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3 hours ago | Tim Costello
The NRL's surprise success team of 2019 host a struggling giant
The Canberra Raiders without doubt have exceeded league-wide expectations by winning four of their first five matches, while mass changes at the Broncos have them off course.
It's only five rounds into a 25-round season, but there is credit due to Ricky Stuart, Canberra's football staff and the players for the way they've played so far this season.
They finished 10th on the ladder last year, five wins away from the 8th spot with the 12th worst defence, and in an off-season with a couple of low-profile signings the results have changed rapidly for the better.
They now boast the league's best defence. That's right… no games, this is serious. In two of their wins they've held their opposition scoreless.
Those two low profile signings, English second-rower John Bateman and New Zealand Warriors discard fullback Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, happen to be Canberra's leading Dally M vote receivers after five rounds.
In last week's 19-0 win against the Parramatta Eels, Josh Papalii played his best match on the young season as he bullied the Eels' forward pack and scored a try.
Meanwhile the Brisbane Broncos are under a bigger than usual spotlight to perform.
Apart from their round two win against the North Queensland Cowboys (currently 15th on the ladder), Brisbane has struggled with effort, game management or leadership in their four losses.
This slow start definitely has them in a hole. The last time an NRL team started a season with one win and four losses and went on to play finals was the 2015 Cronulla Sharks.
It took Broncos coach Anthony Siebold until round six last season, his first in charge of the South Sydney Rabbitohs, to get the Rabbitohs at their best which was a 26-14 win over the Roosters that started their run of 11 wins from 12 matches.
Payne Haas played his first NRL match of 2019 last week and was Brisbane's best on ground. He started the match at lock and showed endurance to make 45 tackles and 17 runs for 167 metres.
Ricky Stuart is sticking with the same players who kept the Parramatta Eels scoreless last weekend, but is forced into one change as the injured Joe Tapine is replaced by Junior Collins on the bench.
Matt Lodge misses this game due to a throat injury and Tevita Pangai Junior is serving the last match of his two-game suspension. James Roberts, named as a reserve, is a chance to return from an Achilles problem.
Last meeting: Round 16 2018 - Broncos 26 Raiders 22
The Raiders jumped on the Broncos early to lead 16-0 by half-time. Brisbane chipped away steadily at the deficit in the second half and took the lead for good in the 71st minute when Anthony Milford scored a try to go with two try assists, four tackle breaks and three offloads on the night.
Who to watch: Canberra hooker Josh Hodgson knows how to exploit a weakness in his opposition and has a favourable matchup against the Broncos. Darius Boyd pushes up into the defensive line often and the kicking and decision making of Hodgson can catch Boyd out, who has largely struggled to save tries this season. As the Raiders lack an astute playmaking half, this could be their best tactic for repeat sets and points.
There's only a few Broncos players that have largely avoided criticism on the season, amidst the five tries Corey Oates has scored this season he's got some errors to get out of his game. Oates, who on multiple occasions has stated his desire to play as a second-rower, in the first five matches of 2019 has produced 12 handling errors and failed to properly use his size and strength while making tackles. So far he's made 16 tackles and missed nine which is well below NRL standards. While he has hardly any competition for his spot on the wing at the Broncos, he'll need to lift for Queensland Maroon's coach Kevin Walters to retain Oates on the wing.
The favourite: The Raiders are firmly the favourites for this clash. It flies in the face of their match-up history, as Brisbane has won the last six matches against the Raiders and nine of the last 11. The Raiders will miss Joe Tapine but a bigger hole is created with Brisbane's loss of Matt Lodge and Tevita Pangai Junior. But will this week's test of character for the Broncos bring out the best in them?
My tip: It's likely some complacency will have settled into the Raiders' camp this week. Three of their four wins have come against the poor performing Newcastle Knights, Gold Coast Titans and North Queensland Cowboys. The Broncos under their circumstances should show enough of their potential to get a small scrappy win over the Raiders. Broncos by 2.
1. Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad 2. Nick Cotric 3. Jarrod Croker 4. Joseph Leilua 5. Jordan Rapana 6. Jack Wighton 7. Sam Williams 8. Josh Papalii 9. Josh Hodgson 10. Dunamis Lui 11. John Bateman 12. Elliot Whitehead 13. Ryan Sutton 14. Siliva Havili 15. Hudson Young 16. Iosia Soliola 17. Jj Collins
1. Darius Boyd 2. Corey Oates 3. Kotoni Staggs 4. Jack Bird 5. Jamayne Isaako 6. Anthony Milford 7. Kodi Nikorima 8. Payne Haas 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Joe Ofahengaue 11. Alex Glenn 12. Matt Gillett 16. Thomas Flegler 13. David Fifita 15. Jaydn Su'a 17. Patty Carrigan 20. James Roberts
Referees: Matt Cecchin, Adam Cassidy; Sideline Officials: Michael Wise, Nick Morel; Video Referees: Jared Maxwell, Ben Galea;