Semi Final 1 preview: Broncos v Panthers
Sudden death football comes early for Broncos against improving Panthers
A slow start against the Roosters proved costly last week as the Broncos suffered an agonising 24-22 defeat. Wayne Bennett's men were abysmal in the opening twenty minutes of the game, conceding two soft tries and missing 19 tackles in the process. Fortunately, they were able to eventually work their way back into the contest, only missing another 14 tackles in the remaining 60 minutes. As a result, Brisbane suddenly found themselves with an unlikely 22-18 lead with nine minutes remaining. However, a late try to Latrell Mitchell ensured that the Broncos would be punished for their early complacency, subjecting Bennett's men to a sudden death meeting with Penrith on Friday night. Luckily, the Broncos may welcome back influential fullback Darius Boyd and barnstorming forward Tevita Pangai-Junior from hamstring injuries this weekend.
Penrith, however, are not so lucky, with star fullback Matt Moylan set to sit out Friday night's contest. However, Anthony Griffin will be confident that the same 17 that downed Manly last weekend can do a similar job on Friday against his former club. What would have impressed Griffin from last week's win in particular would have been the commitment in defence that Penrith displayed - a clear contrast from the previous week's efforts against the same opponent. In saying this, he will be looking for an improvement in attack from his troops given that their inability to strike in the opposition twenty nearly cost them again last week. An early string of possession gifted the Panthers a chance to gain early ascendancy, yet a Nathan Cleary penalty goal was the only points that they were able to boast for all that dominance. If Brisbane maintain the defensive resolve they had against the Roosters in the final sixty minutes of their match it will certainly be a tough task for Griffin's young halves pairing of Tyrone May and Nathan Cleary to provide the creative spark their side needs to claim victory.
Brisbane were not slow starters in their last game against Penrith, racing out to a 28-0 lead at one point before a Matt Moylan-inspired Panthers charged back into the game to eventually fall 32-18 in Round 9 this year at Suncorp Stadium.
Last finals meeting: Fourth Qualifying Final, 2003 - Panthers 28 Broncos 18
Meanwhile, in terms of finals meetings, the Panthers conquered Brisbane 28-18 way back in 2003. The Broncos led that game 18-0 at the break before the eventual Premiers stormed home to progress through.
Who to watch: The battle between the locks could go on to decide this one. Josh McGuire has been very strong for the Broncos this year after making the switch from the front-row to lock. He was particularly impressive against Penrith earlier this year when he ran for 170 metres and made 44 tackles in a well-rounded performance.
His opposite number, however, was just as brilliant in defeat. Trent Merrin justified his expensive price tag with 142 running metres, a try and a line break in an effort that was vital given the relative inexperience of Penrith's side. His experience and leadership will be even more important this weekend given that captain Matt Moylan is set to be absent once more, meaning that the Panthers will once again be guided by the youthful halves pairing of Nathan Cleary and Tryone May.
My tip: The underdog tag often works in Penrith's favour and they can certainly pull off something special on Friday night if their forward pack fires. However, the safer bet is that Brisbane's experience in key positions will ultimately prove the difference. Broncos by 10.
1. Kodi Nikorima 2. Corey Oates 3. James Roberts 4. Tautau Moga 5. Jordan Kahu 6. Anthony Milford 7. Benji Marshall 8. Sam Thaiday 9. Ben Hunt 10. Adam Blair 11. Alex Glenn 12. Matt Gillett 13. Josh Mcguire 14. David Mead 15. Jai Arrow 16. Joe Ofahengaue 17. Herman Essese
1. Dylan Edwards 2. Josh Mansour 3. Tyrone Peachey 4. Dean Whare 5. Dallin Watene Zelezniak 6. Tyrone May 7. Nathan Cleary 8. James Tamou 9. Peter Wallace 10. Regan Campbell-Gillard 11. Corey Harawira 12. Isaah Yeo 13. Trent Merrin 14. Sione Katoa 15. Bryce Cartwright 16. Moses Leota 17. James Fisher-Harris