Schick Hydro Preview: Brisbane Broncos v Penrith Panthers
Two sides coming off a victory in Round 19 meet at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night in what is a clash with huge repercussions.
The Panthers need to win to keep in touch with the top eight, with Penrith's stop-start season leaving them desperate to string together back-to-back victories.
The Broncos know that they must win to keep in touch with the top four, and there is a possibility that Brisbane may even find themselves in the top four if results go their way this weekend.
The Panthers go into Friday night's game unchanged, but they have named Moses Leota and Viliame Kikau (potential NRL debutant) on an extended bench.
Penrith coach Anthony Griffin will be looking to make it two from two against his old side after securing a 23-22 win earlier in the season.
Brisbane will still be without Matt Gillett, with the Queensland Origin star succumbing to a shoulder injury for the second week in a row.
Corey Parker returns from suspension while Tom Opacic replaces the injured Jordan Kahu in the centres.
Watch out Broncos: The Broncos won't like to admit it, but complacency was a major factor in their one-point loss to the Panthers in Round 3. Brisbane led Penrith 22-6 going into half-time and looked set for a big win at Pepper Stadium after five-eighth Anthony Milford scored going into the break. But the Broncos put the cue in the rack and thought the game was won – something that cost them dearly. Young gun Te Maire Martin guided his side to an historic comeback, with the Panthers winning 23-22 in the west of Sydney. Several Brisbane players admitted after the match that they had thought they had won the game after the 40-minute mark. The Broncos will need to be ruthless if they are to win on Friday night, with a spot in the top four possibly on the line.
Watch out Panthers: Brisbane halfback Ben Hunt looked back to his best last week against the Rabbitohs, scoring a superb running try that helped the Broncos secure a 30-10 victory. Although not yet at last year's form that saw him tie for second in the Dally M Medal count, Hunt looks as if he is rediscovering the running game that has seen him terrorise opposition sides in the past. The 26-year-old leads the NRL with try assists after accumulating 17 for the season, and if Hunt can keep this part of his game up while continuing to run the ball more, then Penrith may be in for a long night. Hunt will look to continue to build his combination with five-eighth Anthony Milford as the Broncos head into the back end of the season. Brisbane were always going to make a run for the top four post-Origin and it looks like they will continue to build momentum on Friday night.
Key match-up: Darius Boyd v Matt Moylan. Queensland's fullback comes up against New South Wales' fullback-turned-five-eighth in what is an intriguing contest. Two of the best ball-playing fullbacks in the NRL will need to be at their best if they are to help guide their side to victory. Boyd continues to improve, amassing three line-break assists and three try assists in Brisbane's win over South Sydney. Australia's premier custodian has been almost faultless this season in what is arguably his best year in the NRL to date. Moylan has been solid for Penrith this year, putting in another decent performance against Parramatta last week. The Panthers won that game 22-18, but it will be Moylan's running game that will have Penrith officials wanting more. Moylan needs to return the ball with more urgency if the Panthers are to be successful. His lack of kick return metres put Penrith under some enormous pressure last week, and he will need to work on that this week if the Panthers are to have any success. Field position will be key in this match-up, and Moylan will need to lift to Boyd's level if Penrith are to have any chance of causing an upset.
The history: Played 49; Broncos 30, Panthers 18, Drawn 1. The last three matches between these two sides have gone down to the wire. The past two clashes at Pepper Stadium in Penrith have been decided by one point, and in the corresponding match between the two sides at Suncorp Stadium last year, it was just three points that separated the teams at full-time. Brisbane won that match 8-5, with Ben Hunt putting Corey Oates over on the siren to win the game for the Broncos. This will be the 50th meeting between the two sides, and although Penrith have had the wood over Brisbane in recent times, it's the Broncos who have a commanding 30 victories from 49 clashes.
What are the odds: Broncos $1.25, Panthers $4.00. Penrith’s price has firmed since betting opened but the money is split close to 50-50 overall according to Sportsbet. The Panthers have been well supported at the line, where they’re receiving a handy start. Corey Oates is the firm favourite in the first try-scorer market after scoring a double last week against the Rabbitohs. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Matt Cecchin; Assistant Referee: Matt Noyen; Touch Judges: Nick Beashel & Chris Butler; Review Officials: Luke Patten & Steve Chiddy; 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: Penrith will be desperate to win this one, but Brisbane at home will have too much class for a Panthers side that's struggling for any consistency. The Broncos will be looking to put in a full 80-minute performance and Wayne Bennett will have his troops ready for this one. Brisbane could have beaten South Sydney by a lot more last week and they look set to continue on with their winning ways. Broncos by 12.