To kick off the season, the Dragons will host the Broncos at Jubilee Oval at 8:05pm AEDT, on Thursday night. Brisbane’s strong preseason could be a catalyst for a fast start to their campaign, while new faces at the Dragons will create hope amongst the fans for a possible finals berth in 2018.
The Dragons only had two trial matches, with a World Club series match against Hull F.C. and then the Charity Shield game against the Rabbitohs. The Red V managed a close 24-18 win over Hull at ANZ Stadium, while dropping their sixth straight Charity Shield match against the Bunnies 22-18 in Mudgee.
With most teams having two to three trial games, the Broncos had the most among premiership teams with four. The Broncos took down all four sides, highlighted by strong performances against the Titans 38-10 in Toowoomba, and a come from behind 26-12 win against the PNG Hunters in Port Moresby.
Newcomers James Graham and Ben Hunt will start in their anticipated debuts for the Dragons. Matt Dufty will start at fullback, filling one of the voids left by Josh Dugan, while, filling the other, Euan Aitken seems to have won the centre battle over Kurt Mann. Tariq Sims will likely replace the departing Joel Thompson in the second row, with the newly added Jeremy Latimore from Cronulla likely making an appearance off the bench.
The Broncos have a few decisions to make in their forwards for this season, but it seems likely that Matt Lodge will start alongside Sam Thaiday for Thursday night’s game. Thaiday however has been rumoured to be playing at dummy half, which will prompt Wayne Bennett to start Korbin Sims with McCullough coming off the bench. Youngster Jamayne Isaako is likely to start on the wing over veteran David Mead, with Jordan Kahu playing in the centres for the injured Jack Bird, who is set to return in round four.
The last time both teams met was in Round 24 of 2017, when the Broncos took down the Dragons at home 24-12. The Dragons needed a win to remain in the top eight with only three weeks left in the competition, while Brisbane were firmly in second spot after a big win over Cronulla. An early try for Alex Glenn was cancelled out by Tim Lafai giving the Dragons a narrow 6-4 lead, but soon after great passing by the Broncos put Anthony Milford across the line, and from their Brisbane comfortably took control of the game.
The addition of James Graham improves the Dragons front row tremendously, and handling that front row will be an area that Brisbane will have their work cut out for in, making for a juicy contest in the middle of the park for both sides.
The Dragons for a couple of years now have had one of the most underappreciated forward packs in the game. But with a huge influence from Paul Vaughan’s arrival and Jack De Belin rising as one of the top young second rowers in the game last season, they got the praise as well as the production they had been waiting for. A workhorse and great leader in the game, the addition of Graham should propel the Dragons to have an even better forward pack this year.
Brisbane on the other hand had to say goodbye to Adam Blair in the off season, as well as Sam Thaiday aging another year and set to retire at the conclusion of this season. With Korbin Sims likely to be rusty after recovering from a broken arm, that leaves Matt Lodge as a key component of a new look forward pack. There will be question marks over whether the adversity around his drunken, violent rampage of 2015 will have an impact on his form for Brisbane this year. The Broncos look like second favourites in the battle of the big men, so some questions may be answered on Thursday.
“He’s played at the club for 180 games and most of them have been under Wayne. He’s played with all those guys and he’s a halfback so he certainly knows what they’re about.” – Dragons Coach Paul McGregor on Ben Hunt as the Dragon’s secret weapon against the Broncos.
With Andrew McCullough still recovering from his ACL injury in late 2017, Captain Darius Boyd was optimistic with the possibility of Sam Thaiday starting at hooker to open Brisbane’s season. “Sammy played a little bit there last year and is an experienced guy. You could put Sammy in anywhere, apart from the backs probably, and he’d do a great job”, Boyd said.
As well as Brisbane winning seven of their last 10 opening round matches, they also have a great record over the Dragons, only losing one of their past 13 meetings. That one loss came in round seven in 2015, where the Dragons narrowly won 12-10 at Jubilee Oval.
Dragons team: 18 Matthew Dufty, 2 Nene Macdonald, 3 Euan Aitken, 4 Tim Lafai, 5 Jason Nightingale, 6 Gareth Widdop (c), 7 Ben Hunt, 8 James Graham, 9 Cameron McInnes, 10 Paul Vaughan, 11 Tyson Frizell, 12 Tariq Sims, 13 Jack De Belin. Interchange: 14 Luciano Leilua, 15 Kurt Mann, 16 Leeson Ah Mau, 17 Hame Sele. Reserves: 19 Jeremy Latimore, 20 Zachary Lomax, 21 Blake Lawrie, 22 Joshua Kerr
Broncos team: 1 Darius Boyd (c), 2 Corey Oates, 3 James Roberts, 4 Jordan Kahu, 5 Jamayne Isaako, 6 Anthony Milford, 7 Kodi Nikorima, 8 Matthew Lodge, 9 Andrew McCullough, 10 Samuel Thaiday, 11 Alex Glenn, 12 Matt Gillett, 13 Josh McGuire. Interchange: 14 Tevita Pangai Jnr, 15 Joe Ofahengaue, 16 Korbin Sims, 17 Jaydn Su’a. Reserves: 18 Tom Opacic, 19 Sam Tagataese, 20 Jonus Pearson, 21 George Fa
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Thursday 8th of March, 2018
Venue: UOW Jubilee Oval, Kogarah
Kick-off: 8:05pm AEDT
Referees: Matt Cecchin, Alan Shortall (assistant)
WHO WILL WIN?
The Broncos have a great record over the Dragons, which will be their main psychological weapon. Injuries have stripped the Broncos of being able to run out their best possible team for round one, while the Dragons could catch them off guard with new weapons on display. The battle in the middle of the park should go the way of the Dragons, but a lack of firepower out wide may see an inability to convert their attacking opportunities, so a safe bet to stick with Brisbane. Broncos by 4.