It’s do-or-die as the Brisbane Broncos host a home semi-final at Lang Park against the Penrith Panthers.

Last Time Out

The Broncos lost to the Roosters in a thrilling showdown decided by two points. Brisbane were well off the pace early and their defence was in absolute shambles. They failed to number up effectively on their goal-line and the Roosters were able to slice through gaps big enough to drive a car through.

Darius Boyd’s absence was sorely felt by the Broncos with his organisation in attack and defence notably lacking. Benji Marshall’s short and long kicking game was fantastic but he also made a few errors and came up with some poor last-tackle options.

Despite a horror first half, the Broncos fought their way back. Tries to Roberts, Oates and Hunt got them within four points of the Roosters. A moment of madness from Blake Ferguson saw him throw a ball back in-field off a Marshall 40/20 attempt, scooped up by Oates for his second try. The big blunder saw the Broncos take an unlikely 22-18 lead into the last 10 minutes of the match.

Some individual brilliance from Latrell Mitchell saw the youngster bust through the Broncos’ defence for a 24-22 win.

The Panthers prevailed in their elimination final against the Sea Eagles 22-10. Facing the unique prospect of playing the same team twice in the span of eight days, their 28-12 loss in Round 26 might have given Penrith an unintentional advantage, having the Sea Eagles reveal their best cards early.

Across the board the Panthers were a different team to the week before. Dylan Edwards’ return helped improve their attacking threat, while Dean Whare’s return to right centre improved their edge defence immensely as he was able to keep Tom Trbojevic quiet for most of the match. Bryce Cartwright made a well-timed return to form, grabbing a double to help secure victory.

A controversial 50/50 call try to Tyrone Peachey got Manly coach Trent Barrett complaining all the way to a massive fine. All it did for the Panthers was provide them with a reason to celebrate as they lived to fight another week in the finals.

Key Battle 

Ben Hunt vs Peter Wallace.

The battle of two halfbacks turned dummy halves. They will be holding the fortunes of their team in the palm of their hands. The two of them have contrasting styles of play but are equally as important in helping guide their team to victory.

Hunt’s speed and creativity from dummy half will be vital to producing a lot of points for the Broncos. The way he combines with his halves and the link he has with the likes of Gillett can pose a big threat to the Panthers’ defence.

A step and a shimmy out of dummy half that can put the defence in two minds, or even a chip-and-chase over the line, are just some of the tricks Hunt can pull out of his bag. He can be a game changer for the Broncos and can tear the Panthers apart if he’s allowed to.

Wallace’s calmness and composure will be invaluable to a young Panthers side that’ll need all the experience and finesse to complement the razzle dazzle style of footy they’re capable of playing. Delivering fast and efficient service to his halves will be Wallace’s main role but his kicking game will also come in handy.

A well-timed kick out of dummy half to get the Broncos defence turning and chasing can help influence the pace of the match and ensure that it’s dictated on the Panthers’ terms.

Prediction 

The Broncos’ defence against the Roosters last week is certainly a concern, but the fact they were almost able to win is a sign they could be far from their best and still match it with a top side. Darius Boyd is named on the extended bench but the reports are he’s a long shot to be fit on game day.

The Panthers were very strong in defence against the Sea Eagles but their attack was a little lacking. Their only try for 73 minutes of the game came from a well-aimed kick that ricocheted off the posts into Cartwright’s hands. The Broncos are unlikely to repeat last week’s poor defensive effort again so they’ll need to take their offense up a notch if they’re to breach the line.

The Broncos start as obvious favourites on paper, and they would likely pose more of a threat to the Melbourne Storm than the Panthers. However the Panthers would be beaming with confidence after last week. Regardless of how they did it, the energy they’d take out of a finals win against a potentially rattled Broncos gives them a great chance of coming away with an upset.

Anthony Griffin appears to be Wayne Bennett’s kryptonite, as the Panthers coach enjoys an 11-2 record against him. Stats don’t always tell the whole story and the Broncos have the greater amount of finals experience and Wayne’s guidance to call upon. Big games are won and lost in the little moments so that should prove to be the difference for Brisbane in the end.

Broncos by six.

Squads

Brisbane Broncos
1 Kodi Nikorima
2 Corey Oates
3 James Roberts
4 Tautau Moga
5 Jordan Kahu
6 Anthony Milford
7 Benji Marshall
8 Sam Thaiday
9 Ben Hunt
10 Adam Blair ©
11 Alex Glenn
12 Matt Gillett
13 Josh McGuire
Interchange:
14 David Mead
15 Jai Arrow
16 Joe Ofahengaue
17 Herman Ese’ese
Reserves:
18 Darius Boyd
19 Jaydn Su’A
20 Jamayne Isaako
21 Tevita Pangai Junior

Penrith Panthers
1 Dylan Edwards
2 Josh Mansour
3 Tyrone Peachey
4 Dean Whare
5 Dallin Watene-Zelezniak
6 Tyrone May
7 Nathan Cleary
8 James Tamou
9 Peter Wallace ©
10 Reagan Campbell-Gillard
11 Corey Harawira-Naera
12 Isaah Yeo
13 Trent Merrin
Interchange:
14 Sione Katoa
15 Bryce Cartwright
16 Moses Leota
17 James Fisher-Harris
Reserves:
18 Jarome Luai
19 Viliame Kikau
20 Sitaleki Akauola
21 Jed Cartwright