Brisbane will be focused on an easy kill against Wayne Bennett’s hopelessly out-of-sorts Knights to retain their grip on an all-important spot in the top four as the season rounds its halfway mark. Indeed, they’ll be counting on it.
The Broncos, minus captain Sam Thaiday, Justin Hodges and Petero Civoniceva, found the going too tough against the Storm in Melbourne last Friday night. Their 34-10 loss – their third on the trot – dropped them back to a share of second place on the ladder alongside the Sharks and Rabbitohs. With four other sides breathing down their neck just two competition points off the pace, Anthony Griffin knows his charges need to reassert themselves at home before they lose their five-strong Origin contingent for next week’s clash against the Roosters in Sydney.
Poor execution plagued Brisbane last week – they completed just 63 per cent of their sets, a season low. Coach Griffin will be looking for improvement against the Knights who, although they are struggling in both attack and defence and languish in 11th position two wins off the top-eight pace, are capable of a breakout performance.
However, their current form is proving an eyesore to both their coach and rugby league fans in general. They lack consistency and application and their attack continues to misfire; in fact their 24-14 loss to the Titans leaves them as the most impotent team with the ball in hand, managing the equal-fewest points each week alongside the Dragons (just 15.2 points per game). Adding to their woes this week is the fact they’ve averaged just seven points in each of their past three games against the Broncos.
Brisbane are at full strength this week, with all five Queensland Origin representatives to suit up. Ben Te’o and Scott Anderson are the faces missing from last week’s 17, with Matt Gillett hitting the interchange.
Meanwhile Wayne Bennett has retained the starting 13 that lost to the Titans but opted for two changes to his interchange, with Matt Hilder and Zeb Taia making way for Chris Adams and Richie Fa’aoso.
Watch Out Broncos: Newcastle have enjoyed some success on the edges to date, with wingers Akuila Uate (six tries) and James McManus (five tries) combining for 11 of their 29 tries.
Left-side centre Timana Tahu is doing a good job sending team-mates through gaps – he has contributed six line-break assists, the second most by any centre. Justin Hodges and Dale Copley will need to make some good reads in defence.
Prop Kade Snowden is doing his best to get back in the eyes of NSW Origin selectors and, given the side for Game Two is selected on Sunday, he’ll be intent on a huge game against a host of Maroons. Snowden was their best player last week, making 18 hit-ups for 158 metres with 17 tackles and an offload.
Danger Sign: Wayne Bennett is smart enough to realise his team can’t hope to beat the Broncos with a conservative game plan, so they may spring a surprise this week. The Knights rank dead last for offloads in 2012 (averaging just 7.2 each week) but they may chance their arm here. If you see the likes of Kade Snowden (12), Adam Cuthbertson (11) and Timana Tahu (nine) looking to promote second-phase early in the game you’ll know where they’ve pinned their hopes.
Watch Out Knights: Corey Norman’s running game will need to be harnessed – he leads all five-eighths for territory (81 metres per match) and line-breaks (eight) and ranks second to Johnathan Thurston for try assists in his position (10).
Peter Wallace’s kicking game will target the flanks and the goal posts – no side relies on the high ball more than Brisbane, who have booted NRL highs in ‘conventional’ bombs (44) and cross-field bombs (38). Brisbane are averaging one try from a kick in every game in 2012.
The Knights’ left-side defence needs to be vigilant – Newcastle have let in 15 tries down that corridor. Meanwhile the Broncos have the fourth most dangerous right-side attack, with 20 tries scored so far.
Danger Sign: If hooker Andrew McCullough is able to pick up runners out of dummy-half with ease it will be a long afternoon for Newcastle. The Broncos have tallied the second-most line-break assists out of dummy-half – it’s a major factor in their massive go-forward.
Josh Hoffman v Darius Boyd: Josh Hoffman got the better of Darius Boyd last time these sides met: he made a game-high 18 runs, with 190 metres, while Boyd struggled to get into the game at any stage with just 62 metres and one tackle-break all evening. Hoffman has starred regularly for his side since then – in particular there’s been no fiercer returner of kicks, with his 86 metres a game from kick returns the most by any fullback. In general play he averages 162 metres and has also tallied 52 tackle busts (second most by a No.1).
Meanwhile Boyd is way off the pace he set at the Dragons for the past three years but with Origin II beckoning he’ll be focused on improvement here in front of his old Broncos home crowd. Boyd is averaging identical numbers in terms of touches per game this year compared to last (33 per game) but has been able to craft just two try assists so far. He can add to that tally, linking with James McManus in particular down the left edge.
Where It Will Be Won: For the Broncos it’s all about their big forwards rolling through the middle third of the field before the ball is swung wide for the backs to add their flair.
Brisbane rank second for territory each game (1427 metres) and also line-breaks (five) and you can bet they won’t be far off those marks here. Meanwhile for the Knights it’s all about self-belief. They have some personnel who are capable of surprising the Broncos but at the moment they are lacking in confidence.
The History: Played 38; Broncos 26, Knights 12. The Broncos have won five of the past eight, including the past three in a row. Brisbane boast a 7-3 advantage at Suncorp Stadium.
The Last Time They Met: The Broncos ran the Knights ragged to win 24-10 at Hunter Stadium in Round 3.
Alex Glenn opened the scoring in the fifth minute, charging onto a short ball and crashing over on the left edge, before Akuila Uate struck back for the Knights with 12 minutes gone. Justin Hodges streaked away for a 40-metre solo try in the 29th minute for a 12-4 scoreline, with the visitors taking the eight-point lead to the halftime sheds.
James McManus bridged the deficit to just two points with an incredible solo effort 14 minutes into the second half: the left winger fielded a cross-field bomb that angled over the Brisbane chasers, then sprinted 100 metres to score untouched.
However, tries to Gerard Beale (63rd minute) and Matt Gillett (69th minute) pushed the Broncos well clear, with a Corey Parker penalty goal with six minutes remaining rounding out the scoring.
Brisbane clawed out 1676 metres in their four-tries-to-two victory, with centre Hodges dominating with 202 metres. Matt Gillett made six tackle busts and two line-breaks.
The Knights were best served by McManus and second-rower Chris Houston who contributed 125 metres and 41 tackles.
Brisbane missed just 14 tackles all game, while Newcastle missed 34.
Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Gavin Reynolds; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner & Michael Wise; Video Referee – Bernard Sutton.
The Way We See It: On exposed form this is the easiest game of the round to pick. We can’t picture anything but a comfortable win to the home side. Broncos by 12 points.
Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports 2 – Delayed 6pm.
• Statistics: NRL Stats