Schick Hydro Preview: Gold Coast Titans v Brisbane Broncos
Cbus Super Stadium
Friday, 7.05pm (AEST)
Who would have thought that the latest instalment of the M1 derby would be a top of the table clash between the two form teams of the competition? Gold Coast have punched well above their weight so far this season, defying the critics who tipped them to finish in the bottom two.
They now sit fourth and await a Brisbane side sitting pretty in second position. The Broncos played out a thrilling extra-time victory against the Cowboys last Friday night and it was a win that gave them a small slice of revenge after the North Queensland side famously beat Brisbane in last year's decider.
A courageous last-minute win over the Canberra Raiders last weekend typified the Titans' season to date and if they can play with the same heart on Friday night they may just give Brisbane a real shock.
Injury clouds hang over Tyrone Roberts, William Zillman and Nathan Friend for the Titans – while forward Ryan James will need to beat a dangerous contact charge at the Judiciary on Wednesday night if he is to play.
While there may be uncertainty over the make-up of the Titans team the Broncos have been bolstered by the returns of both Jack Reed and Corey Oates from injury and Jordan Kahu has recovered to take his place in the team after copping a heavy knock against the Cowboys.
Watch out Titans: Former Titan James Roberts turned on his jet engines last week to put in a memorable performance. Criticised for his slow start to the season, Roberts saved his best for the Cowboys as the star centre dominated from the get-go. He amassed 185 run metres and looked threatening every time he received the ball. The key for Roberts is to get his hands on early ball – if he does that he is very hard to stop. It will be the first game for Roberts against his former club and he will be looking to show the Titans what they are missing. If 'The Jet' can repeat his three line breaks and six tackle breaks from last weekend then you can expect him to feature heavily on the scoresheet. His combination with five-eighth Anthony Milford is getting stronger every week, with the two combining regularly to open up the Cowboys defence last weekend.
Watch out Broncos: David Shillington showed last week against the Raiders that there are few more powerful things in rugby league than a player with a point to prove which makes Josh Hoffman a dangerous proposition on Friday night. The former Bronco is settling into his new life in the centres and while defence has been a focus, his attack has shown promise in recent weeks. Against Wests Tigers in Round 3 Hoffman had two line breaks, a try and a try assist and against the Knights in Round 1 he managed to keep his cousin, Dane Gagai, quiet for much of the game. His next assignment is to contain James Roberts and he won't want to let down his new teammates on such a big occasion.
Key match-up: Greg Bird v Corey Parker. The two veteran locks have led from the front in recent years and you can expect to see the same come Friday. Bird has amassed three try assists this season for the Titans, doubling as a five-eighth when Gold Coast moves into attack. Young halfback Ashley Taylor, an ex-Bronco who Bird has taken under his wing, only betters Bird by one assist. Bird's past experience at five-eighth has seen the two regularly combine for the Titans and together they hold the key for Gold Coast's attack, especially if five-eighth Tyrone Roberts is ruled out. Parker is in a different position at Brisbane. Anthony Milford and Ben Hunt have established themselves as two of the elite playmakers of the NRL. Parker's job is simple – give these two halves the field position they need to produce the plays that have made Brisbane one of the most entertaining sides in the competition. Parker is averaging 117 run metres and 33 tackles a game and relishing his new role as captain. If Bird can combine with Taylor and break open Brisbane's defence, then the Titans may just cause the upset of the season. On the other hand, if Parker and the Broncos dominate the ruck, Brisbane may just run the Titans out of the game with their slick style of play through the middle of the field.
History: Played 19; Titans 5, Broncos 14. The sole south-east Queensland derby for 2016 sees the Titans trying to rectify a recent record against the Broncos that reads a very unflattering two wins from their past 13 clashes. The Titans boast just five wins in 19 games against their northern neighbours, four of which have come at Cbus Super Stadium. Nathan Friend and Sam Thaiday are the only players who took part in the first meeting between these teams in 2007 – a game won 28-16 by the Titans – who are set to take the field on Friday night.
What are the odds: Titans $4.45; Broncos $1.21. It's all Brisbane in this one – 75 per cent of the money wagered on the game with Sportsbet has been placed on the Broncos and the premiership favourites have been included in a large number of multis across the weekend. Broncos by 13-plus has more money riding on it than all of the other winning margin options combined so punters are expecting a big win to Brisbane. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Jared Maxwell; Assistant Referee: Gavin Badger; Touch Judges: Michael Wise and Clayton Sharpe; Review Officials: Luke Patten and Steve Chiddy; Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7pm (Qld), 7.30pm (NSW); Fox Sports – Live 6.00pm (Qld), 7.00pm (NSW).
The way we see it: After some lop-sided scorelines going the way of Brisbane in recent years we should at least be confident that this will be a good old-fashioned smash up derby that will go down to the wire. The Titans have shown great courage to win three of their first four but they will also have to be clinical to best the competition favourites. The Broncos won a classic in Round 4 against the Cowboys and will claim a second Queensland scalp in as many weeks. Broncos by 10 points.