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Broncos v Sea Eagles
Suncorp Stadium
Sunday 4pm

Some might be calling this a dead rubber for the Broncos, but try telling the Brisbane players Darren Lockyer’s celebration match is anything but one of super importance.

The veteran skipper lines up for his last regular season home match in front of a packed house that will be allowed to go onto the hallowed turf post-match to join in his official farewell. Sure the reality of the situation is they are playing a depleted Manly side which has been torn apart by suspension and injuries and they are likely to finish in third regardless – but this has opened the door to a potential ambush.

While it is highly unlikely, the Broncos could sneak into second spot, and a guaranteed second bite of the cherry after Week One of the finals (not to mention the chance to earn a week off), if they can win this match by 43 points or more. Their biggest win all season was by 30 points against the Sharks (46-16) in Round 21 (also the only time they’ve scored more than 43 points in a match) and only one game all year has been won by as many points (Souths 56-6 over Parramatta) so it would take a mighty effort – but it’s not unfathomable considering the emotion on the Broncos side and the traumatic week out at Narrabeen.

The Broncos enter the match with great form having beaten Souths 22-10 to make it five in a row and 10 of their past 12. It comes as no surprise the team is unchanged this week.

Manly also come in with great form, having won four in a row including last weekend’s stirring 18-4 win over the table-topping Storm.

The latest win means they still have a slim chance of becoming minor premiers – although it would take the Storm losing to the Roosters and the Sea Eagles winning by enough to overcome a huge points differential.

All indications are the side will be more focussed on the coming finals rather than the slim chance of being seeded number one.

There is a raft of changes to the side that beat the Storm last week. Fullback Brett Stewart is out both suspended and injured, meaning Will Hopoate will play at the back. David Williams is out for the year with a broken vertebra in his neck, bringing Michael Oldfield onto the wing.

Coach Des Hasler has resisted the temptation to move Jamie Lyon to five-eighth to cover for the suspended Kieran Foran, instead opting for back-rower Jamie Buhrer to wear the No.6.

Glenn Stewart has been named but is astronomical odds to be available with his case referred straight to the judiciary. He is pleading not guilty to contrary conduct – fighting. As potential cover the Sea Eagles have a six-man bench. Darcy Lussick isn’t on it after accepting a three-week ban but the new faces are Daniel Harrison, Vic Mauro, Terence Seuseu and Tim Robinson.  

The game is sold out, meaning the Broncos will have posted crowds in excess of 20,000 for every Suncorp Stadium match since May 2005.

If the home side scores just seven more points they will have recorded 500 or more in every season for the past two decades.

Watch Out Broncos: While the Sea Eagles don’t have the same combinations as last time out, particularly with Brett Stewart and Kieran Foran absent, they’ll still hunt the left side often. It will mean sending the ball away from Jamie Lyon on occasion but in Round 12 the Sea Eagles destroyed the Broncos by going left, making countless breaks and scoring a handful of tries in their 34-10 shellacking. The Sea Eagles have scored 47 tries on the left side this season, 28 on the fringe and a further 19 on the sideline.

Danger Sign: While it was Foran and Stewart creating the most havoc the last time the teams met it was also a big night out for halfback Daly Cherry-Evans. He scored a cracking individual try when he sliced past a slow, lateral-moving Ben Hannant from 40 metres out and then beat the fullback with a neat right-foot step. He grabbed his double inside four minutes, when Stewart delivered an unbelievable pick-up-and-pass from a Foran banana kick. Without the aforementioned duo to help he’ll have plenty of responsibility on his shoulders. So far this year he has contributed seven line-breaks, eight line-break assists, five tries, 14 try assists, 25 offloads and 92 tackle-breaks.

Watch Out Sea Eagles: It seems only fitting we should highlight Darren Lockyer here; all the emotion surrounding the contest could prompt a vintage display from ‘Locky’. Already the ‘immortal in waiting’ has notched his highest season total of try assists (with 24) and chances are he’ll add to it this week. He leads the NRL in the vital statistic, even besting Benji Marshall (23) and Johnathan Thurston (21) so far. He doesn’t crack the line himself as much as he did in the old days – he has just four line-breaks this season and two tries – but he sure knows how to get others reward. He commands so much attention and respect when he has the football, opening up holes elsewhere he can then exploit. (Along with his league-leading try assists he has posted 14 line-break assists.)

Danger Sign: When you are looking for specifics to watch with Lockyer, the list is long. His experience over the years makes him dangerous in just about any situation. He runs to the line and can throw short and long passes to either side with precision. He can also kick, be it cheeky grubbers, or over-the-top cross kicks, like the one for Jack Reed to score last week. We have often also mentioned his tendency to switch play to a short side to create an overlap… anticipate this happening as the Sea Eagles work on a few new defensive combinations.

Plays To Watch: The halfbacks going it alone; a high ball-athon; Jamie Lyon hunting for ball and Darren Lockyer brilliance.  

Where It Will Be Won: On a tidal wave of emotion. If the Broncos win it will be because each and every player is dedicated to sending Lockyer out a winner by doing their job right. If the Sea Eagles are to cause an upset it will because of the frustration and pent-up emotion from the week that was. So the important factor becomes how to channel the emotion and how to ensure it works for you and not against you.

If either side spends it all in the lead-up, they could come out a little flat – but a packed house should help ward off any lethargy. A good healthy dose of commitment needs to come with a potential win.

There is a feeling victory means more to the Broncos here. They’ll be committed – Hasler’s comments earlier in the week about resting guys etc could rub off on players – and you only need to be a few per cent off your best in this league to get trounced.

The History: Played 32; Broncos 16, Sea Eagles 15, drawn 1. The two sides have already met here earlier this year when the Sea Eagles prevailed 34-10, taking their recent dominance over Brisbane to five wins from the past six games. At Suncorp Stadium the Broncos have won seven to the Sea Eagles’ six; however, the past four in a row have gone to Manly. In those four games the average winning margin for Manly has been just over 14 points.

Conclusion: You’d be a brave person to bet against the Broncos on this day of celebration. The home side will not let Lockyer’s after- match presentations be tainted with the sour taste of defeat.  

Match Officials: Referees – Jared Maxwell & Adam Devcich; Sideline Officials – Daniel Eastwood & Gavin Reynolds; Video Ref – Steve Clark.

Televised: Channel Nine – Live 4pm (NSW & Qld); Fox Sports – Delayed 10pm.

* Statistics: NRL Stats.