The first game of the 2018 NRL season is almost upon us, as the Dragons host the Broncos. In what is expected to be a very interesting clash, the first mac of the season will undoubtedly draw big viewership numbers from a rugby league-starved audience.
The Broncos had a very successful regular season in 2017, securing third place with 16 wins. A heartbreaking 15-14 quarter-final loss to the Sydney Roosters, however, ended their dreams of a premiership. The Broncos now enter this season in unfamiliar territory, with the loss of star half Ben Hunt to the Dragons. The signature of disgraced NRL player <player name redacted> has also disrupted their preparation, with a media frenzy surrounding the decision in recent days. This is despite <player name redacted> signing the contract months ago.
The Dragons also experienced heartbreak in 2017, as they finished in ninth spot, just one win away from a finals berth. The Dragons finished with a better points differential than the eight-placed (and eventual Grand Finalist) North Queensland Cowboys and the seventh-placed Penrith Panthers. One more win would've seen the Dragons jump to seventh. Hosting the Broncos, the Dragons will be excited to unleash their new pack, headlined by the signings of Hunt and James Graham.
2017 - Rd - Broncos def. Dragons 24-12 at Suncorp Stadium
2016 - Rd - Broncos def. Dragons 12-8 at WIN Stadium
2016 - Rd - Broncos def. Dragons 26-0 at Suncorp Stadium
2015 - Rd - Broncos def. Dragons 32-6 at Suncorp Stadium
2015 - Rd - Dragons def. Broncos 12-10 at UOW Jubilee Oval
For Dragons fans, this isnt a pretty sight. The Broncos have won 13 of the last 15 clashes between these two teams. The silver lining for the Dragons, however, is that the last time they defeated the Broncos, it was at the site of their upcoming match - UOW Jubilee Stadium.
|St George Illawarra Dragons||Brisbane Broncos|
|1||Matthew Dufty||Darius Boyd (C)|
|2||Nene MacDonald||Corey Oates|
|3||Euan Aitken||James Roberts|
|4||Tim Lafai||Jordan Kahu|
|5||Jason Nightingale||Jamayne Isaako|
|6||Gareth Widdop (C)||Anthony Milford|
|7||Ben Hunt||Kodi Nikorima|
|9||Cameron McInnes||Andrew McCullough|
|10||Paul Vaughan||Sam Thaiday|
|11||Tyson Frizell||Alex Glenn|
|12||Tariq Sims||Matt Gillett|
|13||Jack De Belin||Josh McGuire|
|14||Luciano Leilua||Tevita Pangai Jr.|
|15||Kurt Mann||Joe Ofahengaue|
|16||Leeson Ah Mau||Korbin Sims|
|17||Hame Sele||Jaydn Su’a|
|18||Jeremy Latimore||Tom Opacic|
|19||Zac Lomax||Sam Tagataese|
|20||Blake Lawrie||Jonus Pearson|
|21||Joshua Kerr||George Fai|
The facts that matter
The Dragons are entering the new season with high hopes and high expectations. Anything less than a finals appearance will be a colossal failure. After finishing in ninth spot last season, the Rabbitohs have added two of the game's best at their respective positions - Ben Hunt and James Graham. After decent showings as a team in the trial matches, fans will look out for improvements in Hunt and Gareth Widdop's partnership, as well as how Graham leads this pack.
There's a great chance Hunt becomes the x-factor the Dragons will need in this game. After playing 189 matches for the Broncos, and most of those under coach Wayne Bennett, Hunt's knowledge of the Broncos system and playbook will be very useful. As depicted above, the Dragons have struggled to beat the Broncos in recent years, although have proved challenging at times. Hunt's knowledge may be what gets them over the line against this strong-looking Broncos outfit.
The Broncos have suddenly become a very interesting team as this new season approaches. The Broncos are a near-surefire chance of making the finals this season, as they have been for the past few now. They have a good system in place, and are coached incredibly. But, the club has been engulfed in some turmoil recently, which is very unusual. The club signed disgraced NRL player <player name redacted> to a lifeline in November, and the move had largely gone unnoticed. In the last few days, however, a lot of controversy has surrounded the move, and Brisbane's preparation has been disturbed dramatically. It'll be interesting to see how a team which is usually trouble-free copes with its disrupted preparation.
The loss of Ben Hunt is something which cannot be understated. Hunt was one of Brisbane's core players for several years now and has earned state and national representative honours. Hunt was also one of Brisbane's best leaders, and now, Brisbane will look to Anthony Milford as their next leader. Sam Thaiday will also be out with a point to prove, as he looks to secure an NRL contract for next season. The veteran has been shown the door by Wayne Bennett, and there is no indication as to Thaiday's next movements.
Both teams had disappointing ends to promising 2017 campaigns and will be looking to claim their first scalp of the season in Round 1. Both teams are shaping up as finals threats, so fans can look forward to an entertaining clash.
The Broncos are my favourites to take the cake in this one. Despite a big loss in Hunt, and the Dragons' big improvements, the Broncos have been a far superior team in recent years. the Broncos will win, but not as convincingly as we're used to seeing. Broncos to win 18-12.