Dragons v Broncos preview
St George Illawarra Dragons v Brisbane Broncos
If someone told you six weeks ago that Friday's top-four blockbuster between the Dragons and Broncos would be one of the matches of Round 7, you would have told them to take a Panadol and go have a lie down.
However, given the improvement both sides have exhibited since the opening round of the 2015 Telstra Premiership season, it's clear to see why Channel Nine has decided to televise this match live into lounge rooms across both Queensland and New South Wales ahead of the all-Sydney clash between the Bulldogs and Sea Eagles.
You'd have to throwback to the early 1990s to witness the last time a match between the Dragons and Broncos at Kogarah garnered so much pre-game attention, although given the recent form of these sides it comes as little surprise.
The table-topping Broncos are riding high on the back of a five-match winning streak while third-placed St George Illawarra have won four on the bounce courtesy of an impregnable defence.
In team news, Dragons coach Paul McGregor has made one change with Will Matthews coming in for the suspended Tyson Frizell while Jason Nightingale remains sidelined with a foot injury sustained during last weekend's warm-up.
For the Broncos, captain Justin Hodges returns from a hamstring injury in the centres; shifting Dale Copley onto the wing with Corey Oates dropping to the bench in place of the suspended Jarrod Wallace.
In milestones, Broncos Jack Reed and Alex Glenn play in games 100 and 150 respectively; Daniel Vidot is only one try away from his 50th and Corey Parker requires five goals to reach 500 in the NRL.
Watch out Dragons: Apart from scoring a try and perhaps kicking an unlikely field-goal, the only thing Sam Thaiday failed to do against the Roosters was grab a pen and paper and force Wayne Bennett into inking him a new Broncos contract.
Publicly criticised by his coach for a lack of discipline in the season opener against Souths, the 29-year-old was dropped to the bench for the next four games before earning a reprieve at prop against the Roosters.
The 215-game veteran made 127 metres and 37 tackles last weekend and did so in the type of bustling fashion Broncos' fans have become accustomed to over the past 12 seasons.
Watch out Broncos: Benji Marshall is starting to show the scintillating form he demonstrated on a consistent basis during his 10 years at Wests Tigers.
Now 30, the Keebra Park junior is contracted to the Dragons until the end of next season and given his vintage display against the Bulldogs, Marshall is getting closer to the Benji of old.
The 2005 premiership winner made two line breaks and two try assists last weekend, including the final bullet-like pass that saw winger Peter Mata'utia cross in the 34th minute.
With halves partner Gareth Widdop continuing to play his no frills, anchor-type role of directing the Dragons across the park; it enables Marshall to try some more off-the-cuff plays which can cause the opposition headaches.
Key Match-Up: Mitch Rein v Andrew McCullough
Not renowned for doing anything flashy or brilliant, both these No.9s are consistent performers and one of the first names selected on the team sheet every Tuesday.
Since making his debut for the Dragons at the beginning of 2011, Rein, who turns 25 later this month, has played 90 NRL games out of a possible total of 104.
The Dragons' 2010 under-20s player of the year had a decent outing against the 'Dogs making 38 metres, 34 tackles, two tackle busts, one offload, one line break and handled the Steeden on 88 occasions.
For Brisbane, McCullough has played 20-plus games per season since 2009 after making his debut the previous year. The 25-year-old made his 150th NRL appearance against the Sharks in Round 2 and had another solid outing last weekend with 86 metres and 45 tackles.
The History: Played 32; St George Illawarra 13, Brisbane 19.
The Broncos currently have a stranglehold over the Dragons, winning their eight previous clashes dating back to Round 21, 2010. Surprisingly, this is the first Dragons-Broncos clash to be played at Kogarah since Round 12, 2007 and on that occasion the home team won 11-4 with former flame Jamie Soward shining on his Dragons' debut.
Justin Hodges, Corey Parker and Ben Creagh are the only survivors left from that June evening lining up on Friday night.
Did You Know: Ben Hunt has never kicked a field-goal in 120 NRL games and after two shabby attempts against the Roosters, it's clear to see why.
In contrast, 222-game veteran Benji Marshall has kicked 12 field goals which have all come from the past 119 NRL matches he's played since booting his first in 2010. Two of those have been kicked in the past fortnight.
What Are The Odds: Dragons $2.20 v Broncos $1.67.
Sportsbet has taken nearly twice as much money on the Broncos despite St George-Illawarra’s excellent form of late. It’s all Brisbane at the line as well, where they’re conceding 2.5 points. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin. Assistant Referee: Gavin Morris. Touch Judges: Nick Beashel and Brett Suttor. Video Referees: Bernard Sutton and Luke Phillips.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (Qld & NSW)
The Way We See It: There's no doubting the defensive capabilities of these sides so the outcome of the match could come down to a flash of attacking brilliance.
There are match winners on both teams with Hunt, Hodges, Marshall, Widdop, Josh Dugan and Anthony Milford all capable of pulling something out of nothing.
It's likely to come down to which side can take their scoring chances; the Broncos demonstrated last week their willingness to take the easy two points on offer by kicking three penalty goals against the Roosters and this tactic could prove the difference again should the Dragons lose discipline while defending their try line. Broncos by 8.