NRL Finals: Brisbane Broncos vs St George Illawarra Dragons lineups, preview and predictions

Suncorp Stadium, Sunday 9th September, 4pm AEST

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Overview

The first weekend of finals encounters wraps up with the 6th placed Broncos playing host to the 7th placed Dragons. The winner of this match will play the loser of the qualifying final between the Storm and Rabbitohs, whereas the loser will say Auf Wiedersehen to both their season, as well as the finals. 

The Broncos roared into 6th place, courtesy of a commanding 48-16 victory over the Sea Eagles at home. Although their place in the top 8 was already assured prior to the match, the Bronx were not just content with a simple hit out prior to the finals. They simply ran riot after halftime, to blow out their 10 point halftime lead into a 32 point win. That saw them leapfrog both the Dragons and Warriors into 6th place, thereby in a position to host this do-or-die match. 

The Dragons warmed up for the finals with an unconvincing 24-14 victory over the Knights in Newcastle. Despite the scrappy nature of the win, it allowed the Saints to somewhat silence their critics, who were out in force after the Dragons were resoundingly hammered 38-0 by the Bulldogs at home in the previous week. Unfortunately, their points differential proved insufficient to host a home final, meaning they must travel to Brisbane for this sudden death encounter. 

The Dragons were the victors in their last encounter with the Broncos, with a convincing 34-12 opening round win at Kogarah. That was the first time that former Bronco Ben Hunt would be up against his old team, and he played a starring role in that win, particularly with an intercept try. The Dragons appeared set for the minor premiership as they had a blistering start to their season, only to suffer some late season wobbles, to find themselves in this position. Conversely, the Broncos had a shaky start to their season, before pick up some crucial victories to finish the season strongly, to find themselves above the team who embarrassed them in the opening round. This match will be the first match that Ben Hunt returns to Brisbane in Dragons colours, and his performance will be crucial in the final outcome. 

Recent meetings 

2018 – Round 1 – St George Illawarra Dragons 34 def. Brisbane Broncos 12 at WIN Jubilee Oval. 

2017 – Round 24 – Brisbane Broncos 24 def. St George Illawarra Dragons 12 at Suncorp Stadium. 

2016 – Round 22 – Brisbane Broncos 12 def. St George Illawarra Dragons 8 at WIN Stadium. 

2016 – Round 6 – Brisbane Broncos 26 def. St George Illawarra Dragons 0 at Suncorp Stadium. 

2015 – Round 7 – Brisbane Broncos 32 def. St George Illawarra Dragons 6 at Suncorp Stadium. 

As can be deduced, the Broncos have dominated the Dragons in 4 of the last 5 encounters. In fact, the Broncos lead the overall head-to-head meetings between the 2 sides, winning 23 of 38 matches. The other 15 matches have gone the way of the Dragons. However, it was the Dragons who won their most recent encounter, which occurred in the opening round of the season, in what was Ben Hunt’s first match against the Broncos, since his switch in the off-season. 

As for their overall matches in Brisbane, the Broncos have won 15 of the 21 encounters in the sunshine state capital, with 17 of these matches happening at Suncorp Stadium, since it’s reopening in 2003. All of the Dragons’ victories in Brisbane have come at Suncorp Stadium. However, 2009 was the year in which the Dragons last returned home victorious. 

Crucially, both sides have clashed in finals matches on 4 occasions (2001, 2006, 2009 and 2011). Three of these finals encounters have taken place in Brisbane, with the Broncos winning 2 of those matches. As such, the Broncos hold the ascendancy in the overall encounters, overall matches in Brisbane, as well as the overall finals meetings between the 2 sides. 

Selected teams 

Brisbane Broncos St George Illawarra Dragons
1 Darius Boyd Matt Dufty
2 Corey Oates Nene MacDonald
3 James Roberts Zac Lomax
4 Jordan Kahu Tim Lafai
5 Jamayne Isaako Jordan Pereira
6 Anthony Milford Gareth Widdop
7 Kodi Nikorima Ben Hunt
8 <Player name redacted> James Graham
9 Andrew McCullough Cameron McInnes
10 Sam Thaiday Leeson Ah Mau
11 Alex Glenn Tyson Frizell
12 Tevita Pangai Junior Tariq Sims
13 Josh McGuire Jack de Belin
Interchange
14 Patrick Mago Jeremy Latimore
15 Joe Ofahengaue Kurt Mann
16 Korbin Sims Blake Lawrie
17 David Fifita Luciano Leilua
Reserves
18 Kotoni Staggs Jason Nightingale
19 Sam Tagataese Euan Aitken
20 Gehamat Shibasaki Jacob Host
21 Troy Dargan Hame Sele

The facts that matter

Broncos 

The Broncos were already safely into the finals, but were at long odds to finish in the top 4, as they needed to defeat the Sea Eagles by in excess of 70 points. As such, the best they could have hoped for is to host an elimination final, which is exactly what will happen in this match. It was achieved, courtesy of a convincing 48-16 win over the Sea Eagles at home. After leading 20-10 at the break, the Bronx simply piled on the points, to run away with the match, and book themselves a home final. Had they scored just an additional point, they could have even found themselves in 5th place, ahead of the Panthers on points differential. Nevertheless, a home final is certainly something the Bronx will welcome with open arms. 

Last week’s massive win came on the back of a 92% completion rate, which is not so surprising, when you consider that the Broncos are ranked 1st in average completion rates, with 80%. Moreover, they are dangerous when sniffing the ball in defence, as they have taken 11 intercepts for the season, which is more than any other team. Furthermore, the Broncos are the best in the competition at gaining easy metres for themselves through kicks, as they are ranked first in total kicking metres (12832). When looking at individual statistics, winger Jamayne Isaako has scored more points and goals than any other player this season. In addition, Anthony Milford has made more metres through kicks than any other player in 2018. 

The Broncos have ended the regular season with 9 wins and 3 losses at home. Those losses came against the Titans, Storm and Warriors. The losses to the Titans and Storm came in the early part of the season, whereas the loss to the Warriors came directly after the final State of Origin match, meaning some of the Broncos players were backing up from representative duties. The Bronx are aided by a very strong home record against the Dragons, whom they have beaten in every match in Brisbane since 2009. This will also be the final home appearance of long-serving forward Sam Thaiday, who will retire at season’s end. 

Dragons

Although the Dragons were safely through to the finals a long time ago, no one would have thought they would finish just inside the top 8, particularly with their blistering start to the season. Unfortunately, their late-season wobbles mirrored those of previous years, and they suffered some very disappointing losses, to not only slip out of the top 4, but also miss out on hosting an elimination final. Their last game saw them forced to scrap for the 24-14 win against the Knights. Whilst it was good for the Saints to go into the finals coming off a win, they were less than convincing in gaining the points. Moreover, a win by at least 20 would have seen the Dragons host this match. Instead, they must travel to the cauldron, known as Suncorp Stadium, where there are no 2nd chances after this match. 

As stated earlier, the Dragons find themselves in the finals, courtesy of their unbeaten start to the season, where various records were broken. Unfortunately, after their round 12 touch up by the Panthers, the Dragons won only 6 of their remaining 12 matches, which saw them tumble out of the top 4, relinquishing a double chance in the finals. Undoubtedly, their 2nd half of the season was in stark contrast to their 1st half of the season, where they won 9 of 12 matches. Moreover, that impressive start by the Dragons saw them sit atop almost every key statistic, such as points scored, points conceded, line breaks etc. Unfortunately, they now find themselves out of the top 5 teams in those key areas. However, for all their recent struggles, the Saints sit atop the rankings in terms of tackle breaks. In addition, they have made 8 intercepts and 11,639 kick metres, to be ranked 4th and 3rd respectively. This means they are still dangerous with the ball, and can pounce whenever the opposition pushes their passes, as well as gaining easy metres through kicks. 

The away record of the Dragons reads 6 wins and as many losses. Of all the teams in the top 8, this is the worst of them, and is equal to that of the Dragons. Further emphasising the Dragons’ disadvantage is the fact that, after winning 6 of their first 7 matches at the revamped Suncorp Stadium, they have lost all their matches at the cauldron since the 2009 season. Moreover, they have had some absolute hidings by the Broncos in some of their recent visits to Lang Park. In addition, the 2 recent finals encounters between these 2 sides in Brisbane have gone the way of the Broncos. However, an advantage for the Dragons is that Ben Hunt knows both Suncorp Stadium and the game plan of the Broncos well, having spent 9 years plying his trade in Brisbane. 

Prediction

Although neither of these teams are in the top 4, this one is sure to be a Cracker Jack of a match, especially given both sides face elimination. There is sure to be an abundance of emotion present in this match, as Broncos stalwart Sam Thaiday will run out for his final appearance in front of his adoring fans in Brisbane. As such, he would rather bid farewell to the Broncos faithful with a win, than have his farewell appearance dampened with both a loss and a finals exit. In addition, there will be a plethora of emotion in the context of Ben Hunt’s first ever return to Brisbane in Dragons’ colours, since his big-money move in the off-season. Despite his struggles since the Origin period, he will be fired up for a big match against his former team. The Broncos faithful could very well give him quite a reception, especially given there are a few north of the border who were unhappy of the manner of his departure. 

The Dragons may have destroyed the Broncos in the opening round of the season and had a blistering start to the season, but the wheels started to fall of in the 2nd half of the season, which meant they surrendered their top-four spot and a chance to at least host an elimination final. Conversely, the Broncos had a jittery start to their season, after that touch up by the Dragons. However, after winning only 2 of their 5 opening matches, the Bronx eventually got their act together, dropping only 5 more matches for the remainder of the season. Their last victory against the Sea Eagles was very impressive, in that they not only won very convincingly, but they ensured that they would be hosting this match, in contrast to their opponents. 

The Broncos undoubtedly have the better form and momentum heading into this match, however, it’s what occurs in the 80 minutes on the field which is the most significant. As such, the Dragons are more than a chance here, despite their poor recent form and their terrible recent record in Brisbane, given they have former Bronco Hunt in their ranks, to guide them to an upset win against his former club. Moreover, they won the most recent encounter between the 2 sides, which will give them confidence in this match. Whilst the Dragons will give it their all to unleash the fury of their current struggles, it jus seems that the Broncos have more going for them at the moment, and will be eager to send Sam Thaiday out a winner in his final outing at home. Moreover, I feel that they are in a better position to contain Hunt, thereby nullifying his influence. Therefore, I’d have to lean towards the Broncos in this one. Broncos by 8

Who will advance to week two of the finals, and who will be one-and-done when the Broncos host the Dragons? Let us know in the comments below.



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