Schick Hydro Preview: Sydney Roosters v Brisbane Broncos
Both the Sydney Roosters and the Brisbane Broncos are having a terrible time of late and Thursday night looms as an ideal chance for either team to get out of their form slump.
The Roosters' season may be over, but Trent Robinson's men will be doing their best to disrupt the finals chances of those above them on the ladder.
The Broncos can't afford another slip-up as they try and stay in touch with the top four after losing six of their last eight matches.
Brisbane will be desperate, but their assignment has been made tougher by the loss of Josh McGuire and Sam Thaiday to suspension.
Young forwards Herman Ese'ese and Jaydn Su'A come onto the bench, with young gun Tom Opacic to start at centre.
For the Roosters, the absence of Jared Waerea-Hargreaves sees Dale Copley return in the centres, Mitch Aubusson shift to the forwards and Isaac Liu named in the front row.
Watch out Roosters: The loss of second-row forward Matt Gillett is a huge blow for the Broncos, but it may just spark something from their captain Corey Parker. Parker has been one of Brisbane's most consistent of late, even when the Broncos have struggled. The 34-year-old brings experience and leadership; something the Broncos will be in dire need of on Thursday night when they take the field without experienced heads McGuire, Thaiday and Gillett. It's time for the Brisbane captain to lead by example and help his young forwards because it may just result in the Broncos recording a much-needed win. The Roosters have lost enforcer Jared Waerea-Hargreaves to injury and this should only help Parker take control of the game. Parker averages 132 metres and 29 tackles per game this season. He's been one of Brisbane's best all year, especially when it comes to making metres up the middle. The Broncos' defence has been suspect of late so Parker will need to take control when Brisbane are on the back foot. If Parker can help inspire Brisbane's young squad on Thursday night then the Broncos might just condemn the Roosters to another loss.
Watch out Broncos: Latrell Mitchell is having a superb first season in the NRL and he will be a key component in the Roosters' attack come Thursday night. The exciting 19-year-old has 11 tries in 18 games this season – mesmerising opponents with his fancy footwork and lightening speed. His season has seen him draw comparisons with the great Greg Inglis, and Brisbane will need to be alert in defence if they are to stop the rising star. Mitchell has 10 line breaks in 2016, although he was switched from fullback to the wing last week and will line up there again against Brisbane. The Broncos have lacked discipline in defence of late, with their poor attitude leaving coach Wayne Bennett lost for answers. If Brisbane continue this trend on Thursday night, Mitchell could make them pay.
Key match-up: Mitchell Pearce v Ben Hunt. Both halfbacks have been under extreme criticism for different reasons this season. Pearce has made a solid return from his suspension at the start of the year, with the 27-year-old's kicking game adding another dimension to the Roosters' game. He's managed four try assists in seven games – taking the game on at every opportunity. His average of 83 run metres per game is a positive sign for Tricolours fans as Pearce is at his best when he runs the ball.
Hunt has been the centre of a lot of criticism of late, taking some of the blame for Brisbane's poor run of form. Hunt still leads the competition for try assists with 18, sitting two clear of the injured Johnathan Thurston. Hunt's five tries for the year also shows his intent in attack. Hunt's still perfecting his game and Bennett will continue to show patience in his halfback. Whichever half controls the game on Thursday night will go a long way to winning it for their side.
The history: Played 41; Roosters 16, Broncos 25. Brisbane have a good record against the Roosters, winning 25 from 41 matches. In saying that, the last 10 clashes dating back to 2009 have been split five apiece. The Broncos won both matches that took place at Suncorp Stadium in 2015, with the latest contest being last year's Preliminary Final that Brisbane won 31-12. The Roosters have won two of the last three clashes at Allianz Stadium, defeating the Broncos 12-10 in Round 24 of the 2015 season at the same ground. Ben Hunt has scored five tries in his last four games against Sydney.
What are the odds: Roosters $2.20, Broncos $1.67. The Roosters' price has tightened up from the $2.35 on offer but Sportsbet has seen almost four times as much money invested on the Broncos. Roosters 1-12 is the most popular in the winning margin market and the home side has also been supported at the line. Corey Oates is again favourite in the first try-scorer market, with the 21-year-old paying $7.50 to cross the line first. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Ashley Klein; Assistant Referee: Adam Gee; Touch Judges: Nick Beashel & Ziggy Przeklasa-Adamski; Standby: Liam Kennedy; Review Officials: Ben Galea & 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: It's hard to split the two sides because both are struggling to play to the best of their ability and look down on confidence. This one will come down to who wants it more. The Roosters are playing for pride, whereas the Broncos are playing to stay in touch with the top four. Brisbane have more to play for and this desire should get them over the line. Broncos by eight.