Sydney Roosters v Brisbane Broncos
Saturday 22 August, 7.45pm
First verses second takes on extra importance on Saturday night as the NRL's top two sides lock horns for the second (and probably not the last) time this season.
The Broncos scrapped home 22-18 the last time these sides met in Round 6 courtesy of a Ben Hunt try in golden point and this return fixture shapes as another epic encounter.
A win for the Roosters would see them join the Broncos on 36 competition points, but with a superior points difference (+223 compared to Brisbane's +169), the Chooks would hold the advantage in the race for the JJ Giltinan Shield. The Broncos would then need to win their remaining two matches against South Sydney (away) and the Storm (home), while relying on the Roosters to lose one of their remaining fixtures against the Sea Eagles (away) or Rabbitohs (home), in order to make up lost ground.
On the flip side for the ladder-leading Broncos, a win over the Roosters virtually guarantees them minor premiership barring they don't lose both of their final games.
Both sides would take the minor premiership if it was offered to them, but finishing the season strongly and securing a top-two finish and the possibility of two home finals is perhaps a bigger incentive for these possible Grand Final contenders.
Roosters are on a nine-match winning streak and have won 12 out of their last 13 matches after dropping four straight between Rounds 5 to 8.
The Broncos managed to snap a two-game losing run in last weekend's 32-6 defeat of the Dragons and have won nine out of their past 11 games.
In team news, Roosters back-rower Aidan Guerra has escaped a two-week suspension after successfully fighting a grade-one shoulder charge.
Brendan Elliot returns on the wing for the Roosters as Blake Ferguson and Mitch Aubusson shift to the centres and to the bench respectively.
The Broncos have only made one change with Justin Hodges returning from a one-game ban to replace Dale Copley in the centres.
Watch out Roosters: Brisbane halves Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford are obvious contenders to receive some extra attention from the Roosters, although the Tricolours will need to be aware of the improving Darius Boyd.
Boyd appears to be back to his best after off-season Achilles surgery judging by his performance in last Friday's win over St George Illawarra. Brisbane's fullback chimed in with two try assists and 15 tackles without a miss against the Dragons and is beginning to gel nicely with Hunt and Milford.
The 28-year-old will line-up for his 13th appearance of the season after returning from injury in Round 9 and has two tries and six line-break assists to his name in 2015. His battle with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck shapes as an intriguing one; as both teams will want their fullbacks exerting their influence right from the get-go.
Watch out Broncos: Like the Broncos, the Roosters have a number of attacking weapons at their disposal but none are more destructive than Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.
RTS is a man who loves running. The 22-year-old Kiwi sensation leads the NRL in runs/hit-ups this season with 462 from 21 games – over 100 runs more than nearest rival Jesse Bromwich.
Tuivasa-Sheck also leads the NRL in total running metres, carrying the Steeden for almost five kilometres (4,939 metres) this season. He is averaging 235 metres per game in 2015 and has only run for less than 200 metres on four occasions this season.
The Roosters will hope they can keep squeezing out as many scintillating performances from their fullback as possible before he links up with the Warriors next season.
Key Match-Up: Jared Waerea-Hargreaves v Adam Blair. Based on current form these two wouldn't look out of place as New Zealand's front-row pairing for their end of season tour to England.
The inspirational Waerea-Hargreaves is one of, if not the best prop in the NRL, and at 26 can only improve himself as a player. JWH is averaging 127 metres and 29 tackles this season and has made 33 offloads and 27 tackle busts, with six of those coming against the Eels last weekend in a performance which included a crucial try close to fulltime.
Meanwhile, Adam Blair has quickly developed into a crucial component of Brisbane's engine room despite having an underwhelming start to his Broncos career. The 29-year-old's season average of 94 metres and 28 tackles doesn't tell the full story of what value he brings to the Broncos, with the club's recent back-to-back losses in his absence coming as no coincidence.
Sam Thaiday managed to tame Waerea-Hargreaves when these sides last met, but now it's Blair's turn to step up and stop his rampaging Kiwi teammate.
The History: Played 39; Roosters 15, Broncos 24. The Broncos have won eight of 12 matches against the Roosters dating back to 2006, although the Tricolours have had the better of Brisbane in two out of the past three clashes. Brisbane's last win over the Roosters at Allianz Stadium was in Round 14, 2012 - a venue they have a 68 percent win ratio at (36 wins, 16 losses and one draw).
Did You Know: Roosters centre Michael Jennings is chasing his 100th win in the NRL, while opposite number Justin Hodges is searching for his 100th NRL try.
What Are The Odds: Roosters $1.55 v Broncos $2.45. The $2.53 that the Broncos opened at didn't last for long as Sportsbet customers jumped all over it. The weight of money on Brisbane suggests their price will continue to shorten as we get closer to kick-off. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Lead Referee: Gerard Sutton; Assistant Referee: Gavin Badger; Touch Judges: Nick Beashel and Jason Walsh; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy and Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – 7.30pm.
The Way We See It: A loss for either side isn't the be-all-and-end-all as there are bigger fish to fry once September rolls around. Securing the minor premiership would be a nice physiological boost, but wrapping up a top-two spot on the ladder and maintaining a high level of performance heading into the business end of the season takes on a greater responsibility for these teams. There was nothing between these sides after 80 minutes when they met in Brisbane earlier this year and this game could follow a similar path. However, a big home crowd for the Roosters might just be enough to give them the edge on this occasion. Roosters by 4 points.