Finals Week 1: Broncos v Dragons preview
It's NRL finals time and the scene on Sunday turns to Suncorp Stadium when the Brisbane Broncos play host to the St George Illawarra Dragons in front of what will likely be a capacity crowd.
The Broncos secured their home final last weekend with an ultra-impressive 48-16 victory over the Manly Sea Eagles last Sunday at Suncorp Stadium. They come into the finals with three straight victories including wins over Souths and the Roosters in Rounds 23 & 24.
The 2018 season has been an up and down ride for the Broncos who have spent the majority of the season at the bottom of the NRL's top eight until their climb into sixth spot last weekend. In 2018 has struggled at times in games that they should've won easily whilst putting in ultra-impressive performances against other opposition. Brisbane's win streak in their past three matches was impressive although it came off two shock defeats to the Cowboys and Bulldogs who were competing for the wooden spoon at the late stage in the season.
The Broncos enjoy the return of Andrew McCullough at hooker following his concussion a fortnight ago with Josh McGuire returning to the lock role. Alex Glenn and Tevita Pangai Junior have been named in the side by Wayne Bennett even though they are under an injury cloud with calf and hamstring injuries respectively.
The run to the finals has been anything but smooth for the Dragons who have won just two of their last six matches leading into the finals series. They come into the game having struggled against an under-manned Knights side in Newcastle which itself was off the back of a 38-point thrashing at the hands of the lowly-placed Bulldogs. St George Illawarra have conceded an average of 26 points per game since Round 20 which is a concern for a top 8 side.
Incredibly, they started the season as the form team of the competition taking victory in their first six matches of the season before winning just 9 of their next 18 matches in the season. The Dragons have come out of the origin period with struggles in recent seasons and again their post-Origin form left them in a troubled spot leading into finals and saw them slide down the ladder to seventh spot.
The Red ‘V' will be boosted by the return of Gareth Widdop following his break with an elbow injury which has forced Kurt Mann to the bench. They've have also named Jack De Belin who spent the early part of the week wearing a moonboot and missing training whilst Jason Nightingale and Euan Aitken could return from injury after being named in the reserves.
The Broncos have won twelve of the past fourteen clashes between the two sides. The two sides last played each other in the finals back in 2009 when Brisbane beat the Dragons 24-10 in the second week of the finals in front of 50,000 fans.
Who to watch: Anthony Milford - The Broncos will need Anthony Milford to play a controlling game if they want to ensure victory on Sunday. Milford possesses attacking speed and flair that will be important to them.
The 'Milf' is the key to the Broncos and they will need him to be on his game because the Dragons forwards can take advantage if he has an off day. His attacking speed and flair can have a big impact on turning the Dragons' forwards around.
Tyson Frizell - The Dragons big man has been their best player over their form slump and will again need to stand up for his side. In 2018, Frizell has ran for nearly 2,300 metres in 21 appearances with an average of 109 metres per game. They'll will need Frizell to stand up if they are to make metres up field at Suncorp Stadium against the big Broncos side. The other key stat for the bustling forward coming into the game is the five tries Frizell has scored this season.
My tip: The Broncos are the specials of the weekend to win this game. The Dragons form has been average and they struggled to victory against an understrength Knights side last weekend. The return of Gareth Widdop to their lineup will be a positive but the question will be whether he is 100%, and the questions around Ben Hunt's confidence are an issue as well. The positives column for the Broncos winning this are too big and that's why I think they can get the job done by quite a margin. Broncos by 18.