Broncos v Rabbitohs preview

Embed from Getty Images
Brisbane Broncos v South Sydney Rabbitohs Thursday 7:50pm at Suncorp Stadium

Erratic Broncos desperate to arrest slide against premiership contenders.

Less than a month ago Thursday's hosts Brisbane were looking comfortable enough to be making a run for the top four, emphatically thumping the Panthers and holding on for a gritty win over Cronulla. Since then they've collapsed, losing to two of the three teams sitting at the foot of the ladder in Canterbury and the Cowboys.

By contrast, the Rabbitohs rebounded after their nine-game winning streak was cut short by the Tigers four weeks ago, downing a spirited Eels side before impressing everyone with an important victory over the Storm. Yes, they fell to now-first-place Roosters last week but only by a small margin, and that was after having lost Alex Johnston to injury in the opening minute - already missing plenty of backline talent including captain Greg Inglis.

While Souths just need to keep winning to ensure a top two finish and subsequent home final in week one of the 2018 Finals Series, the consequences of a loss here for Brisbane are far more dire than they would be for the red-and-greens. The Wests Tigers have made a late run in recent weeks, and are now nipping at the heels of the out-of-form Broncos. With an easily winnable game on Saturday against the struggling Dragons, the Tigers will be hoping Brisbane continue their run of outs in recent weeks so they can draw level and force a huge battle in the closing fortnight of the regular season.

With plenty of media about Brisbane in the early part of week, there's pressure on Wayne Bennett and his charges to deliver on the field - and changes have been made as a result. Jordan Kahu is back in the side at the expense of rookie Gehamat Shibasaki, with Josh McGuire also returning from suspension, and Matt Lodge & Tevita Pangai Jr starting in the forwards.

South Sydney meanwhile have only made necessary changes - Johnston's injury sees Dane Gagai shift to fullback and Tyrell Fuimaono named in the centres. To fill Fuimaono's spot on the interchange, debutant Mawene Hiroti has been named.

Last meeting: Round 8 2018 - Rabbitohs 20 Broncos 24

Brisbane have an utterly dominant record over the Rabbitohs since 1988, with 27 wins from 37 matches. One match was drawn. Back in Round 8, Brisbane were 24-20 winners in ANZAC Round.

Who to watch: Darius Boyd has attracted plenty of media attention in the last few days after some controversial reports regarding social BBQ events at the club and coach Wayne Bennett. The veteran Brisbane fullback will play his 289th NRL match on Thursday and he'll need all those years of experience to ensure the off-field distractions don't play a part in derailing the Broncos' top eight aspirations. After spending three weeks in the centres with mixed results, he's back at fullback and while they didn't get the win last Thursday against North Queensland, he's solid defensively and will be key to stopping South Sydney's attacking raids, particularly if players like Damien Cook find space up the middle.

Dane Gagai will shoulder huge responsibilty on Thursday, as custodian of a backline fielding very little NRL experience - the wingers and centres Gagai will line up with have less than 100 NRL games between the four of them. He's been a mainstay of the Rabbitohs' side all year, missing just two games in his first season wearing cardinal and myrtle. His defence has been especially strong this season, with a strong tackle efficiency (78% from 312 tackles). It's one of his best years and makes plenty of sense when you consider he's moved from the team that finished with the last three wooden-spoons to a title contender.

The favourite: South Sydney have the obvious backing for this one as Brisbane struggle to find positive results.

My tip: While you'd have to think Brisbane issue a response after two poor losses and would have their backs to the wall after all the Bennett-Boyd drama, I still don't see it being enough to overcome the South Sydney machine. If the Broncos can exploit the Rabbitohs' backline rookies they might be a chance, but the Bunnies are well-oiled - almost Storm-esque - and should win this, even if it's close. Rabbitohs by 4.

1. Darius Boyd 2. Corey Oates 3. James Roberts 4. Jordan Kahu 5. Jamayne Isaako 6. Anthony Milford 7. Kodi Nikorima 15. Joe Ofahengaue 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Sam Thaiday 11. Alex Glenn 12. Tevita Pangai Junior 13. Josh Mcguire 8. Matthew Lodge 16. Korbin Sims 17. David Fifita 18. Patrick Mago

1. Dane Gagai 2. Hymel Hunt 3. Braidon Burns 4. Tyrell Fuimaono 5. Richard Kennar 6. Cody Walker 7. Adam Reynolds 8. Thomas Burgess 9. Damien Cook 10. George Burgess 11. John Sutton 12. Angus Crichton 13. Sam Burgess 14. Mawene Hiroti 15. Cameron Murray 16. Jason Clark 17. Tevita Tatola

Referees: Ashley Klein, Chris Sutton; Sideline Officials: Phil Henderson, Michael Wise; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Luke Patten;

Follow all the action LIVE in our Match Centre