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Canberra Raiders v Brisbane Broncos
Canberra Stadium
Sunday 2pm

The saddle hasn’t shifted so much as almost fallen off the Broncos as they continue to reel from the post-Origin letdown that threatens to hobble their premiership dream.

Brisbane were diabolical in going down 42-22 to the Eels at Suncorp Stadium last Monday night, their worst loss in two years under coach Anthony Griffin. Indeed Griffin must have done a double-take at the stats sheet that showed they missed a staggering 64 tackles against the competition cellar-dwellers.

It was a squandered opportunity that could come back to haunt them should they fail to make the all-important top four – the 20-point rout, their fourth loss from their past six games, leaves them treading water in fifth place on 26 competition points, level with the Cowboys and Sea Eagles and with the Sharks nipping at their heels just one point back.

Meanwhile split-personality Canberra’s ‘Mr Hyde’ reared his ugly head at home base last Sunday, with a 36-6 defeat to the Knights leaving the Green Machine the mountainous task of needing to win all five of their remaining games to advance to the semi-finals.

In a huge blow up front, Canberra have lost Tom Learoyd-Lahrs to a hamstring injury from this week’s Close The Gap Round clash, his place in the starting line-up filled by Dane Tilse with Sam Mataora the new face on the interchange bench. 

Meanwhile ongoing injuries to Justin Hodges and Corey Parker leave Brisbane mentor Griffin (whose 52nd game in charge last week eclipsed Ivan Henjak to leave him the second-longest serving coach) with little choice but to reinvest in the bulk of the side slaughtered by the Eels – the exception the welcome return of penetrative fullback Josh Hoffman from suspension, replacing Luke Capewell.

Watch Out Raiders: Brisbane really missed Josh Hoffman’s thrust from the back last week, particularly on kick returns. Hoffman is a wind-up dynamo who has made more kick-return runs (131) and metres (1458) than any player. Plus he ranks second for overall running metres (average 154) and third in the league for total runs (316). Hoffman starred in Brisbane’s victory over the Raiders the last time they met (see below), running 26 times for 245 metres. Meanwhile Canberra’s Sam Williams and Josh McCrone are just 48 per cent accurate at kicking away from opponents in 2012 (the third-worst rate in the comp).

Corey Norman is another Bronco with fond memories of playing the Raiders – he scored two tries, made a try assist and two line-breaks at their most recent match-up. 

Danger Sign: Any time the Broncos head right. The Raiders have leaked 45 tries on the right edge, nine more than the next most conceded by Parramatta. Brisbane hammered the region to the last time they met Canberra, with Sam Thaiday, Matt Gillett and Ben Hannant all crossing for tries from close range. 

Watch Out Broncos: Brisbane’s defence, a standout feature of their game for the first half of the season, is now bordering on embarrassment week to week. Through Round 13 the Broncos ranked second for effecting tackles, with just 26 misses per game. Entering this week’s clash they’ve dropped to sixth with 32 misses – and over the past three games, including a win over the Warriors, they’ve missed on average 52 tackles through 80 minutes! 

The Broncos have been the benchmark for keeping the opposition down the other end of the park, surrendering the fewest metres each week (1307). Although they still cling to that No.1 ranking, over the past three weeks they have gifted their opponents an average 1469 metres a game – that’s 20 metres more than the worst-ranked Eels’ season average! And they’ve conceded more than six line-breaks a game, too.

Clearly improvement is needed – not just modest improvement but quantum-leap stuff. When on song the Raiders are no popgun attacking outfit (average 21 points per game). It may seem incredible, given the Bulldogs’ stellar form, but the Raiders have actually scored more tries from line-breaks than any side (36, one more than the ’Dogs).

Also, the Broncos’ kickers need to get deeper when receiving the ball or else charge-downs will continue to hurt them. The Broncos have conceded one charge-down per game in 2012. 

Danger Sign: It’s likely Canberra will try to run around the Broncos out wide, hoping to expose makeshift centres Alex Glenn and Ben Te’o as well as the inexperienced Lachlan Maranta. In particular their centres Jarrod Croker and Blake Ferguson will pose a threat; Croker (14 tries, 14 line-breaks) has been instrumental in helping his side to a whopping 36 tries down the left edge, while Ferguson has proven the toughest centre to fell (NRL-high 87 tackle-breaks).      

David Shillington v Petero Civoniceva: Two Queensland engine room team-mates lock horns one last time before Civoniceva’s retirement at season’s end. Shillington’s offloads (21, second most by a prop) have created plenty of opportunities for the Green Machine and his starch up the guts (117 metres, most territory by a Raiders forward) has been invaluable. Shillo needs 101 metres for 15 kilometres of career runs. Meanwhile out-of-sorts Civoniceva will be focused on getting back into form to ensure he exits the league on a high. He’s a lot better than his 10 runs for 84 metres each week. Don’t expect him to miss too many tackles here after the embarrassment of missing seven against the Eels.

Where It Will Be Won: Attitude. Both teams were woefully off the pace in both their focus and application last week; we have no doubt the side that regroups and shows resolve from the get-go will be the team that salutes here. In particular the defence in the early exchanges should provide a good gauge – last week the Broncos missed 31 tackles against the Eels in the first 40 minutes alone, while the Raiders were almost as bad against the Knights, falling off 26 tackles before the halftime siren.    

The History: Played 42; Broncos 24, Raiders 17, drawn 1. The Broncos have won five of the past eight games including the past three. However, it was just four years ago that the Raiders secured their biggest win over the Broncos, with a 56-nil pasting at Canberra Stadium. The Green Machine boast a 10-8 advantage in the nation’s capital, with one match drawn.  

The Last Time They Met: The Broncos defeated the Raiders 30-6 at Suncorp Stadium in Round 7.

The home fans were stunned into silence when Joe Picker crossed off a Josh McCrone grubber kick for a 6-nil lead with just five minutes gone. However, that would be the visitors’ only joy.

The Broncos roared back into the contest with tries to Sam Thaiday, Ben Hannant, Matt Gillett and Corey Norman for a 20-6 lead at halftime. Tellingly each of their four-pointers was scored from close range and involved a simple pass to a support player hitting a hole at pace. 

The Broncos increased their lead when Ben Hunt finished a long-range raid in the 53rd minute before Corey Norman bagged his second try of the night when latching onto a grubber kick underneath the goalposts to round out the scoring.

The game marked the Broncos’ best defensive effort of 2012 – they tallied just 13 missed tackles all evening. Meanwhile the Raiders leaked 38 tackle misses.

The Broncos also dominated in attack, registering seven unanswered line-breaks and a whopping 448 more running metres.

Brisbane were best served by fullback Josh Hoffman, who ran a staggering 26 times for 245 metres, and effervescent five-eighth Norman.

Fullback Reece Robinson was the best of the beaten bunch, making 173 metres.

Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Dave Abood & Adam Gee; Video Referee – Rod Lawrence. 

The Way We See It: Canberra have won just six of their past 20 home games – little wonder they post the lowest average home crowd of a 10,045 per week. They’ll need all of those fans plus plenty of others in full voice to help lift them here.

The Broncos need to make a statement to prove to themselves and the other contenders that they won’t be simply making up the numbers come the playoffs. You can guarantee their ears will still be ringing from the spray they copped from coach Griffin. They have to get back in the hunt – or else. Broncos by 12 points. 

Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 2pm. 

Statistics: NRL Stats

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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