Broncos v Rabbitohs
Three straight wins have seemingly settled the turbulence that marked the Broncos’ bumpy start to 2013 but fans are about to discover whether Brisbane are truly flying in clear air when they take on the rampant Rabbitohs in front of a packed house on Friday night.
After losing three of their opening four clashes Brisbane have clawed their way back up the NRL pecking order, with successive victories over the Titans, Cowboys and Wests Tigers leaving them sixth on the ladder.
While they have played with more cohesion and flair over the past month, this blockbuster will be a better barometer to their premiership credentials, with second-placed South Sydney clearly the best side in the competition aside from pacesetters Melbourne.
Indeed, only the Storm have been able to lower Souths’ famous colours in 2013, with a 17-10 victory in Round 6. The Rabbitohs recovered from that hiccup in emphatic style last week, showing fierce application to weather Manly’s assault at Brookvale Oval, then skip clear of their rivals to win 20-12.
Brisbane will be looking to add to their daunting head-to-head record against the red and green – the Broncos hold a comfortable 9-2 advantage at their Brisbane base and have won 21 of their past 25 games against the Sydneysiders.
But they’ll have to do it the hard way following the late withdrawals of strike centre Justin Hodges (groin) and interchange forward Josh McGuire (calf) on Thursday. Coach Anthony Griffin has reacted by promoting Jordan Kahu to centre, with Jarrod Wallace hitting the bench.
Souths have an unchanged 17, with Jeff Lima and Justin Hunt added to form a six-man interchange at this stage
Ben Te’o suits up in his first NRL game against the Broncos since heading south at the end of 2012; Te’o was a try-scorer for the Broncos the last time the sides met and will be keen to get one back against his former teammates.
No question this game will be brimming with intensity and physicality – after the working over Greg Inglis received last week it will be interesting to see how Brisbane fare handling his gangly frame in the wrestle. They can ill afford to give away silly or cheap penalties here.
Watch Out Broncos: Greg Inglis continues to cut a swathe through defences and he will pose a threat to the Broncos’ right edge in particular. The rangy No.1 leads all players for tackle-breaks with 45 so far – he’s on track to better his personal mark of 161 set last season. He’s also carved out 1232 metres, the second-highest tally by a player this year, as well as the most kick-return metres (534).
But it’s not just Inglis who Brisbane will need to swamp early – Souths rank second behind the Roosters for average tackle busts, with 29.3 per game. Others who will prove a handful include George Burgess (23), John Sutton (20) and Issac Luke (18).
Five-eighth Sutton goes from strength to strength playing outside calm-and-calculating halfback Adam Reynolds. Sutton is actually playing more like a wide-running back-rower, striding to almost 12 runs a game and averaging 103 metres every 80 minutes. To put those figures in perspective Canterbury’s Josh Reynolds is the next-most prolific runner in a No.6 jersey with nine runs a game, while North Queensland’s Johnathan Thurston ranks second for run metres with 78! No question Sutton will chance his arm at an offload or two – he has 10 so far, and the Broncos’ are having trouble containing second-phase play, conceding the fifth-most offloads by any team (10 a game).
Watch Out Rabbitohs: Souths need to be careful not to gift the Broncos too many turnovers through poor execution because the men wearing gold are unlikely to return the favour – Brisbane are the most-disciplined team in the NRL with the ball in hand, making just eight errors a game.
Brisbane left-side centre Jack Reed is warming into strong form and will look to get his outside man Josh Hoffman into space – no player has tallied more than Reed’s eight line-break assists.
Plays To Watch: The kicking games of the respective No.7s – Souths’ Adam Reynolds has been unflappable punching the ball deep for his team, his 92 kicks and 2449 metres the most off the boot by any halfback. Brisbane’s Peter Wallace ranks seventh with 65 kicks for 1931 metres – and his teammates will be hoping he can emulate his deeds the last time the sides met when he conjured two try assists from clever kicks. Meanwhile Reynolds shares top honours for try assists in 2013 with Mitchell Pearce, the pair each making eight to date.
Other plays to watch include Souths passing deep on decoy plays – it yielded Inglis a try against Manly last week – and Brisbane looking to catch out sleepy Souths defenders with an inside pass one man in from the sidelines inside the opposition 10-metre zone – but for a forward pass call Brisbane would have scored this way when Sam Thaiday and Corey Norman combined last time the sides met.
Key Match-Up: Andrew McCullough v Issac Luke. The battle of the rakes will be a focal point, with McCullough likely to mix a running game from dummy-half with standard feeds to ball-runners and playmakers. He is capable of matching Luke’s jack-in-the-box style, having run 11 times and made four tackle busts in their Round 5 win over the Titans. Meanwhile Luke will do what he does best: dart out of dummy half (10 runs a game for 72 metres on average, the most in the NRL by a hooker), engage the defence (a position-high 18 tackle-breaks) and look to offload (seven so far, second most by a No.9). The scary thing for Brisbane is that despite those numbers Luke has just one line-break assist to his name and is yet to make a try assist or line-break himself.
Where It Will Be Won: The left corner posts at both ends of the field are certain to get a pummelling for the full 80 minutes – this clash pits the season’s co-top try-scorer Nathan Merritt (eight) against the third-ranked Josh Hoffman (seven).
However, it will all start in the engine room. The Broncos boast two relentless carters of the football in Ben Hannant and Corey Parker whose 114 and 112 hit-ups respectively rank them second and fifth among all players. Throw in Parker’s ability to offload (12 to date) and Alex Glenn’s and Sam Thaiday’s triple-figure territory gains per match and Brisbane can lay a solid platform for their speed men to exploit. Ditto the Rabbitohs, who have the magnificent Burgess boys to call on.
The History: Played 27; Broncos 21, Rabbitohs 5, drawn 1. The Broncos have won six of the past nine clashes although it was just four years ago that Souths racked up their biggest win over Brisbane, saluting 44-12 at Suncorp Stadium.
Match Officials: Referees – Shayne Hayne & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Russell Turner & Chris Butler; Video Referees – Chris Ward & Luke Patten.
NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week, including the Broncos v Rabbitohs clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live from 7.30pm; Fox Sports 1 – Delayed 11.30pm.
The Way We See It: It really does depend on which team gets on top early. Brisbane have a cracking record against Souths and will no doubt feed off the support of their huge home crowd. Souths showed last week they have the mettle to take on and beat the best away from home – but Suncorp Stadium is a whole different ball game. Still, the withdrawals of Hodges and McGuire have changed our outlook on this clash. We originally tipped the home team but with that pair absent it could prove to be Souths’ night. Rabbitohs by six points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats.