It's retro round and while most of the league will be celebrating the nineties, the NRL has seen fit to give us a prime-time home game for the Broncos early in the week. It's no Friday night game, but the Broncos third-straight home game will see Brisbane's finest on deck and on the box once again, this time hosting a Cronulla Sharks side brimming with confidence.
The Sharks were handed a fairly controversial win against the Raiders in their last start, but with Shane Flanagan a new-found fan of the Bunker and the officials, they'll be keen to keep the new relationship on the right foot as they travel north this week.
These two sides did battle slightly more than a month ago back in mid-June when the Broncos gate-crashed Southern Cross Group Stadium to snatch a 20-16 victory and with their impressive 50-point haul against a lacklustre Penrith Panthers outfit has them looking sharp.
Most experts feel the top eight is set in stone, but Thursday night's loser could still be looking nervously over their shoulder should things take the worst-case scenario route moving forward.
2018 - Brisbane 20 def. Cronulla 16 at Southern Cross Group Stadium
2017 - Brisbane 32 def. Cronulla 10 at Suncorp Stadium
2017 - Brisbane 26 def. Cronulla 18 at Southern Cross Group Stadium
2016 - Cronulla 30 def. Brisbane 28 at Southern Cross Group Stadium
2015 - Brisbane 10 def. Cronulla 2 at Southern Cross Group Stadium
The Broncos kept up a handy recent record against the Sharks with their 20-16 win on Cronulla's home turf earlier this season, making for their fourth win from their last six meetings with the Shire-based club.
Overall, the pair have met on 53 occasions with the Broncos holding a fairly commanding 33 wins to 20 advantage over their southern brethren from Cronulla.
Played 53; Broncos 33 wins, Sharks 20 wins
|Brisbane Broncos||Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks|
|1||Jamayne Isaako||Valentine Holmes|
|2||Corey Oates||Sione Katoa|
|3||James Roberts||Jesse Ramien|
|4||Darius Boyd||Ricky Leutele|
|5/20||Jordan Kahu||Sosaia Feki|
|6||Anthony Milford||Matt Moylan|
|7||Kodi Nikorima||Chad Townsend|
|8||< Player name redacted >||Andrew Fifita|
|9||Andrew McCullough||Jayden Brailey|
|10||Sam Thaiday||Matt Prior|
|11||Alex Glenn||Luke Lewis|
|12||Tevita Pangai Junior||Wade Graham|
|13||Josh McGuire||Paul Gallen|
|14||Kotoni Staggs||Scott Sorensen|
|15||Joe Ofahengaue||James Segeyaro|
|16||Korbin Sims||Aaron Woods|
|17||David Fifita||Jason Bukuya|
|18||Gehamat Shibasaki||Joseph Paulo|
|19||Patrick Mago||Ava Seumanufagai|
The facts that matter
Brisbane bounced back from a shock home loss to the Warriors with a handy trouncing of the Panthers at Suncorp Stadium last Friday night, allowing them to leap-frog the Warriors into seventh place and maintain a four-point gap to the nearest side outside the top eight.
This Thursday night presents an opportunity for Wayne Bennett's men to take a huge step toward locking down a finals berth and hurting a side they may well face down the track when the football becomes sudden death.
Brisbane's edge-running backrowers have been a highlight of their 2018 campaign and it'll be the big men standing wide of the ruck that will hope to take advantage of a Cronulla side that has been found lacking on the flanks at times this season.
Tevita Pangai Junior has been absolutely immense this year and with young firebrands Joe Ofahengaue and David Fifita providing reinforcements from the bench, the Broncos forward pack will look to carve out significant yardage a pass or two wide of the ruck as consistently as possible on Thursday night.
There are no expected changes to the Broncos side named by Bennett mid-week but while it should be 1-17, there are some minor concerns over a Jamayne Isaako leg injury picked up in their 50-18 thrashing of the Panthers.
Gehamat Shibasaki is the backline player left amongst the extended reserves, but he would be unlikely to play fullback if Isaako was ruled out. Darius Boyd, recently shifted to the centres to accommodate Isaako at the back is the obvious choice, but Isaako is expected to be fit in any case.
NRL stats pointed out this week that Anthony Milford has managed seven tries in eight games against the Sharks, so with a point to prove given the Broncos reported interest in a high-profile recruit in the halves, he could be up for a big game once again.
Cronulla are a hard team to pick, which is at odds with their fairly simple approach to the game. A team built in the traditional grinding style, they've managed to work through the middle of the ruck consistently, giving a platform to fullback Valentine Holmes or the enigmatic Matt Moylan who have been able to create opportunities inside and out when the mood strikes.
Currently sitting in fifth spot, outside the top four on points differential alone, a win against a top eight rival on foreign soil would do wonders in maintaining Cronulla's recent good form and could provide them with the perfect springboard into the top three or four sides in the competition.
Cronulla were given plenty of favours by the whistleblowers last weekend against the Raiders, but that win against Canberra followed a 24-12 win over Penrith, and 18-15 win over the Warriors and a bye so coach Shane Flanagan will be happy with how his side are travelling at the moment.
Wade Graham is being monitored for a groin injury, but could prove a pivotal addition to the Sharks side should he be fit and ready to play.
In other team news, Edrick Lee drops out of the side altogether as Sosaia Feki comes onto the wing while Luke Lewis has overcome injury concerns of his own (calf injury) and will take his place in the backrow.
It's always tough to tip against the Broncos when they're playing at Suncorp Stadium, especially after they proved so efficient and ruthless last week in bouncing back from a shock loss.
That said, Cronulla are the sort of side that can beat anyone on their day. Their tough, physical style lends itself to dragging other teams into the mire and overcoming them with strength and there's every chance they'll bring that same mindset to Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night.
I'll take the Broncos in a tight one at home though, with a margin of four points or less.
Will the Broncos bank another win at Suncorp Stadium, or could the Sharks gate-crash the party? Let us know in the comments below.