Round 11: Broncos v Roosters preview
Undermanned Broncos look to bounce back against revitalised Roosters
After suffering a disappointing 38-24 loss to the lowly Sea Eagles last week, Wayne Bennett's Broncos face an uphill battle as they look to overcome injuries to Jack Bird (sternum), Alex Glenn (knee) and Payne Haas (shoulder). Tom Opacic starts at centre with Tevita Pangai Junior shifting to the second row. Meanwhile, Joe Ofahengaue starts at lock and Sam Tagataese, Gehamat Shibasaki and Patrick Mago join the bench. However, injuries are not Brisbane's only concerns as they will need a drastic improvement in defence if they are to topple the Roosters this week. The Broncos missed 48 tackles in the 14-point defeat, a clear contrast from the 14 tackles missed in their 22-20 win over the Bulldogs the week prior. The Tricolours appear to have rediscovered their attacking brilliance after last week's 32-0 win over the Warriors and that could pose serious concerns for the home side if they do not toughen up in defence.
The Sydney Roosters were installed as pre-season premiership favourites off the back of a high-profile recruitment drive. However, they have experienced an inconsistent start to their 2018 campaign leaving several experts wondering when the true Roosters would finally stand up. Unfortunately for the Broncos, it seems as if Trent Robinson's men are close to fulfilling their potential after claiming a dominant 32-0 win over the high-flying Warriors last weekend. Despite making 11 errors and conceding 13 penalties, the Roosters simply outplayed the New Zealand outfit, managing five tries and line breaks and restricting the Warriors to zero in both of these areas. Robinson's men are also boosted by the return of the promising Victor Radley from suspension.
Who to watch: Following Cameron Smith's shock decision to retire from representative football, this Friday night's clash of the No. 9s could determine who replaces the Melbourne skipper in the Origin arena.
Andrew McCullough made a surprising early return from injury a fortnight ago and was particularly impressive in last week's game with the Sea Eagles, despite the loss. McCullough scored a try, set one up and made 44 tackles in a strong 80-minute display. A similar effort on Friday night should see him make his Maroons debut seeing that he is already likely ahead of the other candidates for Smith's vacant jersey.
Meanwhile, while up for a potential Origin debut, Roosters rake Jake Friend will be more focussed on improving as to safeguard his position in the starting side given the recent form of rookie Victor Radley. It was revealed last week that Friend had been playing with a cracked sternum - a stunning revelation given that Radley would have been a more than capable replacement. Nonetheless, the expectation is clearly that Friend still performs and while he is still a very strong defender, he lacks the long-range kicking game that McCullough offers out of dummy-half. Therefore, Friend will need to discover an extra element in his game if he is to convince Maroons coach Kevin Walters that he is the man to replace Smith.
My tip: The Broncos were dreadful last week and it is hard to see them improving with key personnel missing. In addition, this week they face a Roosters side coming off their strongest performance of the season. It all equates to bad news for Brisbane fans. Roosters by 18.