Brisbane remain in outright second place after surviving a late scare against the Wests Tigers at Allianz Stadium on Good Friday, leading 18-4 with just five minutes remaining before the home side rallied with two late tries. It was a surprisingly close scoreline given the stats: the Broncos were strong all-round, completing their sets at 82 per cent, making 1521 dominant metres, making just seven errors and missing 25 tackles.
However, their victory was clouded by a controversial Grade 3 dangerous contact charge laid against interchange Ben Te’o after his front-on collision with Tigers prop Matt Groat. Te’o had his charge downgraded but was still ruled out for two matches at the judiciary this week. Dunamis Lui replaces Te'o on the interchange bench.
In other team changes, Brisbane halfback Peter Wallace is out with a groin injury, with Ben Hunt to start in the halves and Kurt Baptiste coming onto the bench.
Meanwhile, aided by the early return of Kangaroos prop David Shillington from injury, the Raiders bounced back with a win over the hapless Warriors in the nation’s capital last Sunday. Despite still being without key personnel Josh Dugan, Brett White, Joel Thompson, Trevor Thurling and Shaun Fensom the Raiders held too many guns for the Warriors, running in seven tries in a comprehensive 32-12 victory.
The Broncos will field an unchanged line-up this week, with Scott Anderson on standby for Te’o should his legal challenge fail.
Raiders coach David Furner has stuck with the 17 who got the job done against the Warriors.
Watch Out Broncos: No side has split open oppositions to score more tries than the Raiders who have crossed for 11 tries from line-breaks. Centre Jarrod Croker is leading the way, co-topping the line-breaks tally alongside Billy Slater with eight so far, as well as scoring seven tries.
Meanwhile five-eighth Terry Campese is the ringleader of their raids, with the equal-most line-break assists in the comp (seven) plus five try assists.
Raiders’ fans will have their fingers crossed Croker can add to his impressive points-scoring tally. He leads the league with 58 points scored (the most by any centre after six rounds since former Bronco Michael De Vere scored 68 back in 2004). The speedster was a try-scorer the last time the Raiders travelled to Suncorp Stadium.
Danger Sign: While the Broncos miss the fewest tackles of all sides they are vulnerable to an offload near their try line.
Surprisingly Brisbane have leaked three tries to offloads – the second most by a team to date. The Raiders rank seventh for offloads (10 a game). Watch for forwards Bronson Harrison (13, ranked third) and David Shillington (nine) to try to catch out the Broncos inside their 10-metre zone.
Watch Out Raiders: There’s no prizes for guessing which way the Broncos will direct their attack – they’ll be heading right at every opportunity, banking on inflicting further damage to the opposition’s stats sheet that shows they’ve leaked a monstrously high 13 tries through their left-edge defence, compared to just two on the other side of the field.
Those figures have boom centre Justin Hodges salivating: the rep star ranks second in the comp for offloads (17), leads all centres for try assists (three), is averaging 142 metres per game – his best return since 2009 – and has four line-breaks and 25 tackle-breaks. And Hodges just loves playing the Raiders – he’s been victorious in 11 of 14 games dating back to 2000.
Danger Sign: Expect Hodges to test the mettle of opposite Jarrod Croker who missed the most tackles by any centre last season, averaging three a game. Croker has worked hard on his ‘reads’ in the first six rounds, cutting his misses to only two a game but if anyone can get him doubting himself it’s the powerful and wily Hodges.
Ben Hannant v David Shillington: The battle up front between these big men will be huge. Hannant is averaging 12 hit-ups and 97 metres but it’s his defensive contribution that’s crucial, with an average 32 tackles each game. Shillington is a powerhouse, averaging 18 hit-ups for 147 metres in 52 minutes of game time.
Where It Will Be Won: Containing the runners and restricting metres made. There’s nothing between these sides in both making ground and limiting territory – the Raiders are toiling hard to make the second-most metres each week (1441) while the Broncos rank a close third with 1405 metres each game. Defensively the Broncos yield the fourth-fewest metres, the Raiders the fifth fewest, so whichever team has an off night or is dominated by the other will find the going tough. In particular if Broncos Josh Hoffman (28 tackle busts), Justin Hodges (25) or Raiders Blake Ferguson (33 tackle busts, 3rd in the NRL) or Jarrod Croker (32 tackle busts) don’t make their usual impact their opponent will be the side on the way to victory.
The History: Played 41; Broncos 23, Raiders 17, drawn 1. The Raiders have a surprisingly good recent record against the Broncos, with the ledger from the past eight clashes all square at four games apiece. However the Broncos have won nine of the 13 games played in Brisbane.
The Last Time They Met: Brisbane survived a spirited Raiders comeback to snatch a heart-stopping 25-24 golden-point victory at Suncorp Stadium in Round 14 last year.
The home side raced to an 18-nil lead at halftime, with five unanswered line-breaks paving the way for tries to Alex Glenn, Dale Copley and Gerard Beale. They increased their lead when Josh Hoffman crossed in the 59th minute – but then everything went pear-shaped as the Green Machine clicked into gear.
Two tries in three minutes to Josh Papalii bridged the deficit to 12 with 13 minutes remaining and when Glenn Buttriss plunged over for a 24-18 scoreline with 10 minutes to go the home fans started to sweat. Fears of an unlikely upset escalated when a Jarrod Croker try saw the sides draw level – incredibly with a whole eight minutes left on the clock. The sides traded field-goal attempts before Peter Wallace proved the hero for the Broncos, nailing a one-pointer midway through the first period of extra time.
It really was a game of two halves – Canberra missed a whopping 41 tackles in the first 40 minutes, with the Broncos collapsing to miss 31 in the second half. Canberra made a staggering 12 offloads in the second half alone.
The fullbacks did the damage – Josh Hoffman added 205 metres with 10 tackle-breaks for Brisbane while fill-in No.1 Nathan Massey tallied 174 metres and 11 tackle busts.
Match Officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Gavin Badger; Sideline Officials – Dave Abood & Peter Gough; Video Referee – Chris Ward.
The Way We See It: It’s hard to overlook the Broncos here, especially at home. They have been solid if unspectacular… which leaves us thinking they’re due a breakout game. Even with Wallace out of the picture the side looks strong, although plenty of pressure will fall on young halves Corey Norman and Hunt. The Raiders are capable but their disappointing effort against the Cowboys a fortnight ago leaves a question mark hovering over their ability to put in consistent efforts. Certainly it will be a different atmosphere at Suncorp to the one they are used to sopping up at home – the Broncos lead the home crowd averages with 40,592, while the Raiders rank at the bottom with just 10,266 filing through the turnstiles at Canberra Stadium. Brisbane by eight points.
Televised: Channel 9 – Live 7.30pm (Qld), delayed 9.30pm (NSW & ACT); Fox Sports 2 – Delayed 1am Saturday.
Statistics: NRL Stats