Bulldogs v Broncos preview

Canterbury Bankstown Bulldogs v Brisbane Broncos
ANZ Stadium
Sunday 3pm

It’s verging on do-or-die time for the ailing Broncos – and they couldn’t have picked a tougher side to face as they fight to save their season than competition favourites Canterbury.

The Bulldogs have conquered all-comers over the past three months, becoming the only side this season to notch 10 consecutive wins with their comfortable 26-10 defeat of Newcastle last weekend maintaining their two-point buffer at the top of the table.

It’s remarkable to think that only eight weeks ago they trailed Melbourne by a full six competition points. Since then – with their forwards given the green light to display their skills, recently arrived three-quarters Krisnan Inu and Sam Perrett impressing and Ben Barba producing the incredible with each outing – they’ve established themselves as the side everyone else is striving to match.

And that’s bad news for a Broncos side that has headed in the opposite direction.

Having started the 2012 season as one of the most consistent teams in the NRL, Brisbane have hit a brick wall since the end of the Origin period with injury, patchy form and a lack of confidence eroding their title hopes and consigning them to just a single win from their past five games.

Six weeks ago the Broncos were level on points with Canterbury just four points behind Melbourne and sitting comfortably in third; now they’ve slipped to seventh, sit eight points behind this week’s opponents – and could even miss the finals altogether if they don’t arrest their slide soon.

Injuries haven’t been kind, but the more pressing concern for coach Anthony Griffin would be the dramatic drop in form of halves Peter Wallace and Corey Norman – which has forced him to experiment with Ben Hunt as the starting five-eighth – and a leaky defensive line that has conceded 70 points in consecutive losses to Parramatta and Canberra.

The consequences of a similar effort against Ben Barba and the Bulldogs this week would be disastrous.

Kris Keating makes his return from a hamstring injury in the halves with Joel Romelo dropping back to the bench. Aiden Tolman has also moved back into the starting 13 after coming off the bench last week with Martin Taupau part of a five-man bench.

The Broncos have lost Corey Parker and Alex Glenn after both suffered injuries in last week’s loss to Canberra although they welcome back star centre Justin Hodges, with Ben Te’o moving into the back row. However, in more bad news star fullback Josh Hoffman has been dropped after being late to training during the week; Corey Norman will fill in at the back.

Petero Civoniceva has been named to start up front, with Dunamis Lui coming into the squad on the bench.

Notably, Canterbury have scored 20 points or more in each of their 10 consecutive wins.

Watch Out Bulldogs: The Bulldogs have scored more tries from kicks than any other side this season with 23 but they may have to look to other sources this week given that Brisbane are the most efficient side in the competition when it comes to defusing all kicks. The Broncos have defused 126 of 165 attacking kicks this season at 76 per cent and are particularly adept with short kicks: they’ve defused all eight chips put in against them in 2012, 44 of 55 grubbers (80 per cent), two from two banana kicks, and six from seven ‘short’ kicks.

Danger Sign: The Bulldogs’ defence has proven stout to date but you can guarantee Brisbane will give it a thorough test whenever they get into close range. The Broncos have crossed for 46 tries from within 10 metres of opponents’ try-lines in 2012, the most by any team. Back-rowers Sam Thaiday and Ben Te’o (six tries in 16 games) will be the biggest threats on the right and left edges respectively.

Watch Out Broncos: Canterbury’s ability to create second-phase play has been a key feature of their game this season. They have produced the second-highest number of offloads in 2012 with 246 – just three behind Cronulla – and have also made the second-most line-breaks from an offload with 21 (Souths lead the way with 25). Brisbane must work hard to prevent the Bulldogs from offloading at will.

Danger Sign: Brisbane will be punished if they don’t produce a strong kick chase because no side scores as many tries on their kick returns as the Bulldogs. Des Hasler’s men have scored seven tries from kick returns and also lead the league for tries from within their own half with 14.

Josh Morris v Justin Hodges: The two Origin centres rekindle their interstate rivalry in what shapes as a thrilling one-on-one battle this Sunday. Morris has been in scintillating form this season on the Bulldogs’ left edge, scoring 16 tries and making 17 line-breaks from his 20 appearances while Hodges has reaped the rewards of a mostly injury-free season and remains one of the most destructive centres in the NRL.

Where It Will Be Won: Around the rucks. If Brisbane can shut down Canterbury’s second-phase play and prevent their big men from showing their skills they will give themselves a very real chance of an upset – but let them have their way and the speed of the Bulldogs’ little men will be too much to handle. 

The History: Played 41; Broncos 23, Bulldogs 17, drawn 1. There is very little between these two sides over the years with their past eight clashes bringing four wins apiece. Brisbane have won five of nine meetings at ANZ Stadium.

The Last Time They Met: It’s been the best part of 15 months since these two sides last went head to head, with Brisbane making it seven wins from as many games with their 20-12 defeat of the Bulldogs at Suncorp Stadium in Round 8 last year.

In front of a crowd of more than 30,000, the Broncos produced a superb kicking game in a three-tries-to-two victory that ensured they remained firmly at the top of the NRL ladder.

Brisbane took an early lead when Corey Parker kicked a penalty goal in just the third minute but it was the brilliance of Darren Lockyer that saw them cross for the first try of the game when he threw a superb inside ball for Ben Hannant to burst clear before backing up to score alongside the posts.

Ben Barba then produced a moment of magic when he stepped through and worked his way past three defenders before putting in a well-placed kick for Michael Lett to score and close the gap to just two points at the break.

But two quick tries early in the second half broke the game wide open for the home side.

The first came directly from a shocking Lett mistake – the Bulldogs winger passing to no-one and Dale Copley capitalising to score in the corner. And three minutes later Gerard Beale was over after a scrappy lead-up to extend the score to 20-6.

Barba scored an opportunistic try from a Corey Payne offload with 30 minutes remaining but neither side troubled the scorer for the remainder of the game.

Canterbury missed 37 tackles and ran for just 1039 metres to Brisbane’s 1614 in a disappointing performance by the visitors.

Hannant was superb for Brisbane, making 181 metres from 21 runs and adding 30 tackles while Beale topped the territory count with 221 metres.

David Stagg and Michael Ennis worked tirelessly for the Bulldogs with 60 and 56 tackles respectively.

Match Officials: Referees – Tony Archer & Gavin Badger; Sideline Officials – Paul Holland & Jason Walsh; Video Referee – Sean Hampstead. 

The Way We See It: It’s a huge ask for Brisbane to upset this Canterbury side. While the Bulldogs are riding high on the back of 10 consecutive wins, Anthony Griffin’s men are battling a crisis of confidence and a growing injury toll that makes this a daunting mission. We can’t see them getting anywhere near the premiership favourites this time around. Bulldogs by eight points.

Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed 4pm; Fox Sports 2 – Delayed 6pm.