Broncos v Wests Tigers
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Had you sat down at the start of the year and closely examined the mid-season draw, there is every chance this match would have been pencilled in as a must-see clash of two exciting top-eight sides. Instead, it is must-win as Brisbane and the Wests Tigers desperately try to remain relevant in 2013.
With both sides currently sitting on 10 competition points – already four points outside the top eight – another loss this Monday night would have their finals hopes on life support and fading fast.
It's almost inconceivable that a Broncos outfit boasting the likes of Sam Thaiday, Justin Hodges, Corey Parker, Matt Gillett and Scott Prince should find themselves in such a predicament but after a reasonable start to the year they have now lost four of their past five, including three in a row.
This is rare territory indeed for Brisbane, who have typically arrived at this point of the season among the competition front-runners, providing them the luxury of being able to ride out the gruelling representative period. This time Origin is biting hard.
The good news is that the Broncos have the bye next weekend, so the ‘Baby Broncos' will be spared from the ghosts of their 56-18 loss to the Warriors a fortnight ago. More importantly, it means a win this week will ensure four valuable competition points over the next fortnight and a chance to close the gap on the top eight.
But having now lost consecutive games to Canterbury, the Warriors and Canberra – only one of those without their Origin stars – they will need to raise the bar if they are to get themselves out of their rut.
Wests Tigers find themselves in a slightly different situation. Having now won two games in a row, against North Queensland and Penrith, they might finally start to believe that all is not lost in 2013 following a horror injury toll that has decimated them during the early rounds.
If new coach Mick Potter had envisioned leading a bright new era for the club, the opportunity to make his mark has been incredibly difficult given Keith Galloway, Braith Anasta, Matthew Bell, Marika Koroibete, Chris Lawrence, Tim Moltzen and Matt Utai have all spent lengthy periods on the sidelines. The 30 players they have used in 2013 is the most by any club and their cause won't be helped this week either with captain Robbie Farah still sidelined after suffering eye and cheek injuries in State of Origin I.
That the Tigers managed to come back from 18-4 down away to in-form Penrith last week under these circumstances is quite remarkable – although the improving form of Benji Marshall is a huge plus in their quest to salvage their season.
Still, they face a tough task against a Brisbane side that will be just as determined and with such a young side taking the park, will they have the experience to cope with the pressure?
The Broncos have named the same 17 that went down to Canberra last Monday night although representative prop Ben Hannant completed a training session on Thursday and is likely to come back into the side after missing the past four weeks with a calf injury.
Blake Ayshford returns in the centres for the Tigers, pushing Joel Reddy to the wing in place of Koroibete who dislocated his elbow last weekend.
Watch Out Broncos: Wests Tigers will be hoping for a repeat performance from young centre Tim Simona, who starred in last week's comeback 20-18 win over Penrith. Simona finally crossed for his first career try last week in his 12th appearance – a match-winning effort that saw him brush away four defenders and stand up the fullback in a brilliant 80-metre run. He finished the game with a career-best 181 metres, making a line-break and six tackle-breaks and adding a try assist.
Watch Out Tigers: Just how important is Justin Hodges to the Broncos? Their most lethal attacking weapon has only played eight games in 2013 but Brisbane has won just one game without him. In those eight games he has averaged 132 metres per game, scored three tries, produced five try assists and added 42 tackle-breaks (13th in the NRL).
Plays To Watch: Brisbane will look for every opportunity to get some early ball to Justin Hodges who is lethal in one-on-one situations, but they also have a play on their left edge that has proved extremely successful this year. Usually saved for when they are attacking close to the line, the Broncos will look to win a quick play-the-ball midway between the sideline and the posts and rather than spread the ball right, they will fire a series of lightning-quick passes through the hands with the ultimate goal of putting Josh Hoffman over in the corner. Notably Hoffman is the club's top try-scorer this season with 10.
Where It Will Be Won: Defence is the key in this one. Both sides have had all sorts of trouble holding opponents out this year, with Brisbane conceding 20 points per game and the Tigers a whopping 27.1 points per game. Whichever team make significant improvements on that stat this week will have the inside running to take the two points.
The History: Played 21; Broncos 16, Tigers 4, drawn 1. The Tigers score fewer points on average against Brisbane than any other opponent with 16.8 per game; however the Broncos are conceding more points at home in 2013 than in any other year (25.3). Brisbane have won seven of the past eight games between these two.
Match Officials: Referees – Gavin Badger & Alan Shortall; Sideline Officials – Dave Munro & Peter Gough; Video Referees – Shayne Hayne & Reece Williams.
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 Tigers clash. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live 7pm.
The Way We See It: A crucial match for both sides should see them turn up ready to put on a show, but with home ground advantage and against a side still decimated by injuries the Broncos should be able to get the job done this week. Their form has been poor but this is the first time in three weeks that Brisbane have been able to enjoy a full preparation with their Origin stars available. Broncos by 10 points.
*Statistics: NRL Stats