From the Couch ? 2nd Qualifying
Final Analysis: Broncos v Storm

September is here and that means Finals.

From The Couch returns after an injury induced layoff of 3 months to analyse the 2005 Telstra Premiership Qualifying Finals.

Qualifying Final Two

#3 Brisbane Broncos v #6 Melbourne Storm, at Suncorp Stadium.

FTC Picks:

Broncos by 10

Where it will be won:

Arresting the Broncos 5 match losing streak could be as simple as the return of Darren Lockyer from a hamstring injury. According to a Big League article Lockyer is fresher than he has been in years and ready to throw down the gauntlet to Andrew Johns as the World?s Best Player once again. With Johns plying his trade with Warrington, the NRL Finals are Lockyer?s time to shine. One player alone CAN make all the difference ? just look at Newcastle ? and if there is one other player in the NRL capable of having the same impact on his side?s fortunes it is Lockyer. Lockyer will upgrade the Brisbane attacking game ten fold as centres Shaun Berrigan and Brent Tate will have so much ball they will feel like it is Christmas.

The Broncos pack of Webcke, Thorn, Civoniceva, Parker and Carlaw should provide more than enough go-forward for Lockyer to operate on both sides of the ruck and find willing runners inside and out. But perhaps even more importantly the return of Lockyer gives Karmichael Hunt a chance to work the right hand side off wide Lockyer passes and combine with Tate coming back on the angle.

Ironically if there is a team capable of matching the Broncos for sheer firepower out wide it is Melbourne. Matt Orford and Scott Hill have a great backline to work with but you get the feeling that if the Broncos pack rolls over the advantage line like you expect they will, the Storm forwards will have a terribly tough time matching that in defence let alone their own yardage game.

How it will play out:

Brisbane aren?t the kind of team to rush out of the blocks and pile on 20 points before you know what?s happened and you shouldn?t expect the same here. Their structure is such that spontaneity isn?t really encouraged but execution of set moves and getting the ball to the key playmakers is. Which probably a direct result of Lockyer?s move from fullback to five-eighth which saw his ability to create something from nothing on kick returns or chiming into the backline disappear and his role as a more hands on ball player evolve. He will dictate the way the Broncos play and it will be Barry Berrigan and Brett Seymour?s job to give him the ball whenever he calls for it. Defensively the Broncos can stymie even the best attack and their main focus will be limiting the time Orford has with the ball one off the ruck. While this could open up more space for Scott Hill the Broncos will have noticed Hill?s drop off in form this season and figure letting him have time is the lesser of two evils.

Melbourne love to cart the ball up with two props on plays one and two, then have Orford hit a wide running second rower on the edge on play three. Plays four and five are when the Storm unleash their huge centres and bring Slater into the mix on the right side ? usually cutting in behind Hill or Orford who feign a wide pass to the centres. While the pack is mobile ? particularly Kidwell and Hoffman, they could struggle to maintain their go-forward when Kearns and impressive rookie Brett White need a break. Don?t be surprised however if Kearns plays close to the whole game. If the Storm include the exciting Greg Inglis on the bench they might have a ace in the pack but it is hard to see the Storm bench of Scott, Kaufusi and Turner keeping the yards flowing for Inglis to make a big enough impact when he gets on.

Bottom Line:

Two of the most structured sides in the NRL face off in a replay of the same corresponding fixture last year. Melbourne upset the Broncos that night and despite the Broncos recent losing streak, the Storm faces a huge task of knocking off the team that really should have been minor premiers. If Lockyer doesn?t play, the Storm probably go in favourites, but you cannot count out class especially with the array of talent Lockyer will run out onto the field with.