The Late Mail: New Zealand v Tonga
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Who would've thought that the Brisbane Broncos would be sitting in fifth place after 11 weeks as the Gold Coast Titans dwell in 13th place after just three wins so far this season. The Broncos have peeled off five wins in a row, including wins over Cronulla, South Sydney and Manly. They're fresh of a 24-point victory over the Newcastle Knights despite missing star halfback Adam Reynolds.
They'll head into this clash without Reynolds for the second week straight, with Ezra Mam named in his second game for the South East Queensland derby, as they look to extend their winning streak to six. The last time the Broncos won six games on the trot was way back in 2017 when Wayne Bennett and Darius Boyd were still at the club. However, it seems that the club has finally turned the corner for the first time since Bennett's departure at the end of the 2018 season. They possess a brilliant crop of young forwards backed by some exciting talent in the backline. Those players were key to the Broncos victory over the Knights on Thursday night. The Broncos outran the Knights by 408 metres and averaged an extra 11.7 metres per set than their opposition. Six of their forwards eclipsed 100 running metres, including all three bench forwards and their outside backs (not including fullback) all eclipsed that mark too.
Just over a month ago, there was talk of the young Selwyn Cobbo heading back to reserve grade to work on his game, after a tough opening few weeks. However, the 19-year-old has been exceptional over the past month. Since their five-win streak began, Cobbo has scored nine tries, made five linebreaks, broken 29 tackles and averaged 163.8 running metres. When you compare that to the no tries, three linebreaks, 18 tackle breaks and the 105.7 metres per game over the first six weeks, it's clear that the 19-year-old has improved immensely over the first half of the season.
Cobbo will be a key weapon for the Broncos as they look for another win over the ‘little-brother' Titans. Cobbo will start on the wing for the Broncos in an unchanged line-up from their victory over the Knights.
At the start of the season, if you asked footy fans which Queensland team will finish the highest on the ladder, the most popular answer would've been the Gold Coast Titans. Now, 11 weeks into the competition, and the Titans are sitting in 13th spot and are the only Queensland team currently not residing inside the top eight. It's been a tough start to the year for the Titans, however, given the inexperience of their young spine, it's not all too surprising that they've struggled throughout the year. The Titans have lost six of their last seven matches, including their seven-point loss to the Sharks, which saw the Titans put up a fight.
They've struggled in both attack and defence this season, scoring just 178 points (12th in the league) whilst conceding a large 265 points (14th in the league). An interesting point though, is that since the rule changes at the end of the season, the Titans have struggled with the ball in hand. Last season, the Titans scored 30 points or more in 11 of the 25 matches the club played. Fast forward to now, and the Titans have failed to score 30 points in a single game through 11 matches. Add this to the fact that their three wins all had margins of four points or less and it's starts to look grim for the Titans. However, Gold Coast still boast some immensely talented players in the likes of Jayden Campbell, AJ Brimson and Tino Fa'asuamaleaui just to name a few.
The injury to David Fifita has naturally hurt their attack, although, their cohesion with the ball in hand has been something of a struggle for the young side. This will come with more game time together, but at the moment, it doesn't bode well for the Titans 2022 finals hopes. Fifita has been named in the reserves for the weekend, so we'll have to wait and see if he is selected prior to the game.
Phil Sami misses this week with a knee injury and will be replaced by Brian Kelly, as Jaimin Jolliffe joins the bench at the expense of Herman Ese'ese.
Last meeting: Round 8 2021 - Broncos 36 Titans 28
Who to watch: This week's players to watch isn't a position matchup, but features two backs who have impressed so far this season. Firstly, Titans fullback Jayden Campbell, was one of the better players on the park for the Gold Coast in their loss at the hands of the Sharks on the weekend. The 22-year-old ran for 165 metres, broke four tackles and assisted a try as they fell seven points short. In his five games this season, Campbell averages a tick over 150 run metres per game and an incredible 5.8 tackle breaks per game, which included a whopping 13 against the Dragons two weeks ago. Campbell is only two games back from injury and is surprisingly only 12 games into his career at this stage, but with the glimpses we've seen, he could be in for a big performance on one of the biggest stages at Suncorp Stadium.
For the Broncos, with Origin selection just around the corner, centre Kotoni Staggs has been excellent over the past month and could be a chance to make his debut for the New South Wales Origin side with the injuries to Tom Trbojevic and Latrell Mitchell. The 23-year-old had a lacklustre start to the season, failing to crack 100 run metres and remaining scoreless in each of his first four games of the season. However, since that round four loss to the Warriors, Staggs has been on fire. In the seven matches since that Warriors match, Staggs has made five linebreaks, scored three tries, broken 5.7 tackles per game and ran for an average of 107.4 metres per game. His spike in form has coincided with the excellent form of Selwyn Cobbo on his outside, which has done nothing but reap rewards for the Broncos. With Origin selection around the corner, be ready for a big one from Staggs.
The favourite: Despite missing Adam Reynolds for another week, the Broncos showed that they can still perform without their star halfback. A current five-game win streak could be turned to six on Friday night in Brisbane as the inform Broncos continue their quest for a return to finals footy. The Titans haven't looked great this season and given that they've only won three games this season, the favourite must be Brisbane.
My tip: Brisbane are surprisingly running amok at the moment, and will look to continue their excellent run over the Titans, which has seen Brisbane walk away as victors in 21 of the 31 outings between the two teams. I expect the Broncos to make that 22 from 32. Brisbane by 10.
1. Te Maire Martin 2. Corey Oates 3. Kotoni Staggs 4. Herbie Farnworth 5. Selwyn Cobbo 6. Tyson Gamble 7. Ezra Mam 8. Corey Jensen 9. Billy Walters 10. Payne Haas 11. Kurt Capewell 12. Jordan Riki 13. Patrick Carrigan 14. Cory Paix 15. Kobe Hetherington 16. Thomas Flegler 17. Keenan Palasia 21. Delouise Hoeter
1. Jayden Campbell 2. Corey Thompson 3. Brian Kelly 4. Esan Marsters 5. Jamayne Isaako 6. AJ Brimson 7. Toby Sexton 9. Erin Clark 10. Jarrod Wallace 11. Isaac Liu 16. Sam McIntyre 12. Beau Fermor 13. Tino Fa'asuamaleaui 14. Tanah Boyd 15. Jaimin Jolliffe 17. Sam Lisone 23. David Fifita 19. Aaron Booth
Referees: Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials: Liam Kennedy, Darian Furner; Video Referees: Grant Atkins;