Schick Hydro Preview: Brisbane Broncos v Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs
A blockbuster round of NRL kicks off on Thursday night with a match that will have a huge bearing on the make up of the top four.
Canterbury travel to Brisbane four points clear of the Broncos and a win at Suncorp Stadium will all but secure their top four finish.
But if Brisbane beat the Bulldogs then the race for the top four will be blown wide open with Canterbury to play fellow top four hopefuls, the Cowboys, the following week.
Both teams are coming off consecutive victories and this clash will be vital in gaining momentum heading into the finals, with neither wanting to give their rivals bragging rights as the end of the season approaches.
The Broncos make just one change to the team that defeated the Eels last week, with New Zealand international Jordan Kahu returning from a pectoral injury - replacing last-start NRL debutant Jonus Pearson on the wing.
For the Bulldogs, Greg Eastwood returns in the back row and Raymond Faitala-Mariner shifts back to the bench. Kerrod Holland and Danny Fualalo will join him on Canterbury's extended interchange.
Watch out Broncos: The Bulldogs smashed Brisbane by 26 points just under two months ago and this will be firmly in the mind of Broncos coach Wayne Bennett and his side. That clash was dominated by a barnstorming performance from Canterbury's forward pack, with both starting front-rowers – Aiden Tolman and James Graham – running for over 200m. Lock David Klemmer and second-row forward Josh Jackson both ran for over 150m as the Bulldogs simply ran over the top of Brisbane. Canterbury ended up running for a combined 1893m – a huge number compared to the Broncos' 1358m. Brisbane's forward pack was weakened that night, with hooker Andrew McCullough and veteran Sam Thaiday not taking the field in the middle of the Origin period. They will both be back this week as Brisbane field a full strength starting forward pack that will have to lift against a hungry Bulldogs side looking to repeat their efforts from earlier this season.
Watch out Bulldogs: Anthony Milford is back to his very best. The 22-year-old put on an absolute clinic last week against Parramatta, scoring a try and having a hand in two others. It was a night of individual brilliance from Milford as he ran the Eels' forward pack into the ground. Milford said after the game that the go-forward from Brisbane's front row is giving him the platform to perform. This didn't happen in the previous match-up between the two clubs, but if the Broncos' forwards can get on top of Canterbury's huge pack then Milford may just put in a repeat of last round's performance. His footwork and speed appear to have returned, but most importantly it's his confidence that appears to be back at 100 per cent. The Bulldogs will need to rush Milford if they are to have any chance of stopping the exciting Brisbane young gun.
Key match-up: Corey Parker v David Klemmer. This game will be won and lost in the middle of the field and this is a fact known by both sides. For that reason, both Parker and Klemmer will try and make a statement early on, with their match-up promising to be fiery and full of passion. The rivalry between these two goes well beyond club level, with both in each other's faces throughout the past two years of Origin football. These two don't get along, and with Parker retiring at season's end he will be looking to have one final say in what could be his last match against the Bulldogs. The 34-year-old has been consistent all year – running for an average of 131m and making 31 tackles a game. Klemmer himself is a workhorse – running for an average of 166m and making 25 tackles per game. Both will be trying their hardest to secure superior field position for their speedy halves and whoever does that best may just win their side the game.
The history: Played 49; Broncos 27, Bulldogs 21, Drawn 1. It's match number 50 between the two sides, with Brisbane holding a slight advantage overall since their first meeting in 1988. Canterbury have won the last two clashes, with the most recent being a 40-14 smashing at ANZ Stadium in Round 16 this year. But Brisbane have won four of their last six against the Bulldogs – including three of their last four at Suncorp Stadium. Seven of the last nine matches have failed to break a total of 38 points. Broncos winger Corey Oates and Canterbury winger Brett Morris both have three tries each in the last two match-ups between the two sides.
Match officials: Referee: Gerard Sutton; Assistant Referee: Chris Butler; Touch Judges: Michael Wise & Rohan Best; Review Officials: Luke Patten & Steve Chiddy; Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel 9 – Live coverage from 7:30pm; Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 7:30pm.
The way we see it: This match will be tough and low-scoring. The Broncos will be desperate to keep any chance of a top four finish alive and their home crowd will be sure to give them an advantage late in the match. Des Hasler's men know if they can repeat the performance that they put in earlier in the season against Brisbane then they will win, but if last week's golden point win over the Sea Eagles is anything to go by, Canterbury are not playing as well as they were in Round 16. We're tipping the Broncos by seven.