Broncos v Dragons preview

Broncos v Dragons
Suncorp Stadium
Sunday, 3pm

This is the last roll of the dice for Brisbane. Perhaps slightly unlucky to only draw with Newcastle last weekend after leading for the majority of the game, they still find themselves four points outside the top eight and probably needing to win all five to sneak into the finals.

That’s not completely out of the question. After a tough run during the State of Origin period, their form over the past two weeks has been very good and if they can build on that it’s not beyond them to perform a minor miracle.

But first things first – the Dragons.

All things being equal, Brisbane should be feeling pretty good about this clash. Playing some quality football and back on home turf this week, they will appreciate that the opportunity is there for them to start this final five-week block of the regular season on a high. Working in their favour, too, is the fact that St George Illawarra are now well and truly out of finals contention. Not only do they have little to play for other than pride, it will be interesting to see what last week’s capitulation against the Bulldogs has done to their confidence.

Leading 20-8 after 50 minutes, they fell apart to concede five late tries and go down 39-20. History says they might have some trouble picking themselves back up after that one.

Still, it’s up to the Broncos to get the job done and keep their season alive. Credit must go to coach Anthony Griffin, who has shown great loyalty to his players in 2013 but made some significant changes to his key positions when it was needed a fortnight ago. With Josh Hoffman now back in the No.1 jersey and Ben Hunt at halfback, they look a rejuvenated side. And any team with Justin Hodges fit and firing must be considered a danger.

The equation is simple for Brisbane. If they win this one they can start thinking about what needs to be done to make a run to the finals. If they lose, well, they probably don’t deserve to be there anyway.

Mitchell Dodds has been ruled out of the Broncos side with a knee injury, with Ben Hannant moving into the starting side after his successful return from injury last week. Griffin has named a seven-man bench that includes Scott Anderson, Jarrod Wallace and Nick Slyney as the extra men.

Dragons coach Steve Price has shuffled his forward pack with Ben Creagh moving from the second row to the front row in place of Leeson Ah Mau who drops back to the bench. Bronson Harrison returns to the side in the second row. Atelea Vea drops out of the squad.

Incredibly, this is the first Sunday afternoon fixture the Broncos have hosted since September 2011. They require four tries to make it 800 scored at Suncorp Stadium.

Watch Out Broncos: The Broncos have already claimed that they will be on “Dugan watch” this weekend, which makes sense. After all, the Dragons have struggled to cross the stripe in recent years but Dugan’s arrival mid-season has provided them with a much-needed strike weapon. Dugan’s ability to spark the St George Illawarra attack has been a real highlight in recent months. He scored two brilliant solo tries against the Bulldogs last Monday night to take his tally to six from nine games. Incredibly, despite playing half as many games for the Dragons as many of his teammates, he tops the club for tackle-breaks in 2013 with 63 and ranks second for line-breaks (seven) as well as averaging 181 metres per game.

Watch Out Dragons: Young winger Corey Oates has made an incredible impact for the Broncos since being called up to the NRL squad. In four games this season he has averaged 145 metres, scored two tries and made four line-breaks although he has been particularly impressive the past two weeks. Against North Queensland he ran for 177 metres and made three line-breaks while last week against Newcastle he made a game-high 209 metres.

Plays To Watch: The Justin Hodges dummy-half run. Hodges is one of the most prolific dummy-half runners in the NRL but he is particularly dangerous close to the line where his speed and power make him extremely difficult to contain.

Watch too for Josh Dugan to take the line on himself in centre-field when given an opportunity close to the try line.

Key Match-Up: Josh Hoffman v Josh Dugan. Broncos fullback Hoffman has impressed since returning to the No.1 jersey two weeks ago – much like his namesake in the Red V. There are similarities between these two: both are at their best returning the football at pace where they love to get their team onto the front foot at the start of their set of six.

Where It Will Be Won: It will be interesting to see the two respective back rows go head to head given how important they are to their sides. The Broncos have looked a different team since Origin with Corey Parker, Matt Gillett and Sam Thaiday back in the fold. All three have topped 100 metres in their outings against the Cowboys and Knights. The Dragons will also be looking to the likes of Trent Merrin and Bronson Harrison to make an impact. Merrin has been superb in 2013 with an average 143 metres and 33 tackles per game.

The History: Played 29; Broncos 16, Dragons 13. Brisbane boasts a great record of late against St George Illawarra with five wins in a row, while the Dragons have lost their past five games at Suncorp Stadium.

Match Officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Gavin Reynolds; Sideline Officials – Michael Wise & Clayton Sharpe; Video Referees – Ashley Klein & Neil Wharton.

NRL Live 2013 App: Gives you access to every NRL game this season on your iPhone, iPad or Android smartphone as it’s being broadcast on TV, with up to six live games each week. Plus latest live scores, breaking news, comprehensive match highlights and full match replays.

Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed, 4pm.

The Way We See It: The Broncos have looked pretty good the past two weeks and with much more to play for than their opponents this week, they should prove too good. The Dragons suffered a deflating defeat last week after holding a match-winning lead against Canterbury and that will make it even tough to come back and do it all again this Sunday. Broncos by 12 points.

*Statistics: NRL Stats