Schick Hydro Preview: Brisbane Broncos v Canberra Raiders
It's fourth up against fifth in a game that has two teams in contrasting form going up against each other on Thursday night.
Brisbane have lost three in a row and look a shadow of their former self of late, with the Broncos' 18-point loss to the New Zealand Warriors in Round 13 a major lowlight for Wayne Bennett's men.
Canberra have momentum on their side after winning three straight by an average margin of just over 16 points, and the Raiders will be hungry to win at a venue they haven't played at since 2012.
The lead-up hasn't been plain sailing for Canberra, with the Raiders losing fullback Jack Wighton and prop Shannon Boyd to suspension.
It means Zac Santo will end a two-year NRL hiatus and start at fullback, with forward Paul Vaughan coming into the starting side.
The Broncos continue to make mass changes over the State of Origin period and it looks as if Bennett will continue to wield the axe if results don't improve.
Corey Oates, Matt Gillett and Travis Waddell all come into the side, with Herman Ese'ese, Joe Ofahengaue and Lachlan Maranta dropping out of the 17.
Adam Blair is dropped to the bench after being named captain just two weeks ago and the New Zealand international will need to make an impact against a large Canberra forward pack.
Watch out Broncos: Is there a more damaging outside back in the competition at the moment than Jordan Rapana? The 26-year-old is having a stellar year for the Green Machine and opposition sides have struggled to shut him down all year. Rapana leads the NRL in line breaks after having accumulated 16 so far this season. He is also equal second in tries scored this year and his 10 in 13 games is only bettered by Valentine Holmes's 11. If Brisbane aren't switched on in defence then Rapana could easily have a night like that in Round 8 where he scored four tries against the Wests Tigers.
Watch out Raiders: Brisbane halfback Ben Hunt has been the centre of spades of criticism this week after a poor period of the season. The Broncos' results haven't been good enough in recent weeks and Hunt has been the easy target for frustrated Broncos fans. People are quick to forget the damage the 26-year-old has done to his opposition in the past and Thursday's match looms as a huge point in Hunt's season. Hunt leads the competition in try assists, with his 17 for the year well clear of Johnathan Thurston's 13. It's Hunt's 11 errors for the season that are crippling his game and if he can get that right then the Raiders may be powerless in stopping him. Look for Hunt and fellow half Anthony Milford to try and exploit Canberra's big forward pack late in the game.
Key match-up: Anthony Milford vs. Blake Austin. Two of the best running halves in the competition go head-to-head in a mouthwatering battle. Austin's form in 2016 has been below his usual standard, with the Canberra five-eighth averaging just 41 running metres per game. He has only managed two try assists and three tries for the season, a far cry from the form in 2015 that saw him named Dally M Five-eighth of the Year. Milford's form of late is quite similar to that of Austin's. After starting the year on fire, the 21-year-old has struggled of recent weeks, going without a try assist or a try of his own in his last three matches. It is no coincidence that the Broncos have lost each of these games and Milford will feel partly responsible for Brisbane's poor form. Whichever five-eighth finds their form on Thursday night will go a long way to delivering their side victory.
The history: Played 48; Broncos 28, Raiders 19, Drawn 1. Canberra haven't played in Brisbane since 2012 and it hasn't been a happy hunting ground for the Raiders in years gone by. The Broncos have defeated Canberra in seven of the last eight match-ups at Suncorp Stadium. In fact you have to go back to 2010 to find the last time the Raiders have won at the venue. It has been Brisbane who have dominated in recent history - winning five of the last seven fixtures. The two sides met once last year, with the Broncos running out 24-12 winners on a cold winter's night in Canberra. Brisbane lock Corey Parker kicked two penalty goals that night – a tactic that has been a feature of the Broncos' 2016 season.
What are the odds: Broncos $1.26, Raiders $3.85. The Raiders have firmed from as much as $4.75 on the back of three consecutive wins but there’s still 50 per cent more money invested on the Broncos at the much shorter price. Canberra have been overwhelmingly popular in line betting where they’re receiving a handy start according to Sportsbet. Corey Oates is the heavy favourite in the first try-scorer market, with the 21-year-old paying $6 to cross the line first. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Ashley Klein; Assistant Referee: Henry Perenara; Touch Judges: Michael Wise & Tim Roby; Review Officials: Steve Chiddy & Luke Patten; 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 Broncos return to Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night and you can expect a return to form from Brisbane. There is no doubt that Bennett will have his troops up and about for this one. Canberra will put up a fight, but Hunt and Milford are two very good players who won't let their side lose four straight. Canberra's terrible record at Suncorp Stadium leads us to believe it will be a big night for the home side. Broncos by 10.