Schick Hydro Preview: Canterbury Bulldogs v Brisbane Broncos
With both teams fresh off the bye (with the obvious exception of the heavy contingent of Origin representatives looking to back up from Wednesday night) we enter this fixture in the unexpected situation of having two NRL powerhouses combining for just two wins over the past month.
Early-season hotshots the Broncos lost three straight before beating the Raiders into last week's bye while Des Hasler's men had just one win in their three prior games (a last-start disposal of the Dragons) on the back of a late loss to the Sharks and an Origin-affected loss to Canberra before that.
What that all means is that even though both these clubs still sit in the top six on the ladder, each will be desperate to put some form on the board during a tricky period where several of their best players are dealing with Origin commitments.
Hasler has named both his Origin representatives to back up while, in desperate search of a win, Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett has named all six to play their second game in four days.
Hasler has gone with a largely unchanged team from the win over the Dragons a fortnight ago, though Danny Fualalo and Lloyd Perrett feature on a five-man bench with Tim Browne dropping out.
Bennett hands an NRL debut to exciting young centre Tom Opacic due to Jordan Kahu's pec injury; Alex Glenn's shoulder injury means Sam Thaiday starts and Jaydn Su'A joins the bench to play his second NRL game. Herman Ese'ese has been added to a five-man interchange.
Watch out Bulldogs: The Broncos are too good a side not to break out of their recent slump and the fact up to six (injury permitting) of Brisbane's starting side will either be coming off a morale-boosting Origin series win or will be looking to hit back after a shock Origin loss probably doesn't make Canterbury's task easy. This will also be Corey Parker's first game since announcing his retirement so you can bet the Silver Fox will be primed for a big one.
Watch out Broncos: This big Dogs pack looks to have an extra bit of sting in it when maligned back-rower Tony 'T-Rex' Williams aims up as he did in his return to top-level footy a fortnight ago following a spell in reserve grade to rediscover his form. It seemed to make the one-time Blues and Kangaroos wrecking ball hungrier because his 182 metres in 51 minutes – with a try assist and two tackle busts – was vintage T-Rex and putting him on behind the likes of James Graham, Aiden Tolman, Dave Klemmer and Sam Kasiano means a whole lot of punch thrown at the Broncos on Saturday night.
Key match-up: Will Hopoate v Darius Boyd. While two of the NRL's best forward packs smash each other up front, two of the NRL's form fullbacks will look to put the finishing touches on whatever their sides can create. It shouldn't really be any surprising that either of these incredibly talented custodians are playing well but just how well has perhaps taken some by surprise. Boyd has been a good player for a long time but his efforts so far in 2016 – notably for the Maroons and Kangaroos in the absence of Billy Slater – have been truly elite. Meanwhile Hopoate never reached his potential at Parramatta after returning from a two-year Mormon mission so again, while it should surprise that someone of his ability is playing well, just how much he's improved under Hasler has been a sight to behold. Last start against the Dragons he was in everything both on and off the ball, racking up a try and a try assist to go with three tackle breaks, four offloads, 188 metres, three kick defusals and a try save.
The History: Played 48; Bulldogs 20, Broncos 27, Drawn 1. The Doggies got the chocolates in their previous meeting – 18-16 at Suncorp in Round 22 last year – but the Broncos won four straight prior to that.
Match officials: Referee: Ashley Klein. Assistant referee: Henry Perenara. Sideline officials: Russell Turner and Rickey MacFarlane. Review officials: Jason Robinson and Ben Galea. Senior review official: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 7.30pm.
The way we see it: A tough one to tip, especially given how many players will need to get through Origin unscathed in order for the teams to run out as named. We can't split them but at home against a side that's in a rare form slump with six players under an Origin cloud we'll take the Bulldogs by six.