be inconsistent against the Broncos who will be hungry for a ‘soft kill’.

The home side needs to find a way of converting more of their chances. They’re ranked third for tackle busts (39.2) and are generating good second-phase play (average 13.5 offloads – fourth most) but rank ninth for line-breaks and 14th for tries and points scored.

Danger Sign: Broncos’ lock Corey Parker will be out to hold his own up against local hero Paul Gallen. The Queensland representative has failed to crack triple figures in metres just once this season and is averaging 131 metres a game. He also has 45 tackle busts (just two shy of Gallen). His offloading needs to be watched – he tallied a massive seven against the Sea Eagles last week.

Watch Out Broncos: Paul Gallen will be licking his chops at the prospect of coming up against yet more Queensland opposition, for the third time in nine days. Last week it was the Maroons-infused Storm who he battered with a game- and round-high 20 hit-ups. He clawed out 183 metres and conjured his side’s sole try. The guy’s a freak. This week he’ll have Lockyer, Yow Yeh, Thaiday, Hannant and Parker in his sights.

It’s just over 12 months since the Sharks last played the Broncos, hosting them at Toyota Stadium in Round 12 last year. On that occasion Gallen made a game-high 23 runs in their 20-6 loss. Before that the Sharks were smashed 44-16 in Round 6 – but Gallen made 21 hit-ups and nearly 150 metres.

Also, the Broncos need to wrap up ball-playing second-rower Anthony Tupou on the fringes. The Storm did a good job to smother him last week, allowing him just the one offload. But he has 25 for the year to rank the fourth most dangerous strike back-rower in the comp. He’s also fourth for try assists with two.

Danger Sign: If the Broncos hang off Anthony Tupou they could get burned.

Plays To Watch: Peter Wallace kicking high for the corners; Lockyer sending troops down the short corridor; Thaiday bending the Sharks in midfield; Yow Yeh out to atone for a lacklustre game against the Sea Eagles; Gallen taking on all-comers; Tautai showing he has the mettle to make it in the front row; Tupou’s offloads; redemption for Colin Best, whose blunder hit hard last week. 

Where It Will Be Won: A physical attitude. We all saw what the Sharks were capable of when they ripped into the Dragons from the opening whistle in Round 2. They didn’t let up all evening and inflicted, as it turns out, the only defeat the premiers have suffered all year. On that evening they made 16 ineffective tackles and a bunch of players missed large numbers – Kade Snowden missed six efforts and Luke Douglas four. But they hunted in numbers and the ferocity more than made up for their lack of technique.

If coach Flanagan can get them fired up here and they carry a lead to the dressing sheds at halftime, they’re a show of an upset. Bustle tactics seem all the more sensible when you consider the Broncos currently rank a worrying sixth for most errors a game (12.5).

It’s also the last opportunity for Kade Snowden to show he’s worth another shot at Origin after an indifferent debut. And with Hannant and Thaiday down the other end of the park, what better opponent? Another spur for Snowden is that he requires just five hit-ups to notch 1000 career runs.

The History: Played 44; Broncos 28, Sharks 16. The Broncos have won five of the past eight games, including the past three. But the Sharks hold an 11-8 advantage in games at Toyota Stadium. And it wasn’t so long ago the Sharks notched their biggest win over the Broncos there (46-12 in 2009).

Conclusion: Don’t get too excited Sharks fans, but statistics for the first half the season point to the Broncos as being a side that has over-achieved. Their 3.3 line-breaks a game are the third fewest in the comp. They make the third fewest offloads and are ranked 10th for points scored and 11th for tries scored.

Which matters little if the Sharks can’t put things together, though.

Darren Lockyer’s steadying influence, plus the return of Thaiday and the prospect of losing touch with the top half of the top eight makes us lean to the visitors. But only by six points.

Match Officials: Referees – Matt Cecchin & Tony De Las Heras; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Luke Potter; Video Ref – Tim Mander.

Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (Qld), delayed 9.30pm (NSW); Fox Sports – Delayed 1am.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.