Broncos v Panthers preview
Brisbane Broncos v Penrith Panthers
Friday 8 May 7.35pm
With the representative round done and dusted both Brisbane and Penrith need to add another two Telstra Premiership points onto their tally for contrasting reasons.
For the Broncos, Friday's clash represents an opportunity to gallop clear at the top of the ladder with the second-placed Dragons breathing fire down their necks.
The eighth-placed Panthers need a win keep their place within the top eight and also maintain their chances of clinching consecutive top-four finishes for the first time since 2004.
Both sides had a handful of troops playing over the rep round – Brisbane have Corey Parker, Josh McGuire and Joe Ofahengaue backing up, while Penrith have six players who played over the weekend.
However, much of the pre-match hype surrounds the imminent return of Brisbane fullback Darius Boyd, who has made a speedy recovery from an Achilles injury sustained in pre-season – two months ahead of schedule.
The 27-year-old has been training strongly for a number of weeks and, although not named by Wayne Bennett, could still make a shock appearance on Friday night after receiving the all clear from Brisbane's medical staff.
If Boyd decides to delay his comeback for a further week, Jordan Kahu will return from a hamstring injury at fullback with Lachlan Maranta moving to the wing, replacing Dale Copley.
Alex Glenn makes an earlier than expected return from a fractured eye socket, replacing Test back-rower Sam Thaiday who serves a one-match ban for a crusher tackle on New Zealand's Martin Taupau.
Other than positional changes, Penrith head up to Suncorp Stadium with the same 17 that defeated Cronulla 26-18 in Round 8.
First choice halves Jamie Soward (back) and Peter Wallace (knee) have not been named by Panthers coach Ivan Cleary despite speculation they were in line for a return.
In-form fullback Matt Moylan is nursing dislocated fingers from Sunday's City-Country match but insisted via his Twitter account that he'd be right for Friday's clash.
Elijah Taylor (knee), James Segeyaro (elbow), Dean Whare (hamstring), Josh Mansour (knee), Brent Kite (leg) and Jamal Idris (ACL) all remain sidelined for the injury-ravaged Panthers.
In milestones, former Broncos ball boy turned first-grader Lachlan Maranta plays his 50th NRL game after debuting in Round 14, 2012.
Watch out Broncos: Despite nursing a hand injury, Matt Moylan is clearly the main attacking threat facing the Broncos on Friday night. The Panthers fullback has been a mainstay for his side so far this season and led the team brilliantly in their win over Cronulla without the likes of fellow 'spine' members Soward, Segeyaro and Wallace. So far Moylan is averaging 139 running metres in 2015 (up 25 metres on last year) and has made 10 try assists, 10 line-break assists and four line breaks, while scoring two tries and booting 17 goals.
Watch out Panthers: Love him or loathe him, the Kangaroos could've done with someone like Justin Hodges in their team after their third-straight loss against the Kiwis. A lack of playing time and a view towards the future was what ultimately cost the 32-year-old a place on Australia's right edge for the Anzac Test.
Australia's loss is Brisbane's gain and with a week to rest his weary body, the 237-game veteran can unleash against an inexperienced Penrith three-quarter line. Hodges has only one try from six games this season but has made 17 tackle breaks, four try assists and 32 dummy-half runs – only four runs short of hooker Andrew McCullough.
Key Match-Up: The battle of the halves. It remains to be seen whether Ivan Cleary will name either Soward or Wallace on Friday night but if he decides to stick with incumbent halves Isaac John and William Smith, he'll do so with the most inexperienced halves pairing in the competition with only 41 NRL games between them.
The fledging pair received assistance from Penrith's forwards in their recent win over the Sharks with their pack amassing an extra 111 metres and eight offloads compared to their opposition. Taking on a Broncos pack oozing with Test and Origin experience is another challenge Penrith's forwards must overcome in order for their raw halves pairing to make an impact.
Broncos halves Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford are continuing to find their cohesion eight games into the season and have seven tries, 17 offloads and 31 tackle breaks between them, but surprisingly only two try assists and four line breaks.
The History: Played 47; Broncos 29, Panthers 17, Draw 1. Penrith had the wood over Brisbane during the early 1990s and mid-2000s, but it's the Broncos who hold the superior overall record. The Panthers' recent form against Brisbane is encouraging – winning four of their past six games – although Brisbane have won the last three at Suncorp.
Did You Know: After making their debuts together against the Roosters in Round 14, 2012, Brisbane pair Lachlan Maranta and Jarrod Wallace have never lined-up against the Panthers despite having a combined total of 77 NRL games.
What Are The Odds: Broncos $1.42 v Panthers $2.70. Money is pouring in at the rate of three to one in favour of the Broncos at home but most of the cash in margin betting is on Brisbane to win 1-12 according to Sportsbet. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Lead Referee: Matt Cecchin; Assistant Referee: Gavin Reynolds; Touch Judges: Michael Wise and Clayton Sharpe Video Referees: Shayne Hayne and Luke Phillips.
Televised: Channel Nine – 7.30pm Qld (Live); 9.30pm NSW (delayed).
The Way We See It: The Broncos will go into this match as deserved favourites having won six out of their past seven games. Whether they can continue that impressive form after having the week off remains to be seen, although the same can be said for the understrength Panthers buoyed by their last-start win. However, with star fullback Matt Moylan under an injury cloud and minus injured halves Peter Wallace and Jamie Soward, the Panthers' chances of knocking off the Broncos at home are slim. Broncos by 10.