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Broncos v Sea Eagles
Suncorp Stadium
Sunday 3pm

If there are any vampires lurking within the Broncos team of 2014 we're about to find out, as the boys from Brisbane venture into the daylight for the first time this season.

After a run of 10 Friday night games to start the year, the 'Baby Broncos' chalked up a Saturday night special at Campbelltown last week but get their first shot in the sunshine against a Sea Eagles team freshened up by the week off and sitting pretty alongside the Bulldogs at the top of the table. What is evident by looking at their results through 11 rounds is that the result is not likely to be decided until the very closing stages.

In 11 of their matches played thus far, seven of the Broncos' results have been by a single-figure margin (winning three and losing four) while the Sea Eagles have also had seven single-figure margins in 10 games, winning five and losing just two.
Their latest heart-stopper came courtesy of a Daly Cherry-Evans field goal against the Knights in Round 10 and as long as he comes through Origin I intact, DCE will be a central figure in his second game at Suncorp in the space of five days.

Much of these close finishes can be attributed to the defensive resolve displayed by both teams, a trademark of Manly sides for the past decade but a dramatic turnaround for the Broncos of 2014. Last year the Broncos were ranked last for missed tackles per game with 27 and leaked 19.9 points per game but in 2014 are ranked fifth best for points conceded per game with 17.6, one spot behind the Sea Eagles.

Defence is very much an attitude and despite the continued rumblings around coach Anthony Griffin and the departure of long-serving football manager Andrew Gee, the Broncos have shown plenty of grit and determination without the ball thus far and will need that to continue against last year's runners up.

Griffin has named his three Maroons Origin representatives – Corey Parker, Matt Gillett and Justin Hodges – but there will be a severe question mark hanging over Hodges, who was unable to train with the Queensland team for the first five days of Origin camp.

Sam Thaiday returns from his calf injury in the second row, while Martin Kennedy will play for Ipswich in the Intrust Super Cup for the second week in succession, not named on Griffin's seven-man bench.

For the visitors, Jamie Lyon and Kieran Foran both make welcome returns but Glenn Stewart remains on the sidelines. Cherry-Evans is out with a hip complaint suffered in Origin, while Blues forward Anthony Watmough is a scratching with a torn bicep.

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Watch Out Sea Eagles: In an age where dummy-half running has become its own highly-valued skill, Daniel Vidot's size and power brings a great launching pad for the start of the Broncos' sets, particularly coming out from their own end. He hasn't scored a try since Round 2 and the line break drought stretches all the way back to the season opener but twice he has run for more than 200 metres and last week against the Tigers he ran for 198 metres. He won't want to go too many more games without crossing the stripe, so Manly flyer Peta Hiku can expect to have his hands full on Sunday.

Watch Out Broncos: No, not just for the blind-sided bone-rattler Steve Matai is famous for, but for the completeness of the Manly centre's contribution in recent weeks. With Lyon out injured, more responsibility fell onto the 29-year-old's bruised and battered shoulders and he responded with some fantastic displays. He has come up with three try assists and five line-break assists in his past four games, is averaging almost four tackle breaks per game over the past six rounds and 118.6 metres per game over the season. If Justin Hodges pulls up well enough to take his place for the Broncos, their battle will be worth the price of admission alone.

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Plays To Watch: The Broncos have adopted a very fluid attacking structure throughout 2014, with Ben Hunt's game-management complemented by shared duties at second and third receiver by Josh Hoffman, Ben Barba and Justin Hodges. Coach Anthony Griffin has been giving Hodges more opportunity to explore opportunities on both sides of the field, so his inclusion is critical in adding an extra dimension to their attacking structure. Without him they could struggle.

Manly's attack will also have better balance with the return of Foran at five-eighth. Matai and Jorge Taufua take a power of stopping on the left and look for Matai to try to entice Broncos right winger Dale Copley in off his flank and either set Taufua free on the outside or open up space for him back on the inside.

Where It Will Be Won: Having Lyon back in the side adds further creativity and strike to Manly's right side and the try-scoring exploits of Hiku have become a feature, whether he's at fullback, centre or on the wing. Normally having Cherry-Evans and Foran playing either side of the ruck, Manly test every aspect of the opposition defence, which is why they rank third for line breaks while at the same time ranking third for line breaks conceded. The Broncos are averaging almost 30 missed tackles per game and are ranked eighth for line breaks conceded, so if their scramble defence is not up to scratch, the Sea Eagles could pile some points on.

The History: Played 37; Broncos 17, Sea Eagles 19, Drawn 1. The Sea Eagles are one of only two teams in the 26-year history of the Broncos to boast a winning record against the Brisbane boys but it was an inauspicious start. The defending premiers were the first to face the new boys in 1988 and were promptly dealt a 44-10 hiding, with Wally Lewis scoring twice and Terry Matterson scoring 24 points. In 18 matches between these two teams at Suncorp Stadium, the ledger stands at nine wins apiece but Manly's recent record in enemy territory is extraordinary, with six wins from their past seven visits to Brisbane.

Match Officials: Referee – Ben Cummins; Assistant Referee – Dave Munro; Touch Judges – Grant Atkins & Russell Turner; Video Referees – Steve Chiddy & Ben Galea.

Televised: Channel Nine – Delayed 4pm.

How We See It: The Broncos were courageous in snaring the win over the Wests Tigers last weekend but they will need more than courage to topple Manly. The Sea Eagles showed when they beat the Roosters 8-0 that they can grind it out with anyone but also carve sides to shreds when the mood arises, as they did against the Raiders in Round 8. The Broncos attack is improving but until Ben Barba gets back to somewhere near his best, they'll struggle to go with the very top teams. Sea Eagles by 10 points.

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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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