Schick Hydro Preview: Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks v Brisbane Broncos
Southern Cross Group Stadium
The Brisbane Broncos have their first game outside of Queensland since their one-point Round 3 loss to the Penrith Panthers over five weeks ago.
The Broncos are full of confidence after dismantling South Sydney last weekend and their players have been rewarded, with five of Brisbane's stars being selected for the Australian Kangaroos.
Captain Corey Parker, Sam Thaiday, Darius Boyd, Matt Gillett, and Josh McGuire will all be looking to justify their selections as both Brisbane and the Sharks try for six wins in a row.
The Sharks have other reasons to win, with ex-Bronco Ben Barba celebrating his 150th game in the NRL.
The Cronulla-Sutherland fullback has been one of the Sharks' best this year and both himself and fellow ex-Bronco Michael Ennis will be looking to get a win over their old team.
The Sharks are unchanged following their two-point win over Penrith last weekend and the club will celebrate the launch of the Sharks Have Heart Foundation, an initiative that looks to strengthen the club's financial future outside of football operations.
The Broncos have lost Andrew McCullough for six weeks with a hamstring injury and Adam Blair will miss the trip to Shark Park following his one-week suspension for a late hit on South Sydney halfback Adam Reynolds. It means Kodi Nikorima will start at hooker and journeyman Travis Waddell will come onto the bench.
It's not all doom and gloom for the Broncos, with New Zealand international Alex Glenn returning from a hip injury. Glenn's return has forced Herman Ese'ese out of the 17, but it's expected Brisbane will reinstate Ese'ese as Blair's replacement.
Watch out Broncos: Chad Townsend is in career-best form since returning to the Sharks this year. He has often outshone fellow recruit James Maloney and Townsend looks as if he has really found his feet working behind monster forwards Paul Gallen and Andrew Fifita. He now has three tries for the year, as well as six try assists. Townsend has turned himself into an attacking weapon for the Sharks and his teammates are benefiting, with the 25-year-old accumulating five line-break assists in eight games this year. He isn't afraid to take on the line and if his forward pack can generate some second-phase football Townsend will be the key to the Sharks breaking down Brisbane's rock solid defence.
Watch out Sharks: Josh McGuire is on cloud nine since being selected to make his debut for the Australian Kangaroos and you can expect his confidence to translate into a strong performance for the Broncos on Sunday. McGuire has the second most run metres by any forward in the NRL, with his 1321m sitting him just 55m behind Bulldogs enforcer James Graham. McGuire is a workhorse and has developed himself into a true leader of Brisbane's pack. He leads his team in total runs and is second for the Broncos in hit-ups. Cronulla-Sutherland will need their big forward pack to rush up on McGuire or else you can expect the 26-year-old to accumulate huge metres up the middle of the park.
Key match-up: Valentine Holmes vs. Corey Oates. Two of Queensland's most promising young talents go head-to-head in an intriguing battle. Both these wingers fancy themselves as future State of Origin starters and this contest will produce a showcase of their skills.
Both Holmes and Oates lead each of their clubs in line breaks, with Oates having accumulated ten and Holmes eight. Both wingers pose a major attacking threat for their opposition and punters can expect each to have at least one try-scoring opportunity throughout the 80 minutes.
Oates is a metre-eating machine – averaging 151m per game. He will get the Broncos out of trouble continuously as they battle to take the ball out from their own end. Holmes brings more of an x-factor to the Sharks. The 20-year-old scored a length-of-the-field try in the 73rd minute of their 20-18 win last weekend and it was a play that ultimately won his team the game. On the other hand, Oates can't stop scoring tries. The 21-year-old now has seven in six games and has a handy habit of finding the try-line early on in Brisbane's matches. This contest shapes up as a brilliant match-up between two of the game's best finishers.
The history: Played 50; Sharks 19, Broncos 31. Brisbane have dominated Cronulla-Sutherland since they entered the competition in 1988. This has not translated into recent success for the Broncos, with the Sharks winning three out of their last four against Brisbane. The Broncos' only recent win came in the meeting between the two sides in Round 2 last year. That game ended 10-2 and showcased the Broncos' defensive capabilities. However, Brisbane have won their last three at Shark Park – a venue they haven't visited since 2011. Corey Oates will look to add to his impressive record of two tries in three games against the Sharks.
What are the odds: Sharks $2.12, Broncos $1.75. For every bet taken on the Sharks, Sportsbet has received 10 bets on the Broncos in the head-to-head market. Brisbane 13+ has more riding on it than all of the other winning margin combinations combined. Corey Oates is once again the favourite in the first try-scorer market – paying $7.50. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton; Assistant Referee: Adam Devcich; Touch Judges: Russell Turner & Jeff Younis; Standby: Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski; Review Officials: Ben Galea & Jason Robinson; Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel 9 – Live coverage from 3:30pm; Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 3:30pm.
The way we see it: This will be a tough and gritty game of rugby league. We expect both forward packs to try and assert themselves early in what will be a physical contest. Two of the best defences in the competition will make it a relatively low-scoring contest and we're tipping a moment of brilliance from Broncos five-eighth Anthony Milford will get Brisbane over the line. Broncos by 8.