Week one of the NRL finals series comes to an end at Suncorp Stadium when Brisbane Broncos take on St George-Illawarra Dragons in an elimination match.
TEAM FORM GUIDE
The Broncos are in irresistible form going into the finals with ‘super coach’ Wayne Bennett’s future uncertain. The seven time premiership winner has been able to use all the negative press surrounding the club to galvanise the playing group. After disappointing losses to the Bulldogs and Cowboys, Brisbane rebounded to beat competition favourites the Rabbitohs and Roosters before hammering Manly in their final game. Many experts believe Brisbane are the form team in the competition and could be a serious premiership threat.
ST GEORGE-ILLAWARRA DRAGONS
In stark contrast to their opponents this week, St George-Illawarra are in a form slump and seem to be a shadow of the side that was tearing through their competition in the early parts of the season. Despite beating Newcastle on the weekend the Dragons are still searching for that formula that had them running like a well oiled machine during the early rounds, their attack seems void of ideas and their forwards have lost their bite. But it’s a new competition starting this week so maybe the smell of finals football will help the Dragons find their fire once again.
Brisbane have named hooker Andrew McCullough to start after missing last week as he recovered from the infamous Dylan Napa hit, all reports are he is right to go and has fully recovered. There are questions marks over both starting back rowers Tevita Pangai and Alex Glenn who both failed to train on Tuesday, both players are expected to play but Kontoni Staggs and Sam Tagatese are on standby.
ST GEORGE-ILLAWARRA DRAGONS
St George-Illawarra welcome back captain and five-eighth Gareth Widdop to their starting lineup after he missed the previous three matches. Widdop’s inclusion is a massive boost to the joint venture club as he will bring the confidence and ‘swagger’ they’ve been missing in his absence, whilst also providing support to the struggling Ben Hunt. Jack de Belin is the big worry for the Dragons with pictures of him on crutches and a moon boot surfacing on Tuesday, the clubs believe he will be fine to play, most likely needing a needle to ease the pain.
The last time these two sides met in a finals match Wayne Bennett was coaching the Dragons in what was to be his final match in charge of the Red V. Fast forward seven years and the two sides meet again in similar circumstances, a knock-out match at Suncorp Stadium.
We have to go back to the opening game of the season for when these sides last clashed and it was the Dragons led by former Bronco Bent Hunt who got the spoils on that occasion. The game is best remembered by Hunt streaking away for a try after he took an intercept off a Matt Lodge pass, the former Bronco’s number seven started the season on fire much like the rest of his team mates as the Dragons set the early rounds alight.
But again like his team mates Hunt’s form has slumped and he seems void of confidence and ideas, which has fans and critics alike questioning his ability to handle the pressure situations. Hunt couldn’t ask for a better opportunity to prove his critics wrong up against his old side, in front of his old fans in an elimination finals match. The stage is set for Hunt to either buckle under the pressure or rise to occasion and prove the doubters wrong.
For the Broncos things have changed a lot since that first round defeat and their early season struggles, they’re now the form side of the competition riding on the back of their young and powerful forward pack. Their much maligned halves pairing of Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima have also caught fire and found form at the right time of the season.
With a big crowd expected for Sam Thaiday’s last ever game at Suncorp Stadium the Broncos will be full of energy in the opening stages. St. George will need to weather the early onslaught from the Bronco’s crowd and forward pack otherwise they risk losing the game in the early stages, one feels the longer the Dragons can stay in the contest the better their chances are of winning.
Gareth Widdop holds the key to victory for the Red V, he’s their captain and their best player so much will be riding on his shoulders. His team mates will also benefit from having him out on the field with them, knowing that the English play maker is capable of that big play at the crucial moment will help lift the team morale and belief.
This will be the fifth time these two sides have met in a finals game with Brisbane winning three of the four matches to date.
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 Sam Thaiday, 11 Alex Glenn, 12 Tevita Pangai Junior, 13 Josh McGuire, 14 Patrick Mago, 15 Joe Ofahengaue, 16 Korbin Sims, 17 David Fifita, 18 Kontoni Staggs, 19 Sam Tagatese, 20 Gehamat Shibasaki, 21 Troy Dargan
St George Illawarra Dragons
1 Matt Dufty, 2 Nene Macdonald, 3 Zac Lomax, 4 Tim Lafai, 5 Jordan Pereira, 6 Gareth Widdop, 7 Ben Hunt, 8 James Graham, 9 Cameron McInnes, 10 Leeson Ah Mau, 11 Tyson Frizell, 12 Tariq Sims, 13 Jack de Belin, 14 Jeremy Latimore, 15 Kurt Mann, 16 Blake Lawrie, 17 Luciano Leilua, 18 Jason Nightingale, 19 Euan Aitken, 20 Jacob Host, 21 Hame Sele
THE IMPORTANT DETAILS
Date: Sunday, September 9 2018
Venue: Suncorp Stadium
Kick-off: 4pm AEST
WHO WILL WIN?
Despite their poor form of late I expect the Dragons to come firing and put in a much improved performance, knowing that a loss will end their season they’ll leave nothing out on the field and go for broke. In saying this I expect Brisbane to have too much fire power and running in their legs for St. George and in turn I expect Brisbane to come home strong and win. Brisbane 1-12