A massive battle between two top four sides will hit Suncorp Stadium on Friday, as the Broncos host the Sharks in a must win for both sides. The Broncos come off an impressive 54-0 thumping against the Titans, while the Sharks fell to the Raiders at home 30-12. Both sides sit on 13 wins for the season and enter the game with full-strength squads.

Last Time Out

The Broncos travelled south to take on their baby brother Titans on the Gold Coast. After their disappointing loss to the Tigers at home a week before, the Titans were looking to keep their very slim hopes of a finals spot alive. The Broncos came off a loss to Parramatta, and were looking to finish the season as strong as possible. The first 20 minutes went scoreless, as both sides failed to capitalise on opportunities. Brisbane was subjected to more attack from the Titans, with consistent sets within the first 10 minutes. Having the best goal line defence in the competition, the Broncos managed to hold out the Titans, and eventually they broke the deadlock with Kodi Nikorima scoring in the 23rd minute. From there the floodgates opened, and the Titans energy levels plummeted. The Broncos ran in two more tries before half time with Corey Oates scoring in the corner off a terrific Tautau Moga flick pass, and Ben Hunt scoring from dummy half. Up 16-0 at the break, Brisbane continued their great attacking football with Hunt scoring again form dummy half, and later setting up two more. McCullough’s injury was a huge scare for Brisbane fans as his kicking game and defensive work rate and nearly unmatched at the position, yet Hunt’s strength allowed him to be a fitting replacement for the remainder of the season, and he is so far living up to expectations. James Roberts ran in under the posts after an Anthony Milford break, and a gorgeous Tevita Pangai flick pass set him up. The Titans struggled to even get a hand on the ball and when they did often a mistake came out of it. Possession swung the way of the Broncos with 52 percent, as well as completion percentage with 81 to the titans 67. Anthony Milford recovered a terrific Ben Hunt kick, Hunt scored his third off a Kodi Nikorima kick, and Corey Oates scored off a scrum deep in their own half for the Broncos to extend their lead tremendously. With the game already decided, Nikorima ran in a second and Josh McGuire scored on full time to give Brisbane their biggest ever win over the Titans 54-0. The Broncos got a win that not only put them up to third on the ladder with a Sharks loss the same night, but increased their points difference, which will become vital with only four points separating second from seventh.

The Sharks returned home after a win in New Zealand against the Warriors, against a Raiders side that looked pretty much down and out in terms of a finals appearance. The Sharks started off the better side scoring with Sosaia Feki in the corner, and Holmes kicking a penalty giving them an 8-0 lead. The Sharks also enjoyed most of possession as well as gaining penalties, leading to good field position and consistent sets. The Raiders ultimately gained more of the ball, and Josh Papali scored on the right edge after a great run. From there, the Raiders were the better side and strung together good attacking sets while limiting the Sharks’ chances. Josh Hodgson enjoyed more for the ball around the ruck, at the expense of the halves, but it worked well. Hodgson scored a terrific try to end the half, as well as a penalty goal for Jarrod Crocker and a try to Joran Rapana, with Canberra leading 24-8 at the break. Aside from the early stages, the Raiders were terrific at controlling and keeping the football, with a 91 percent completion rate for the entire game. This carried over into the second half as the Raiders continued to pierce the Sharks defence. The second half also saw a rise in tensions as Papali was sent off for a deliberate and blatant off side play, and from there both sides were amped up to run the ball hard. A careless high tackle from Paul Gallen earned the Raiders a penalty, and portrayed the increasing physical nature of the game in the second half. A try to Gerard Beale in the 50th minute injected a slight bit of hope for the Sharks, but the deficit was too much and the Raiders retained control of the game. Penalty goals were converted by Croker, as the Raiders played it safe to see the game out 30-12. A comfortable win for the Raiders saw them keep their finals hopes alive in fine fashion, and against a top four side made it even more impressive. The Sharks on the other hand will have to put the loss behind them, and face an even tougher task against the Broncos up in Brisbane.

Key Battle

Valentine Holmes has been a pleasant surprise in 2017, replacing Ben Barba at fullback for the Sharks. On the other side, Captain Darius Boyd as usual will be pivotal for the Broncos in both attack and defence. Though they have very different styles of play, both men will be huge in getting their team a win.

Darius Boyd’s absence for a couple of weeks was missed by the Broncos. Adding that extra player, along with Milford, Nikorima and Hunt, Boyd’s presence will be vital as always. His experience and crafty ball handling increase the Broncos weapons for attack, and on defence Boyd has always been known as one of the best at fullback since his rise to prominence in his Dragons’ years. On the other side, Holmes was the starting winger for the Sharks in 2016, aligning with Ben Barba’s rise in form at fullback the same year. After a few failed attempts at a replacement, Holmes was placed at fullback in round five against the Knights and has remained since. Holmes’ has still managed to return the ball strongly at fullback and average a career high in running metres with 163 per game. Now after 15 games at the position, and Origin experience under his belt for 2017, Holmes is poised to continue his solid form at the back, and against the Broncos it will be as important as ever.

Prediction

Both sides have had up and down form recently. The Broncos could not match the pace and stamina of the Eels, yet destroyed a slack Titans side last week. With the Sharks, they played well on a tough road trip to New Zealand but fell apart against the Raiders at home. The difference with the Sharks is when playing big teams they usually pull out a win (or a great performance at the least), and with James Maloney returning Cronulla will be in a better position to be competitive. Though being at Suncorp Stadium, coming off a huge derby win, it is hard to see the Broncos dropping such an important game. Ben Hunt has calmed a few nerves with his great play at dummy half, and Wayne will make sure his men a primed for a win in an important part of the season. Broncos by 4

 

Squads:

Broncos: 1. Darius Boyd 2. Corey Oates 3. James Roberts 4. Tautau Moga 5. Jordan Kahu 6. Anthony Milford 7. Kodi Nikorima 8. Korbin Sims 9. Ben Hunt 10. Adam Blair 11. Alex Glenn 12. Matt Gillett 13. Josh Mcguire 14. Sam Thaiday 15. Tevita Pangai 16. Jai Arrow 17. Herman Essese 18. Jaydn Su’a 19. Tom Opacic 20. Benji Marshall 21. Salesi Funaki

Sharks: 1. Valentine Holmes 2. Sosaia Feki 3. Kurt Capewell 4. Ricky Leutele 5. Gerard Beale 6. James Maloney 7. Chad Townsend 8. Andrew Fifita 9. Fa’amanu Brown 10. Matt Prior 11. Luke Lewis 12. Wade Graham 13. Paul Gallen 14. Jayson Bukuya 15. Chris Heighington 16. Jeremy Latimore 17. James Segeyaro 18. Sam Tagataese 19. Kurt Dillon 20. Billy Magoulias 21. Jesse Ramien