Full Time
8:05pm Fri March 12, 2021
Round 1 - Suncorp Stadium - Crowd: 28313

Round 1: Broncos v Eels preview

Broncos look to right wrongs of horror 2020 season at home against success-starved Eels

The Brisbane Broncos went into the COVID-19 break last year as one of only 6 teams with a 2-0 record and looked to be cruising to a finals berth, with the potential to make a deep run into September, or October as it ended up being.

After the resumption of play, they went 1-17 and won their first ever wooden spoon in what was undoubtedly rock bottom for a once proud club. They enter 2021 with next to no expectation and a coach with a questionable record in first grade.

The Eels started in a similar vein to the Broncos, winning their first 5 matches for the first time since 1986 in a run which had the blue and gold faithful daring to dream that the successes of that year could be replicated. 

But a season that started with so much promise ultimately fizzled out, with Parra's clunky attack and at times non-existent edge defence meaning a top 4 berth would turn into a straight set exit for the 2nd time in 4 years.

So it goes without saying that when the Eels travel to Brisbane to take on the Broncos in a Friday night blockbuster, both sides will have everything to prove after a season that didn't go to plan for either of them. 

The Broncos have named a relatively new look backline and are a team which will be screaming out for some stability after a year of constant changes to the 17 due to injuries, suspensions as well as an overall lack of commitment from coaching staff. Isaako will get another chance at fullback, with youngster Tesi Niu to line up in the centres alongside David Mead, who will play his first game in the NRL since 2017. 

Brodie Croft has beaten out Tom Dearden for the number 7 jersey and will get the chance to partner Anthony Milford however he will be under pressure to perform from the outset or else risk getting dropped once again. In the forward pack, Matt Lodge returns to the starting side and Jake Turpin is at hooker, while John Asiata will make his club debut off the bench beside youngsters Flegler and Bullemor as well as veteran Ben Te'o.

For the Eels, the backline remains identical to much of 2020, with the only new face being off season recruit Tom Opacic, who will line up against the club he debuted with 5 years ago. The forward pack is still headlined by Reagan Campbell-Gillard and Junior Paulo, while signings Isaiah Papali'I and Keegan Hipgrave, from the Warriors and Titans respectively, will line up on the bench. 

Last meeting: Round 19 2020 - Eels 26 Broncos 12

Who to watch: 2021 serves as the defining year for Anthony Milford's career at the Broncos. After being enticed away from Canberra on a big money deal in 2015, Milford had one of the great seasons and would've been a premiership winner had it not been for that famous Michael Morgan play in the Grand Final. Since then, Milford has gradually regressed into a shadow of his former self and couldn't get anything going consistently in 2020, despite showing occasional glimpses. His contract expires at the end of the year, and he will want to open with a bang to set the stage for what is hopefully the season where Anthony Milford gets back to his brilliant best.

In an extraordinary show of faith on the eve of the season, the Eels have reportedly offered halfback Mitch Moses an extension through to 2023. It comes as a surprise considering in recent years, Moses has shown signs of talent without ever being able to get the job done in big games, most notably finals matches. He was also the centrepiece of the Eels attack which struggled for the back end of 2020. That being said, Moses possesses rare talent and can be a handful for opposition defences when on-song. He isn't afraid to back himself, which can at times be both beneficial and detrimental to the Eels. Moses will want to start the season off strongly, however in 2021 his focus should be more on winning by taking control of games rather than trying to do so by creating highlight reel type plays.

The favourite: The Broncos are significant outsiders for this one, with the Eels favoured by 8 and a half points away from home.

My tip: The Eels are favourites in this one and for good reason; they have a far superior team on paper. However, the Broncos will be fired up by new coach Kevin Walters in the first official outing of the job he's wanted for years now, and his team may jump out to an early lead in front of their home faithful, but it won't be enough to hold out the Eels, who are simply a class above teams like the Broncos this year. Eels by 8.