Schick Hydro Preview: Brisbane Broncos v Sydney Roosters
The Broncos are building up Corey Parker's last official home game as the story of Thursday night but it's looming as a match that has many subplots as the home and away season draws to a close.
Parker may be one step closer to retiring but a win for Brisbane will ensure a home final and at best a spot in the top four.
Lose and the Broncos could finish as low as seventh, robbing Parker of a proper finals farewell in front of the Suncorp Stadium faithful.
The Roosters will be trying their best to ensure that happens as they aim for a third win in four games – a silver lining to a horrid season.
For the Tricolours it's now about building momentum towards 2017 and there will be no better way to do that than with a win against an in-form Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium.
Boyd Cordner and Sio Siua Taukeiaho are out for the Tricolours. Ryan Matterson and Isaac Liu will start in the back row and at lock respectively. Mitchell Frei comes onto the bench along with Nat Butcher, who is set to make his NRL debut.
The Broncos have named an unchanged line-up for the fifth week in a row. Interestingly, the last time Brisbane fielded a changed team was in their 32-16 loss to the Roosters in Round 21.
Watch out Broncos: Roosters centre Dale Copley was a man on a mission against his former club five weeks ago, terrorising opposite number James Roberts in the process. Roberts missed three tackles and failed to put any pressure on Copley, and the former Bronco capitalised, running in two tries and having a hand in one other. It was the ultimate revenge for Copley after Brisbane offloaded him at the end of the 2015 season to sign Roberts. He will be out for a double dose of payback come Thursday night and it will be even sweeter if he can help the Roosters ruin the Broncos' top four chances. Brisbane second-row forward Matt Gillett missed the Round 21 clash and he will be vital in helping Roberts shutdown Copley's running game, as well as organising the Broncos' right-side defence.
Watch out Roosters: It's no surprise that Brisbane's rise has coincided with an outstanding month of football from five-eighth Anthony Milford. In the four matches that the Broncos have won in a row, Milford has averaged 143.5 running metres per game and a line break per match. But it's not just his running game that has his opposition bamboozled; with the star half producing five try assists in his last four matches as well. The 22-year-old has found the perfect balance between playmaker and ball runner, and he is complimenting halfback Ben Hunt faultlessly. Milford will need to improve again this week as he faces off against young Roosters five-eighth Connor Watson. The 20-year-old is in form and there's no doubt he'll be keen to earn bragging rights over Milford.
Key match-up: Andrew McCullough v Jake Friend. This match-up is neither the flashiest, nor the most exciting, but it is arguably the most important of the clash. Two of the best defensive hookers in the game square up in what promises to be an old-school showdown. The Broncos looked lost without McCullough when the 26-year-old suffered injuries to his hamstring and thumb earlier in the season, and it's no surprise that Brisbane suffered losses to the Sharks, Warriors and Bulldogs in that period. His 41 tackles per game are invaluable, and he is a key organiser in both the Broncos' attack and defence. Friend is the Tricolours' leader and one of the hardest workers in the competition. The 26-year-old makes almost 54 tackles per game and averages almost 76 minutes of game time per match. It's a battle of two of the toughest hookers in the competition and it gives a glimpse into the Queensland Maroons' future as Cameron Smith draws closer to the end of his career.
The history: Played 42; Broncos 25, Roosters 17. The Sydney Roosters have won four of the last six meetings between these two sides, but Brisbane have won the last two clashes at Suncorp Stadium. The last time these two teams met at the venue was in last year's preliminary final, with the Broncos running out 31-12 winners. Darius Boyd scored a famous intercept try just one minute into that clash, and Blake Ferguson was the Roosters' best, scoring two tries of his own. Ferguson has seven tries in seven games against Brisbane and he will be sure to cause some headaches running the ball from the back.
What are the odds: Broncos $1.25, Roosters $4.00. Five times the amount of money has been wagered on the Broncos in the head-to-head market and Sportsbet customers are confident of Brisbane covering the line as well as winning 13-plus. Corey Oates has been the best supported in the first try-scorer market. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au.
Match officials: Referee: Ben Cummins; Assistant Referee: Grant Atkins; Touch Judges: Russell Turner & Belinda Sleeman; Review Officials: Luke Patten & Steve Chiddy; Senior RO: Bernard Sutton.
Televised: Channel 9 – Live coverage from 7:30pm; Fox Sports 1 – Live coverage from 7:30pm.
This article first appeared on NRL.COM