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4:05pm Sun July 10, 2022
Round 17 - Suncorp Stadium, Milton - Crowd: 29234

Round 17: Broncos v Dragons preview

Resurgent rivals face off minus Origin stars

Queensland take on New South Wales at NRL level on Sunday afternoon as the Brisbane Broncos host the St George Illawarra Dragons at Suncorp Stadium.

Returning home after back-to-back losses on the road either side of the representative weekend, the Brisbane Broncos will be looking to steady their season in order to remain in contention for a top four finish.

Producing a disappointing defensive display during last Saturday's 40-26 loss at the hands of the Cowboys in Townsville, coach Kevin Walters has been forced to make a host of changes due to injury and Origin representation.

Losing Te Maire Martin, Selwyn Cobbo, Corey Jensen, Payne Haas, Kurt Capewell, Patrick Carrigan and Thomas Flegler for the rare Sunday afternoon encounter at home, the Broncos will be relying upon Tesi Niu, Jordan Pereira, Rhys Kennedy, Ryan James, Cory Paix, Xavier Willison and debutant Zac Hosking to rise to the challenge of claiming a win without their representative stars for the first time since 2019.

Currently sitting two points adrift of the top four in fifth position, the Broncos boast a comparatively soft run home with only one match against a side ranked higher on the ladder to come over the final eight rounds of the premiership.

Coming into the contest off the back of consecutive wins over fellow top eight aspirants, the St George Illawarra Dragons will be hoping to prove their credentials as more than a one man team.

Set to be without captain Ben Hunt for the first time this season, coach Anthony Griffin has backed rookie playmaker Jayden Sullivan to wear the number seven jersey, while young winger Mat Feagai has retained his place despite failing to complete last week's 12-10 victory over the Raiders due to a knee injury.

Holding a strong record over Brisbane with five consecutive wins dating back to 2018, the Dragons have lost their past four matches at Suncorp Stadium against all teams, while winning in their past three visits to the venue against the Broncos.

Sitting in eighth position with a minus 70 points differential, the Dragons face a difficult run of matches against the Roosters, Sea Eagles, and Cowboys throughout July which could make or break their chances of playing finals football for the first time in four years.

Last meeting: Round 13 2021 - Dragons 52 Broncos 24

Who to watch: Under different circumstances Kotoni Staggs would be lining up at Suncorp Stadium in a blue jersey on Wednesday evening. Alas, the 23-year-old centre will instead provide a much-needed injection of strike for his club side three days earlier. Enjoying a career best season after a wretched run with injury limited the Indigenous and Tongan representative to four matches last season, the Broncos will be hoping Staggs can continue an impressive run of form that has yielded 62 tackle breaks in 2022.

Touted as a star of the future after captaining the Illawarra Steelers to victory in the SG Ball premiership three years ago, Jayden Sullivan will get a rare opportunity to play in his preferred position in the top grade. Playing predominantly off the bench or as a dummy half in ten first grade appearances to date, the 20-year-old Wollongong junior will be tasked with the immense responsibility of filling the void of the Dragons most influential player. Contracted to the joint venture for a further three seasons, Sunday afternoon looms as a pivotal game in Sullivan's young career.

The favourite: The presence of Adam Reynolds contrasted against the absence of Ben Hunt looms as a huge factor in the Broncos being installed as favourites.

My tip: Despite fielding a vastly different line up brought on by the realities of rugby league in the professional age, the stability of the Broncos attacking structures should be too much for the Dragons to contend with in the absence of Ben Hunt. Broncos by 12.