Brisbane Broncos v Sydney Roosters
It has been 15 years since these two teams met in a grand final and the early indicators are that we could be headed for a rematch in 2015.
Despite suffering two losses to the Rabbitohs and Sharks, the Roosters remain many people's pick as the team to beat while the Broncos have bounced back from a Round 1 reality check to compile a perfect record over the past month of football.
When the Broncos last met the Roosters they were sitting pretty in second spot with two straight wins to start 2014, but their confidence to close games out took something of a fatal blow when they gave up two tries in the last five minutes to go down 30-26.
Senior Broncos say they are a tougher, grittier team 12 months on and Friday night gives them the perfect chance to prove it.
Injury has hit them where it hurts with captain Justin Hodges (hamstring), prop Adam Blair (corked thigh) and fullback Jordan Kahu (hamstring) unavailable for a second straight week with coach Wayne Bennett naming the same 18 on Tuesday as he did last week.
The Roosters have been bolstered by the return of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves but will be without Aidan Guerra (broken jaw) for as long as six weeks, Mitchell Aubusson has been named to start in the back row in his place.
Watch Out Broncos
Corey Parker himself, the man of a million tackles, says Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is the hardest player in the NRL to tackle so who are we to argue. You'll certainly get no argument from the Sharks, who gave him a glimpse of a gap in their defensive line last Sunday and didn't get close to touching him let alone halting his progress. RTS's try was the Roosters first and didn't come until the 65th minute, emphasising how dangerous he is at all times of the game. No player has run for more metres through five rounds; the Broncos need to find a way to keep Roger quiet.
Watch Out Roosters: In a game between two resilient defensive units, it will be the little men in the latter stages of each half who pose the greatest threat, and the Broncos have a couple of very handy ones in Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima. The spring returned to Milford's step with a try-scoring double against the Titans and his 100 support runs are in the top five in the NRL through five rounds. Having made his debut in Round 2 Nikorima is also growing in confidence in his role off the bench, making a linebreak against the Titans through the middle of the ruck and running 28 metres from two runs in 10 minutes of game time. Their contributions may not be many on Friday, but they will be significant.
Key Match-Up: Josh McGuire v Jared Waerea-Hargreaves. Two sons of army men head up a frontline of their own on Friday night with plenty of pressure on McGuire to stand up to the big Roosters pack in the early stages. Sam Thaiday is likely to drop back to the bench to allow Jarrod Wallace to start at kick-off but it will be left to McGuire to set the tone for the Broncos' men in the middle. Troubled by an ankle injury earlier this week, McGuire is coming off a barnstorming display against the Titans where he ran for 117 metres from just 12 carries along with 37 tackles while Waerea-Hargreaves missed the Roosters' loss to the Sharks. Get the fireworks ready.
History: Played 39; Broncos 24, Roosters 15. The past eight games between these clubs have been split four apiece but the Broncos' arrival to the competition in 1988 coincided with tough times at Bondi, with the Brisbane outfit winning nine of the first 10 meetings. But it's not all bad news for the Roosters; they haven't lost to the Broncos at Suncorp Stadium since Round 16, 2003 when tries to Gorden Tallis and Petero Civoniceva carried Brisbane to a 10-8 win.
Did You Know? The crowd of 94,277 that attended the 2000 Telstra Premiership Grand Final between the Broncos and Roosters is the second-highest attendance for a grand final in the game's history in Australia, the 1999 decider between the Dragons and Storm drawing 107,999 through the ANZ Stadium gates. Due to the Sydney Olympics it was also the first grand final to be played in the month of August since the decider between St George and Wests in 1963.
What Are The Odds: Broncos $2 v Roosters $1.80. Sportsbet punters can't decide who’ll win this – the two sides have been equally backed across nearly all markets so it looks like 1-12 for either team might be the way to go. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton. Assistant Referee: Grant Atkins. Touch Judges: Russell Turner and Michael Wise. Video Referees: Shayne Hayne and Luke Patten.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (NSW and Qld)
The Way We See It: A team on a roll against the premiership elect stung by a last-start upset; this has all the hallmarks of one of the great clashes of the first six weeks of the season. The Broncos are riding a four-game winning streak on the back of an unyielding defensive line while the power of the Roosters forwards is matched only by the speed of their outside backs. The Broncos go into this game without Justin Hodges, Darius Boyd, Adam Blair, Jordan Kahu and James Gavet, and that might be all that stops them from winning. Roosters by four points.