Broncos v Rabbitohs: Kahu returns, Johnston out
Where to from here for the Broncos? Not only have they effectively ruined their top-four prospects with back-to-back losses to lowly Canterbury and North Queensland, they better get their act together to make sure they don't drop out of the eight.
Of course, the Wests Tigers have to keep winning to have any chance of unseating Brisbane, but the Broncos are no certainty of winning another game. After hosting the Bunnies, they are on the road in round 24 against the Roosters before wrapping the regular season with a Sunday afternoon home game against Manly.
If the Broncs don't want their season to come down to a do-or-die clash with the nothing-to-lose Sea Eagles, they need to get at least one win from their next two games. And watching their shoddy performances over the past fortnight, it's hard to see them overcoming the Rabbitohs, who have their eyes fixed firmly on the minor premiership despite last week's narrow loss to the Roosters.
Match: Broncos vs Rabbitohs
Round 23 -
Venue: Suncorp Stadium
- Nine Network
- Fox League
- LIVE PASS
Key match-up: It's State of Origin all over again as hookers Andrew McCullough and Damien Cook go head-to-head. McCullough and the likes of Darius Boyd, Sam Thaiday and Anthony Milford all need to take charge, but it's McCullough's duel with one of the standout players of the 2018 Telstra Premiership which could be decisive. Cook terrorised the Storm two weeks ago and will be keen to inflict more of the same on Thursday.
For the Broncos to win: The Broncos' senior players need to take ownership of the team before it's too late. The sky is the limit for the young Broncos over the next five years or so, but they lack experience and need people like Kodi Nikorima, Corey Oates and James Roberts to lift as much as they need Boyd, Thaiday and Milford to take ownership of the team.
For the Rabbitohs to win: They love playing from in front and have shown they can come from behind – against the Melbourne Storm no less. The Bunnies need to impose their will and get strong go-forward from the Burgess boys to give Adam Reynolds and the still relatively underrated Cody Walker room to operate. And if Cook starts causing havoc from dummy-half the Broncos could be in serious strife.
Broncos Stat Attack: If premierships are built on defence, Brisbane are on very shaky ground judging by their last two performances. After walloping the Panthers 50-18 and gutting it out in a 12-10 defeat of Cronulla, the Broncos gave up 36 points to the Bulldogs in round 21 and 34 in last week's loss to the Cowboys. Worrying signs for coach Wayne Bennett.
Rabbitohs Stat Attack: Cook knows there's nothing like having the green light from your coach. Cook is lethal out of dummy-half and has caused problems for defences all season. Coach Anthony Seibold has backed his No.9 from day one this season and Cook has responded by leading the NRL in dummy-half runs (136). Cameron McInnes (108) is second, followed by Issac Luke (93).
And another thing: Souths have shown they can win without Greg Inglis, but can they go all the way without their inspirational captain? The Bunnies and their fans hope they won't have to find out, with GI on schedule to return this week or next after several weeks out with a broken thumb. Seibold won't rush Inglis, meaning he might make his comeback in the round 24 road duel with the Raiders. Either way, the unexpected late-season stint on the sidelines could be a blessing in disguise, with the 31-year-old superstar set to be fresh and fit for the finals.
Fullback for Broncos is number 1 Darius BoydFullback for Rabbitohs is number 1 Dane Gagai
Winger for Broncos is number 2 Corey OatesWinger for Rabbitohs is number 2 Hymel Hunt
Centre for Broncos is number 3 James RobertsCentre for Rabbitohs is number 3 Braidon Burns
Centre for Broncos is number 4 Jordan KahuCentre for Rabbitohs is number 4 Tyrell Fuimaono
Winger for Broncos is number 5 Jamayne IsaakoWinger for Rabbitohs is number 5 Richard Kennar
Five-Eighth for Broncos is number 6 Anthony MilfordFive-Eighth for Rabbitohs is number 6 Cody Walker
Halfback for Broncos is number 7 Kodi NikorimaHalfback for Rabbitohs is number 7 Adam Reynolds
Prop for Broncos is number 15 Joe OfahengaueProp for Rabbitohs is number 8 Thomas Burgess
Hooker for Broncos is number 9 Andrew McCulloughHooker for Rabbitohs is number 9 Damien Cook
Prop for Broncos is number 10 Sam ThaidayProp for Rabbitohs is number 10 George Burgess
2nd Row for Broncos is number 11 Alex Glenn2nd Row for Rabbitohs is number 11 John Sutton
2nd Row for Broncos is number 12 Tevita Pangai Junior2nd Row for Rabbitohs is number 12 Angus Crichton
Lock for Broncos is number 13 Josh McGuireLock for Rabbitohs is number 13 Sam Burgess
Interchange for Broncos is number 8 Matthew LodgeInterchange for Rabbitohs is number 14 Mawene Hiroti
Interchange for Broncos is number 16 Korbin SimsInterchange for Rabbitohs is number 15 Cameron Murray
Interchange for Broncos is number 17 David FifitaInterchange for Rabbitohs is number 16 Jason Clark
Interchange for Broncos is number 18 Patrick MagoInterchange for Rabbitohs is number 17 Tevita Tatola
Broncos: In a late change an hour before kick-off, Joe Ofahengaue will start the match, with Matt Lodge moving back to the bench. Kotoni Staggs and Sam Tagataese were the two players left out an hour before the match was scheduled to start. Broncos winger Corey Oates has scored nine tries in his past six games against the Rabbitohs. Troy Dargan and Gehamat Shibasaki were omitted from the reserves 24 hours before kick-off.
Rabbitohs: Mawene Hiroti will start on the bench, despite talk he may have been moved into the starting 13. After Kyle Turner and Matt McIlwrick were the two reserves cut 24 hours before kick-off, Dean Britt and Connor Tracey were left out an hour before the match started.
Head-to-head: Played 37; Broncos 27 wins, Rabbitohs 9 wins, 1 draw
Previous result: Broncos won 24-20 at ANZ Stadium in round 8
Points per game: Broncos 21.3; Rabbitohs 23.9
Points conceded per game: Broncos 21.8; Rabbitohs 17.4
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League
Petero Civoniceva's prediction: The off-field drama at the Broncos is taking the focus off the footy at a time when they should be making a strong push towards the finals. The Rabbitohs are more stable but I think last week's huge game against the Roosters may have taken some juice out of them so I'll take the Broncos at home.
Tip: Broncos by 8