GRAND FINAL DAY LOCKED IN | Three big fixtures next Sunday at Sydney's ANZ Stadium! Burleigh and Ill...
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After the excitement that was Wednesday's State Of Origin clash, there is no better dessert than the annual Suncorp Stadium double header. It's hard to argue against the fact that the Brisbane venue is the best Rugby League stadium in Australia. So to be able to view two games in succession there on a Friday night is always great entertainment.
It's especially so when it throws up two contrasting clashes: the first is a battle of two teams near the top of the table; the second is one fought by teams that are starting to slide further down it.
MANLY VS BRISBANE
These two teams always lift against each other. Perhaps it's because Manly is the first team that the Broncos played when they joined the competition in 1988, or the fact that they were the two dominant sides of the 1990's. All past hypotheticals aside, the Broncos and the Sea Eagles will be an interesting clash for many reasons.
The first is that both these sides have had successful starts to the year on the back of their defence. Manly's is aggressive and dominating; Brisbane's places more emphasis on composure and communication. Both have shown a penchant for getting on top and winning games on the back of their respective defences and there is a good chance that this will decide who comes out on top in this match.
Don't be fooled into thinking that it's Manly's game to lose because Broncos coach Anthony Griffin plans to rest some of his representative players. They proved against the Melbourne Storm after the test match a few weeks ago that they are able to hold their own without players like Darren Lockyer and Sam Thaiday.
The loss of Justin Hodges to a hamstring injury will be a much more influential factor on the outcome than people may realise. It is no coincidence that the Broncos' fortunes over the first part of the season mirrored their centre's return to form after snapping his Achilles tendon last year. It is also no coincidence that his team lost its way once he went down injured against the Panthers two weeks ago.
The kamikaze attitude of Manly five-eighth Kieran Foran is just as influential on his team's performances as Hodges' dummy-half runs and formidable face palms are for the Broncos. This is shaping up to be one bruiser of a contest.
BULLDOGS VS TITANS
The Canterbury Bulldogs started the season well with three wins on the trot, but have now started to lose their way. In their travels down the ladder they have found the Gold Coast Titans, who have been disappointing from the get-go.
On paper both of these teams should be winning on a regular basis. The fact that they're not suggests that they're being let down by their attitude and injuries in key positions.
The most promising thing for both teams is that come Friday night, one of them will be back in the winner's circle. That can mean a lot. You just need to examine how the Canberra Raiders have fared in the last two weeks to see that just like losing, winning can be infectious.
Aiden Tolman's knee injury has depleted the Bulldogs' forward stocks, forcing Andrew Ryan to step into the vacant prop forward position. On the other coin, the Titans will be missing Anthony Laffranchi and Nathan Friend.
Friend's loss is huge for the Titans, and while Canterbury rake Michael Ennis is not a certainty to back up after Origin, his presence around the ruck should tip the balance in his team's favour.