Preview: Round 23 v Brisbane Broncos
By Nathan Beuman
The St George Illawarra Dragons will look to carry their red-hot form into their clash against the Brisbane Broncos at Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane on Friday (kick-off 7.45pm).
While the Dragons would be feeling confident following consecutive wins against the Newcastle Knights and the New Zealand Warriors, playing the table-topping Broncos on their home patch represents a whole different challenge.
Friday night marks the end of one of the most punishing months of travel any team has had this season, with games in Napier, Kogarah, Wellington and Brisbane in just 21 days.
While a win would unlikely see the Dragons move up the competition table, a loss could see them lose their opportunity of hosting a Finals match in Week 1.
Despite losing their last two games, the Broncos are still widely regarded as one of the most dangerous teams in the competition, and for good reason.
The Broncos have been dominant both with and without the ball so far this season, scoring an average of 24.0 points per game (second most of the NRL), while making the fewest missed tackles (20.1 per game).
Dragons utility Will Matthews dislocated shoulder has forced a reshuffle of the Red-and-White backline, with Peter Mata’utai set to get another opportunity in the centres this week, while utility Nathan Green has been named on the wing.
Head Coach Paul McGregor has opted to go with an extended six-man bench for the clash, with Eto Nabuli and Mark Ioane being named at 18th and 19th man respectively.
Twenty-three-year-old Lachlan Maranta is expected to start on the wing this weekend following a knee injury to Corey Oates, while Dale Copley replaces the suspended Justin Hodges in the centres.
Finally, Adam Blair returns from suspension and slots straight into the front-row, meaning Jarrod Wallace moves back to the interchange bench.
The Broncos have had quite a good record against the Red V since 1999, winning 19 of the 33 (58%) meetings between the two clubs.
The Dragons record at Suncorp Stadium is not much better, winning just seven of their 15 (47%) trips up north.
The Dragons did however hand the Broncos one of their few loses earlier on this season, knocking off Brisbane 12-10 at Jubilee Oval, Kogarah in Round 7.