Schick Hydro Preview: Brisbane Broncos v St George Illawarra Dragons
Forty points – that is all the St George Illawarra Dragons have managed to score in 400 minutes of football this season.
The North Queensland Cowboys scored six tries last weekend to demolish the Dragons 36-0. In doing so, the Cowboys managed to score the same amount of tries in that game the Dragons have scored all season – six.
The statistics leave a bleak outlook for Dragons fans, with St George Illawarra officially having the worst five-game attack since the South Queensland Crushers managed only 36 points in 1995.
St George Illawarra coach Paul McGregor has drawn a line in the sand, threatening to wield the axe if things don't change quickly and the Dragons must respond.
But their attacking revival will need to start against a red-hot Broncos side at Suncorp Stadium.
Brisbane sit top of the ladder after a solid 24-16 win over the Gold Coast Titans last weekend and the Broncos appear to be growing in confidence after each round of football.
Both teams enter the match with unchanged line-ups and McGregor will be looking for halves Benji Marshall and Gareth Widdop to spark something in attack.
Watch out Broncos: Brisbane need to avoid getting into a low-scoring arm wrestle. The Dragons thrive on these types of contests and their 8-6 defeat of the South Sydney Rabbitohs in Round 3 is proof of that. If the Broncos don't score early points then they may be in trouble against a gritty Dragons side that like a scrappy contest. The Dragons were down by two tries or more at half-time in both of their big losses this season. If they can avoid this scenario and be in the contest at the break, then look for the experience of Gareth Widdop to guide them home. Benji Marshall must perform after an average return from injury last weekend and Brisbane shouldn't underestimate the experienced 31-year-old.
Watch out Dragons: James Roberts has hit form in the past fortnight for the Broncos. Criticised early in the season, 'Jimmy the Jet' has scored in his last two appearances for the club, making two line breaks in Brisbane's win over the Titans last Friday night. He now sits on five line breaks for the season and if the Dragons let him break their defensive line they will have a hard time containing the NSW Origin hopeful. Roberts has 22 tackle breaks for the season, with livewire five-eighth Anthony Milford sitting on 28. The Dragons' defence will have to be switched on if they are to shutdown these two, with St George Illawarra's line speed the key to their success come Thursday night.
Key match-up: Darius Boyd v Josh Dugan. Two of the form fullbacks in the competition battle it out in what could be a preview of what to expect come State of Origin time. Boyd is in career-best form, constantly organising Brisbane in attack and defence. He has been a continuous threat for opposition teams this season, scoring two tries and forming a strong combination with Milford. Boyd is averaging 147 run metres per game and the Dragons must put immense pressure on the fullback if they are to deny him the same come Thursday. Dugan has been a rare attacking highlight for the Dragons this season. He may have only scored one try, but the 25-year-old looks likely to break the line every time he touches the ball. His 22 tackle breaks per game is a team high and he looms as the key to the Dragons' rediscovering their attacking flair. Whichever fullback controls the game will ultimately guide their team to victory.
The history: Played 34; Broncos 20, Dragons 14. Brisbane have dominated the Dragons in recent history, with the Broncos winning 11 of their last 13 against St George Illawarra. The two teams played each other twice in 2015, splitting the honours at one win apiece. Their latest meeting took place at Suncorp Stadium and ended in a 32-6 smashing in Brisbane's favour. Played in Round 23 of 2015, Ben Hunt scored two tries in a dominant display by the Broncos. In what is a worry statistic, the Dragons have not won at Suncorp Stadium since Round 4, 2009.
What are the odds: Broncos $1.15, Dragons $5.50. The money is coming in at a rate of three to one in favour of the Broncos and 75 per cent of bets on the winning margin has gone on Brisbane to win 13+. James Roberts is easily the best backed for first tryscorer with Sportsbet. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton; Assistant Referee: Dave Munro; Touch Judges: Brett Suttor & Belinda Sleeman; Standby: Nick Morel; Review Officials: Ben Galea & Jason Robinson; Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel 9 – Live coverage from 7:30pm; Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 7:30pm.
The way we see it: The Dragons will improve because they simply have to. These two teams have a great history and simply love playing each other. For St George Illawarra to win they must score more than two tries, something they have been able to do only once this season. We can't see it happening against a strong Broncos team that should control this game from start to finish. Broncos by 18.