Schick Hydro Preview: Brisbane Broncos v Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks
Finals football will come a month early when the third-placed Brisbane Broncos host the Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.
Fresh off a 54-point thrashing of the Gold Coast Titans, the Broncos have a chance to go to second position on the NRL ladder and cement their spot in the top four in the process.
But it will not come easy as they face a Sharks side desperate for victory after a disappointing 30-12 loss to the Canberra Raiders last start.
Cronulla cannot afford to lose two matches in a row because if they do the defending premiers could finish the round of football in a position as low as seventh.
Sharks stalwart Paul Gallen will play his 300th NRL match and his chances of celebrating his milestone in style have been boosted by the inclusion of Cronulla's classy five-eighth James Maloney.
Fa'amanu Brown shifts to hooker, while Jack Bird's shoulder injury means Kurt Capewell starts at centre. James Segeyaro shifts to the bench with Adam Clydsdale out of the 17.
For the Broncos, Jai Arrow replaces the suspended Joe Ofahengaue on the bench, while Ben Hunt is expected to come off the interchange as he did last week with Sam Thaiday likely to start at hooker.
Why the Broncos can win: Wayne Bennett's men now boast the best attack in the league after putting 54 points on the Gold Coast Titans and that attacking display is something they'll look to build on against a much better side in the Sharks. The Broncos' halves combination of Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima is all about running the ball and taking the line on, with the two childhood friends relishing the opportunity to play together. So far their chemistry has worked perfectly, with the two now unbeaten after eight matches of starting together in the halves this season.
As well as this, Ben Hunt's move to hooker has given the Broncos a new attacking dimension, with Brisbane's utility looking more relaxed without the responsibility of having the No.7 on his back. If the Broncos can score the 24 points per game they average this year then they will be confident of victory.
Why the Sharks can win: Friday is going to be a special night for Cronulla, with skipper Paul Gallen set to become just the 29th player to achieve the 300-game milestone. It is a massive occasion and one all his teammates will be up for. All of Gallen's NRL matches have come at the Sharks, a club he has put everything on the line for time and time again. Teams often shy away from saying they will win a match for one person, but there is no doubting that the whole Cronulla side will be desperate to give Gallen a victory in his 300th. That also goes for coach Shane Flanagan who recently labelled Gallen the Sharks' greatest ever player.
Gallen's statistics this year remain among the competition's elite, with the veteran second in all run metres and first in hit ups. Punters can expect the 35-year-old to produce more of the same on Friday in what will be a fiery battle in the middle of the park.
 Telstra Premiership: Josh McGuire vs Paul Gallen
Hit Ups, All Run Metres, Offloads, Tackles.
The history: Played 52; Broncos 32; Sharks 20. These two teams opened the 2017 season and it was Brisbane who came out victorious, defeating Cronulla by eight points at Shark Park. Despite this recent success, the Broncos have a poor record against the Sharks at Suncorp Stadium. Cronulla have won their last three at the venue, with Brisbane's last win against the Sharks at Lang Park coming way back in 2011. In-form Broncos winger Corey Oates has three tries in his last three games against Cronulla and he will be full of confidence after scoring two four-pointers against the Titans last start.
What are the odds: This is Sportsbet's most even betting game of the round, and one of the most even of the entire season so far. 51 per cent of the money is on Brisbane, however Cronulla 1-12 is the best-backed winning margin. Latest odds at sportsbet.com.au
Match officials: Referee: Ben Cummins; Assistant Referee: Chris Sutton; Touch Judges: Belinda Sleeman & Tim Roby; Review Official: Luke Patten; Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel 9 – Live coverage from 7.30pm; Fox League – Live coverage from 7.30pm.
NRL.com predicts: This one promises to be a close encounter and we can see it going down to the wire. Both teams have everything to play for but it will be Brisbane's in-form attack that gets them home in front of a packed Suncorp Stadium. Broncos by eight.