Schick Hydro Preview: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v Brisbane Broncos
Thursday, 8.05PM AEDT
The Brisbane Broncos face their first trip to ANZ Stadium in 2017, travelling to face the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in a match-up with huge implications for both sides.
An under pressure Bulldogs side can't afford to lose this one, with the knives already out after a poor start to the season that has left them sitting in 13th position with only one win.
Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett was able to breathe a sigh of relief after Round 4, with his side finally winning a close encounter after back-to-back losses in heartbreaking style.
It leaves the Broncos in the top eight and confident they can match it with the best after taking on every team from last year's top four in the opening four rounds of competition.
With the hardest part of their draw over, Brisbane will be looking to assert themselves as one of the teams to beat in the coming weeks.
The Broncos are unchanged for Thursday's match, with their bench being rewarded for a stellar start to the year that has seen the young forwards often outshining their more experienced counterparts.
Canterbury have been forced to bring in Matt Frawley at halfback after the suspension of Moses Mbye during the week.
Why the Bulldogs can win: Brisbane have struggled to score points this season, ranking 13th in attack with just 71 points to their name. Only the Newcastle Knights, Wests Tigers and Canterbury have scored less this season. The Bulldogs are ranked last in this statistic, with just 54 points to their name after four games but this is not the end of the world. If Des Hasler's men can force Thursday's match into a low-scoring affair then they will have every chance of coming out on top. They can't allow the game to open up or else the Broncos will run away with it, much like the Manly Sea Eagles did in Round 4. Therefore, defence up the middle will be key, as well as suffocating halves Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford. It will take a lot of effort in defence, but the Canberra Raiders showed in their 13-12 loss to the Broncos that if pressure is put on Brisbane's halves then their team will struggle to score points. If Brisbane score more than 18 points then they should win this one so it is up to the Bulldogs to defend like they did when they defeated the New Zealand Warriors 24-12 in Round 3.
Why the Broncos can win: Wayne Bennett's men have the most run metres out of any team in the NRL. This will be a huge factor against a massive Bulldogs pack. If Brisbane can make easy metres up the middle then they will run over the top of the tiring Canterbury forwards. The Broncos got themselves into superior field position by doing this against a pack of similar size last week, with Adam Blair, Josh McGuire and Herman Ese'ese eating the metres up the middle against the Raiders. Brisbane's backline failed to make the most of it, making silly errors inside Canberra's 20m line. It's doubtful they will make the same mistake two weeks in a row. The loss of halfback Moses Mbye is huge for the Bulldogs and if they play anything like they did in their 36-0 loss to the Sea Eagles then the Broncos will be sure to make them pay. Defence is about attitude – the Bulldogs have to turn up this week or it could get ugly on the scoreboard.
Key match-up: Josh Reynolds vs. Anthony Milford. Two embattled halves come head-to-head on Thursday night in a match-up that could define the result of the clash. Reynolds has a chance to silence the doubters, with the absence of halfback Moses Mbye giving the five-eighth the perfect opportunity to take the game by the scruff of the neck and guide his side to victory. Brisbane's Milford has also struggled to start the year, putting together just one try assist and seven errors in his four games in 2017. A struggling Bulldogs side is the perfect opportunity for Milford to rediscover his confidence and running game. The pressure will be on both of these halves and whoever rises to the occasion will more than likely be on the winning side of things at the end of 80 minutes.
The history: Played 50; Bulldogs 21; Broncos 28; Drawn 1. The Broncos have won five of their last seven against the Bulldogs, winning their most recent encounter 20-10 at Suncorp Stadium in Round 24 last year. Their other 2016 meeting resulted in a huge Canterbury win at ANZ Stadium, with the Bulldogs running away 40-14 winners in Round 16. Notoriously poor over the State of Origin period, Brisbane were never in that game as Canterbury piled on the points. Out of the last 10 matches between these two teams in Sydney, it is Brisbane who have a slight advantage – winning six of those clashes.
Televised: Channel 9 – Live coverage from 8.00PM; Fox League – Live coverage from 7.00PM.
NRL.com predicts: As desperate as the Bulldogs will be, it is hard to see Des Hasler's side winning this one. The Broncos will have too much firepower across the park and they will be ready for battle after a tough first month of football. Canterbury were poor against the Sea Eagles in Round 4 and we can't see them turning it around just yet. Broncos by 12 points.