Third-placed Brisbane will be hoping they can get straight back on their horse against South Sydney this week after worryingly falling to a fourth defeat in six outings when toppled by the Cowboys in Townsville last Friday night.
Meanwhile the buoyant Rabbitohs edged into the top four with a tradesman-like 24-6 victory over the hapless Eels last Saturday. Consequently the winner here will gain a huge psychological edge given they each enter the arena on 20 competition points alongside two other teams – Canterbury and Cronulla – as the battle for the top four really hots up.
According to the jungle drums in the media, Dave Taylor’s immediate Origin future goes on the line this week – in a delicious irony that means he’ll have to pummel his Maroons teammates in the Broncos line-up into submission if he’s to retain his Queensland jersey for the decider on July 4.
Brisbane, who welcome back captain Sam Thaiday after a two-game absence, will be desperate for the two competition points before they lose up to five players to the Queensland camp again next week. Their next clash is a tough one against the Sharks – while the Rabbitohs should be at unbackable odds to take down the Panthers in Round 17 even despite losing Greg Inglis and perhaps Taylor to the Queensland squad. Consequently there’s much at stake on Friday night.
Some poor defence and a glut of errors paved the way for the Cowboys’ win over Brisbane last week – the Broncos missed 47 tackles, including 28 in the second half alone, and completed their sets at a poor 62 per cent in the final 40 minutes.
Still, Brisbane will be encouraged by their gritty 20-12 win over the Rabbitohs is Round 4 (see below) when they came back from a 12-point deficit to run away with the contest in the second half.
Meanwhile Souths never really got out of third gear against the cellar-dwelling Eels and will need to lift their intensity if they’re to be competitive in Brisbane’s backyard – they’ve lost eight of their past nine outings at Suncorp Stadium.
Nonetheless a measure of Souths’ form under new coach Michael Maguire is the fact they haven’t been this high on the table this late into a season since 1989.
In Broncos team changes Justin Hodges’ return at centre sees Gerard Beale shift to the wing with Lachlan Maranta, who has filled in admirably in recent weeks, headed back to the Intrust Super Cup. Corey Parker’s leg gash has healed sufficiently for him to be given the green light to take his place, although Ben Hannant has dropped out of the line-up with a thigh strain. In a reshuffle to the team announced on Tuesday, Josh McGuire moves from the No.13 to start at prop, with Parker to lock the scrum. Petero Civoniceva is the other starting prop. Thaiday’s return in the second row sees Ben Te’o hit the extended interchange alongside Dunamis Lui, Ben Hunt, Matt Gillett and Mitchell Dodds.
Meanwhile Rabbitohs Justin Hunt and Dylan Farrell have swapped jerseys this week, with Hunt to play in the centres and Farrell on the wing. Shaune Corrigan and George Burgess are the new faces on their extended bench.
It’s a huge game for Broncos prop Petero Civoniceva who becomes only the 17th player in rugby league history to record 300 first grade appearances (for 164 wins so far).
Brisbane will wear a special pink jersey to mark this week’s special Women in League Round.
Watch Out Broncos: As he is every week, Issac Luke will be a huge threat out of dummy-half. The Kiwi leads all players for dummy-half runs (154) and he has helped his side to six clean line-breaks dashing from the ruck. Also, Souths lead the way in tries scored from the play-the-ball (nine).
Luke made 10 runs from dummy-half against the Eels last week and the last time these sides met he powered to 14 dummy-half runs for 143 metres in his total 174 metres, with four offloads to boot. He ranks third for offloads overall (26).
Dave Taylor is due a huge game. He is capable of greatness every week but often goes off the boil and seems to need a kick in the pants to deliver his best. Expect him to fire up with his Origin career on the line – and for fullback Greg Inglis to help him out inside the Broncos’ 20-metre zone. Taylor has scored eight tries, made nine line-breaks and smashed through 47 attempted tackles in 2012; we’ll be surprised if he doesn’t notch more than seven tackle-breaks and is unable to add to his line-breaks tally. He’ll look to offload too, having made three the last occasion they clashed.
The Broncos need to keep a lid on Inglis, who leads the comp for line-breaks (14). Souths’ climb up the ladder coincides with a heap more involvement from the now No.1 – he’s already overtaken his total receives from last year (78 per cent increase year to year). Inglis has nine wins from 14 games against the Broncos but hasn’t saluted since the 2008 Finals Series.
Souths will target the right side in attack, where they’ve scored 20 tries: the Broncos have leaked 20 tries on that side of the field, compared to just 13 on their right side.
Danger Sign: If the Broncos struggle to penetrate the Souths defence. Brisbane made just one line-break when kept scoreless against the Cowboys last week (their season low); while North Queensland boast the seventh-best defence the Broncos will find the Rabbitohs are even tougher, with the fourth-fewest tackle misses to date (reducing their misses in 2011 by one third).
Watch Out Rabbitohs: Just as Issac Luke is a threat out of dummy-half for Souths, so too is Andrew McCullough for the home team. The Broncos rank second for tries manufactured at the play-the-ball (seven) and actually lead the league for clean line-breaks at the ruck (also seven).
Halves Peter Wallace and Corey Norman will be looking forward to more success after combining for three try assists last time the sides met.
Souths wingers Nathan Merritt and Dylan Farrell can expect a solid workout under the high ball: the Broncos have booted more cross-field bombs than any side (45) – and Souths have the fourth-worst defusal rate (just 43 per cent).
Ben Te’o will be out to punish his future teammates. He has won five of seven games against Souths and will be fuelled by the memory of his hat-trick against them in 2010, the first by any Brisbane forward against the bunnies.
Rested after a quiet game in Origin II, Justin Hodges can create havoc out wide. The centre ranks second in the comp for offloads (29); Souths concede a middle-of-the-pack 11 offloads a game, potentially leaving them vulnerable.
Danger Sign: If Souths halfback Adam Reynolds doesn’t improve his kicking to open space Broncos fullback Josh Hoffman will have a field day – literally. Reynolds is booting a league-low 43 per cent clear of opponents, while Hoffman gains the most metres from kicks (1089, 11 metres a time) and ranks second for total runs (249, or almost 18 a game).
Corey Norman v John Sutton: These two five-eighths run the ball more than all their NRL rivals – including Test star Johnathan Thurston – with their creativity and lead-up work sure to figure in their respective team’s scoring plays.
Norman’s return from his average 9.5 runs a game is stunning – 11 try assists, 10 line-break assists and eight line-breaks, while he’s also crossed for four tries. On the surface Sutton’s return from his NRL-high 134 runs isn’t earth-shattering – three try assists, two line-break assists and four line-breaks – but it’s the work he does creating uncertainty in the opposition before shifting the ball wide to teammate Greg Inglis that counts.
Where It Will Be Won: Making the most of their strong running games. There’s nothing between these sides when it comes to bending the opposition defensive line, with Brisbane ranked second for line-breaks (5.3 per match) and the Rabbitohs third (5.3). Brisbane have the edge in the power game, leading all-comers in tackle-breaks (37.1) while the Rabbitohs aren’t nearly as forceful, ranking ninth in the category (30). The Rabbitohs will need to improve on their average territory gain (1284 metres – the third fewest) or risk being over-run.
The History: Played 26; Broncos 20, Rabbitohs 5, drawn 1. The Broncos have won five of the past eight clashes although it was just three short years ago that Souths racked up their biggest win over Brisbane, saluting 44-12 at Suncorp Stadium. However, the Broncos hold a comfortable 8-2 advantage at their Brisbane base and have won 20 of their past 24 games against the red and green.
The Last Time They Met: The Broncos galloped over the top of the Rabbitohs in the second half of their Round 4 clash at NIB Stadium in Perth to emerge with a 20-12 victory.
Souths raced to a 12-nil lead inside 17 minutes following two tries to right winger Andrew Everingham before Matt Gillett got Brisbane on the scoreboard cleaning up a spilled bomb defusal to cross in the right corner two minutes before halftime.
Josh Hoffman scored a wonderful Broncos try 12 minutes after the break, with Corey Parker and Peter Wallace offering miraculous offloads in the lead-up. That made it 12-10 and they grabbed the lead for the first time when Gerard Beale finished off a quick right-side sweep for a 14-12 scoreline with 10 minutes remaining.
Beale crossed for the match-winner three minutes later after some elusive running and an offload from fullback Hoffman close to the try line.
It was a fast and furious encounter, with the Broncos shading their opponents for offloads (16-13) while the Rabbitohs made six line-breaks to the Broncos’ five.
Josh Hoffman was outstanding for the victors, making 20 runs, 209 metres, two line-breaks and a game-high nine tackle-breaks.
Greg Inglis, playing his first game at fullback for the Rabbitohs, contributed two try assists as well as 148 metres, while Sam Burgess ploughed out 181 metres from 19 fearless hit-ups.
Match Officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Jeff Younis; Video Referee – Steve Clark.
The Way We See It: The Rabbitohs are sailing uncharted waters; it will be interesting to see how they handle the high emotions of the Suncorp cauldron. However, with Sam Thaiday back and the jockeying for key positions in the top eight about to start (they don’t want to lose sight of the Storm who are six points ahead on the ladder), we have to side with the Broncos at home. Brisbane by eight points.
Televised: Channel 9 – Live 7.30pm (Qld), delayed 9.30pm (NSW); Fox Sports 2 – Delayed 1am.
• Statistics: NRL Stats