Broncos v Dragons: Fifita starting, Aitken out

It is 25 years since Wayne Bennett guided Brisbane to back-to-back grand final wins over St George and eight years since he took the St George Illawarra joint venture to their only premiership.

The history between the Red V and the Broncos is a rich one and the ties between the two clubs extend beyond King Wayne to Darius Boyd and Ben Hunt and the Sims brothers.

On current form you would say Brisbane are far more likely to score another premiership trophy than the Dragons in 2018, but the Red V did restore confidence with last Saturday's 24-14 win over the Knights.

The Broncos, meanwhile, jumped from eighth to sixth with Sunday's 48-16 win over Manly and their potency out wide is certain to trouble a Dragons defence which has leaked 26 points per game in the past six weeks.

The return of captain Gareth Widdop is a massive boost for the Dragons and they will be hoping the Englishman can relieve some of the stress on halfback Ben Hunt.

Match: Broncos v Dragons

Finals Week 1 -

Full Time
Broncos

Home Team

Broncos

Scored 18 points
Dragons

Away Team

Dragons

Scored 48 points

Venue: Suncorp Stadium

Match broadcasters:

  • Nine Network
  • Fox League
  • LIVE PASS

Key match-up: The forward battle will be immense as the big men look to lay a platform for the playmakers. Ben Hunt has been the man under the microscope at the Dragons and his showdown with Kodi Nikorima will be critical. Nikorima is growing in confidence every week whereas Hunt's confidence has been eaten away during the past six weeks.

For the Broncos to win: Get the ball to Corey Oates. The towering left winger crossed four times against Manly to equal the club record for tries in a match and take his season tally to 18. The Dragons' backline defence is vulnerable and Oates has the pace and power to make them pay if he gets into open spaces.

For the Dragons to win: Gareth Widdop needs to play with the flair and freedom which had Paul McGregor's men flying high only eight weeks ago. Widdop is the heartbeat of the side and if his running game and kicking are on song then the Dragons can fire a warning shot across the bow of the other finalists. If he is rusty and fails to gel with Hunt then it could be curtains.

Broncos Stat Attack: Rookie winger Jamayne Isaako has been a revelation in 2018, finishing as the competition's leading point-scorer (233) following his 20-point haul against Manly on Sunday afternoon at Suncorp Stadium. His teammate Anthony Milford comfortably chalked up the most kick metres (8462). Wayne Bennett's men are also competing their sets at 80 per cent. 

Dragons Stat Attack: Despite some scratchy form heading into the finals, the Red V are still the yardstick when it comes to tackle breaks (880). Pivot Gareth Widdop has 16 try assists to his name, while hooker Cameron McInnes has made 1062 tackles.

And another thing: The rival squads opened the 2018 Telstra Premiership campaign, with the Dragons cruising to an impressive 34-12 victory at Kogarah in early March. Look for under-siege Red V halfback Ben Hunt to rise to the occasion against his former employers.

Brisbane Broncos v St George Illawarra Dragons, Sunday 4pm at Suncorp Stadium

Team Lists

Backs

  • Fullback for Broncos is number 1 Darius Boyd
    Fullback for Dragons is number 1 Matthew Dufty
  • Winger for Broncos is number 2 Corey Oates
    Winger for Dragons is number 2 Nene Macdonald
  • Centre for Broncos is number 3 James Roberts
    Centre for Dragons is number 3 Zac Lomax
  • Centre for Broncos is number 4 Jordan Kahu
    Centre for Dragons is number 4 Timoteo Lafai
  • Winger for Broncos is number 5 Jamayne Isaako
    Winger for Dragons is number 5 Jordan Pereira
  • Five-Eighth for Broncos is number 6 Anthony Milford
    Five-Eighth for Dragons is number 6 Gareth Widdop
  • Halfback for Broncos is number 7 Kodi Nikorima
    Halfback for Dragons is number 7 Ben Hunt

Forwards

  • Prop for Broncos is number 15 Joe Ofahengaue
    Prop for Dragons is number 8 James Graham
  • Hooker for Broncos is number 9 Andrew McCullough
    Hooker for Dragons is number 9 Cameron McInnes
  • Prop for Broncos is number 10 Sam Thaiday
    Prop for Dragons is number 10 Leeson Ah Mau
  • 2nd Row for Broncos is number 17 David Fifita
    2nd Row for Dragons is number 11 Tyson Frizell
  • 2nd Row for Broncos is number 12 Tevita Pangai Junior
    2nd Row for Dragons is number 12 Tariq Sims
  • Lock for Broncos is number 13 Josh McGuire
    Lock for Dragons is number 13 Jack de Belin

Interchange

  • Interchange for Broncos is number 8 Matthew Lodge
    Interchange for Dragons is number 14 Jeremy Latimore
  • Interchange for Broncos is number 14 Patrick Mago
    Interchange for Dragons is number 15 Kurt Mann
  • Interchange for Broncos is number 16 Korbin Sims
    Interchange for Dragons is number 16 Blake Lawrie
  • Interchange for Broncos is number 18 Kotoni Staggs
    Interchange for Dragons is number 17 Luciano Leilua

Broncos: In a late change, Joe Ofahengaue will start at prop, with Matt Lodge dropping back to the bench. David Fifita will start in the second row after Alex Glenn (calf) was ruled out on Saturday. Andrew McCullough (concussion) returns at hooker, allowing Josh McGuire to revert to lock. Sam Tagataese and Gehamat Shibasaki were omitted an hour before kick-off.

Dragons: The Dragons will start the match 1-17, with Jason Nightingale and Hame Sele dropped from the squad an hour before the game time. Captain Gareth Widdop (elbow) returns at five-eighth, bumping Kurt Mann to the bench and Jai Field out of the squad, in the only listed change from last week. Lock Jack De Belin has been named despite sporting a moonboot on an injured ankle or foot on Tuesday.

Head-to-head in NRL era: Played 38; Broncos 23 wins, Dragons 15 wins
Previous result: Dragons won 34-12 in round 1 at Jubilee Oval
Points per game (regular season): Broncos 23.2 (3rd); Dragons 21.6 (7th)
Points conceded per game (regular season): Broncos 20.8 (10th); Dragons 19.7 (8th)
Televised: Live on Nine, Fox League

Craig Wing's prediction: The Broncos are on a roll. They have a big forward pack, they know their job and are strong right across the park. The Dragons have too many demons to deal with. Broncos by 20.

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