Schick Hydro Preview: Brisbane Broncos v Penrith Panthers
Thursday, 7.50pm AEST
They say a week is a long time in football and if that's the case this past month must have felt like an eternity for the Penrith Panthers.
The Panthers have slipped to 14th on the ladder after averaging just 10 points per game in a winless run spanning four weeks.
Penrith's last win came against the last-placed Newcastle Knights and since then it has seemed like everything has gone against Anthony Griffin's men.
It couldn't be any different at Red Hill, with the Brisbane Broncos having won three in a row and sitting just outside the top four.
Everything that could have gone Brisbane's way did in their 25-24 win over the South Sydney Rabbitohs in Round 8, but even still it has given the Broncos confidence that they can win close games.
Jordan Kahu's inclusion this week is a huge boost, with the New Zealand international's goal-kicking and reliability on the wing sorely missed last week.
It means David Mead will drop back to the bench and Jonus Pearson will be back in the reserves after a solid input against the Rabbitohs.
The Panthers have made no changes to the team that went down 18-12 to the Parramatta Eels in Round 8, but James Fisher-Harris and Te Maire Martin are in the reserves and could be late inclusions.
Why the Broncos can win: It's quite simple. If Brisbane complete their sets at a high rate then they will more than likely come away with the win. The Broncos rank third best in the league for errors made, with only the Dragons and the Sea Eagles having made fewer. It's an exceptional record that means Brisbane only make between 9-10 mistakes per match. On the other hand, the Panthers make the most errors per game and give away the third most penalties per match. Statistics like this mean that Penrith will present the Broncos with chances to win this game, it's just whether or not Brisbane will hold onto the ball and take the opportunities presented to them.
In the two games that Brisbane have won by more than six points this season they have completed at 85 per cent and 88 per cent respectively. If they complete at an outstanding rate like this then they should win – but that is far easier said than done. Kahu's inclusion on the wing should do wonders for their completions after his replacement Mead had a game to forget against the Rabbitohs last week.
Why the Panthers can win: Penrith can win because they simply have to. At 2-6 their season is well and truly on the line. Once the premiership favourites, the Panthers have struggled to recapture the form that saw them reach the semi-finals in 2016, losing their last four matches. Desperation can bring out the best in a side and they have a great opportunity against a team they have had the wood on of late.
Penrith were the best at second-phase football in 2016, finishing the season with the most offloads in the competition with an average of almost 14 per game. This is what they need to rediscover on Thursday night after only averaging 10 per game in 2017. The Broncos are susceptible to this type of football and it's why the Panthers did the double on Wayne Bennett's men last year. If Penrith can implement that strategy they could run Brisbane's defence ragged.
 Telstra Premiership: Darius Boyd vs Matt Moylan
Try Assists, Line Break Assists, All Runs, All Run Metres.
The two captains are going to be vital for both sides in this clash. Boyd was a huge presence in Brisbane's one-point win over South Sydney, having a hand in two of the Broncos' tries in what was an error-free night for the fullback. The captaincy has improved his game immensely, with his leadership and direction at the back helping inspire his team to a 5-3 record. On the contrary, his opposite number Moylan has experienced quite a difficult time of late. Off-field issues have impacted his form and his team needs better from their captain, especially after making six errors in his last four appearances. At times it appears as though Moylan is trying too hard so he needs to find ways to lead without the ball in hand.
The history: Played 50; Broncos 30; Panthers 19; Drawn 1. Firstly, the most amazing historical statistic to come out of this meeting is the fact there has been a field goal kicked in six of the last seven meetings between these two sides. The Panthers have got the better of the Broncos in most of these matches, winning five from seven. More importantly, Penrith have defeated Brisbane four of the past five times they have met, including twice in 2016. On a more positive note for the Broncos, they have won five of their past seven against the Panthers at Suncorp Stadium.
What are the odds: The money is running three to one in favour of Brisbane in Sportsbet's head-to-head market. Corey Oates has attracted one third of all bets on first try scorer after last week's spectacular two try effort.
Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton; Assistant Referee: Peter Gough; Touch Judges: Michael Wise & Nick Beashel; Review Official: Luke Patten; Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel 9 – Live coverage from 7:30PM; Fox League – Live coverage from 7:00PM.
NRL.com predicts: Although the Broncos are playing the better rugby league of late, Penrith's great recent record against Brisbane cannot be ignored. There is no doubting the talent the Panthers have on their roster, but to have any chance they must limit their errors and play to their strengths. We'll still back the Broncos to get the job done at home but it will be closer than a lot of people think. Brisbane by 4.