Round 23: Broncos v Sharks preview - 2017 Round 23
Will the Broncos revival continue? Or can the premiers strike back as they losing grip on the top four and two bites of the finals cherry with the return of their talisman plus a milestone for the captain?
The season could have turned fast for the Broncos after the dropping of Ben Hunt but the halfback-turned-hooker put in a performance that will have those wearing the big red vee salivating - a hat-trick and a pair of try-assists helped them triumph in the local derby.
Coach Wayne Bennett hopes that this combo can be the one that take the Broncos to their first title since 2006 but solidifying their top four hopes will be the top of the agenda headed into the final month of the season.
Cronulla seem to have hit a speed bump in their quest to replicate the 92-93 Broncos as back-to-back champions; they were overwhelmed by the Raiders forwards which didn't allow their backline to get involved but do welcome back James Maloney from a broken hand.
Without the Blues halfback, Cronulla has struggled to put together a full performance as they swung between losses to the Titans and Raiders as they squeaked past cellar dweller Rabbitohs and Warriors which isn't the best form-line headed into a Friday night blockbuster.
An injury to Jack Bird has robbed the centre of a chance to impress his future employers but someone who will be there is 300 gamer Paul Gallen - who can expect his standard frosty reception from those north of the border.
The former Blues captain would love to mark his triple century with a win on one of the bigger stages of rugby league.
Who to watch: At times in 2016 - it was picture perfect to watch the Sharks attack as James Maloney directed the team around on course to the premiership. Now in 2017, in his absence, the attack has looked clunky so his return should kickstart their attack and score points. Something they will need to do against a Brisbane side that raised the bat against Gold Coast so Maloney and his team has to re-find the rhythm of 2016 if the Sharks are to think about becoming the first side to go back-to-back in the NRL era.
Coming off his five-star performance it would be easy to earmark Ben Hunt once again but Kodi Nikorima will be in the firing line against a large Sharks pack. The Holden Cup project has transitioned well into his halves partnership with Anthony Milford but teams will still target the diminutive half. Cronulla are one of the more savvy sides in their game-plan so Nikorima should expect a lot of traffic headed his way from Fifita and Graham but if he can hold his own - it should give the Broncos the best chance of victory.