Schick Hydro Preview: Brisbane Broncos v Gold Coast Titans
Predicted back in February to finish at opposite ends of the spectrum at the completion of 26 rounds of the Telstra Premiership, the Broncos and Titans meet for the 21st time on Friday night – but the first time in sudden death.
In 2009 – the only other time that the two south-east Queensland rivals have met in finals football – the Broncos won a high-scoring thriller 40-32 in a game that would have ended Brisbane's year had they lost.
There are no second chances on offer for the losers this week however with the Titans trying to defy recent history that shows in their past nine games against Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium they have headed south empty handed on each occasion.
The rivalry got off to a bright start in 2007 when the newcomers sprung a 28-16 upset, audaciously taking their home game to Brisbane's backyard and pulling their host's pants down in front of more than 47,000 fans.
A Darren Lockyer field goal was all that separated them in the rematch in Round 17 before a crowd of 48,621 but as the Titans have struggled in recent years so has the rivalry waned.
In the past 14 meetings Brisbane have won 12 with an average winning margin of 14 points, Gold Coast's only successes coming in hard-fought four-point wins at home in 2012 and 2014.
It's a rivalry in need of a reboot and there is no better way to do that than fight out a finals classic in front of a full house on Friday night.
The Broncos have had some injury concerns at training with Andrew MCullough, Josh McGuire, Alex Glenn and Tom Opacic all spending time away from the main group during the build-up but all have been named by coach Wayne Bennett and are expected to play.
There are no such concerns for the Titans who have named the same team that went down 32-16 to the Cowboys last week with Anthony Don, William Zillman and Lachlan Burr named on an extended seven-man bench.
Watch out Broncos: If the Broncos need any reminding of the Titans' fighting spirit they need only go back to their last encounter in Round 5 this season when a 22-6 lead was reduced to a six-point advantage in the space of just five minutes. Gold Coast continued to throw everything at the Brisbane defence only for a Jordan Kahu penalty goal three minutes from full-time extending their buffer to a comfortable eight points. Conceding points late has been a bad habit of the Broncos this season, the 18 tries they have conceded between the 60th and 70th minutes by far their most susceptible period. Almost a third of the Titans' tries this season have come in the last 20 minutes of games so will fancy their chances if they can keep pace with the Broncos until midway through the second half.
Watch out Titans: Starts have been problematic in recent weeks for Gold Coast as they have given up double-figure leads to both the Panthers and Cowboys and been unable to reel them in. Coach Neil Henry and his players know they must start well against Brisbane but patience will have to be a virtue as the Broncos give up very few tries in the opening exchanges. Brisbane have conceded just six tries in the opening 10 minutes of games all season whilst the Titans have been guilty of letting in 15 and scoring just seven themselves in the same period. The Titans don't necessarily have to land the first punch inside those first 10 minutes but for the sake of their confidence they need to keep the Broncos at bay and be at least level-pegging midway through the first half.
Key match-up: Darius Boyd v Jarryd Hayne. The undisputed current king of the custodians against a man with claims to the crown shapes as the heavyweight showdown that will shape the result of who goes on and who goes home. Since returning from an Achilles injury early last season Boyd has elevated his game to a new level, his settled life away from football translating into a player who pervades a sense of calm over those around him. His pass selection and execution on sweeping plays is a big reason Corey Oates and Tom Opacic have had try-scoring success and his work at the back is almost faultless – he has made just two errors in his past 19 NRL games. Hayne's rushed return has had its highs and lows but with each week that passes more of the player from 2014 emerges. A difficult night against the Cowboys and the stage that finals football offers is all the motivation that a big-game player such as Hayne needs to deliver something special.
History: Played 20; Broncos 15, Titans 5. It's a rivalry in only its 10th season but there have been 12 players to have played for both the Broncos and Titans in that time; Ashley Taylor, Josh Hoffman and James Roberts all with recent ties to their opposition on Friday night. If Hoffman was to score a try this week he would become the first player to have scored a try for the Broncos against the Titans and also a try for the Titans against the Broncos. The Broncos have won the last nine meetings at Suncorp Stadium with Gold Coast's record at the venue standing at three wins and 13 losses, two of those wins coming against Canterbury.
What are the odds: Broncos $1.28, Titans $3.85. There have been more than twice as many individual bets placed on the Broncos in comparison to the Titans and incredibly, 92 per cent of all money on the game is with Brisbane. Broncos 13-plus is more popular than all of the other winning margins combined, while Corey Oates leads the way in the first try-scorer market. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton; Assistant Referee: Gavin Badger; Touch Judges: Michael Wise and Tim Roby; Review Officials: Luke Patten and Ashley Klein; Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel Nine – Live from 7.30pm; Fox Sports – Live from 7pm
How we see it: If the Broncos that ambushed the Storm a fortnight ago run out on Friday night the Titans will struggle to keep pace but a lacklustre showing against the Roosters and some injury concerns mid-week suggest Brisbane aren't quite back to their best just yet. The Titans need to get into the contest early and keep Brisbane in-check if they are to be any hope of finishing over the top of them late. It will be a cracking contest but the experience of the 2015 Finals Series is a major plus for the home side. Broncos by four points.
Game on. Data off.
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