This time last year the Dragons had plenty of pundits talking up their premiership prospects.
It’s only round three but crunch time has come early for Paul McGregor’s team with Thursday night’s crucial road game against Brisbane.
Everything was going to plan in the first half of last week’s home meeting with Souths, but the Rabbitohs quickly changed that, overturning a 12-6 half-time deficit with 28 unanswered points in the second half.
It doesn’t get any easier this week, though the Dragons will have happy memories of their most recent visit to Suncorp Stadium – a 48-18 demolition of the Broncos in last year’s elimination final.
Brisbane were all business in last week’s clinical 29-10 home win over the Cowboys and Anthony Seibold will be looking for more of the same on Thursday against a team down on confidence.
Match: Broncos v Dragons
Round 3 -
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Broncos: Not surprisingly, coach Anthony Seibold has retained the same team that handled the Cowboys 29-10 last week, with all 17 players getting through the game unscathed. Payne Haas and Matt Lodge are unavailable through suspension. Patrick Mago and Izaia Perese dropped off the extended bench 24 hours before kick-off. Patrick Carrigan and Gehamat Shibasaki were omitted an hour before kick-off.
Dragons: In a late change Zac Lomax came into the side for Matt Dufty. In the only other change to last week's side Korbin Sims returns from injury and has taken Josh Kerr's place on the bench. No sign of a return for Origin back-rower Tyson Frizell, who remains out indefinitely with a lacerated testicle. Reece Robson and Jonus Pearson dropped out of the 19-man squad on Wednesday night. Mitch Allgood was omitted an hour before kick-off.
Fullback for Broncos is number 1 Darius BoydFullback for Dragons is number 1 Gareth Widdop
Winger for Broncos is number 2 Corey OatesWinger for Dragons is number 2 Jordan Pereira
Centre for Broncos is number 3 James RobertsCentre for Dragons is number 3 Euan Aitken
Centre for Broncos is number 4 Jack BirdCentre for Dragons is number 4 Timoteo Lafai
Winger for Broncos is number 5 Jamayne IsaakoWinger for Dragons is number 5 Mikaele Ravalawa
Five-Eighth for Broncos is number 6 Anthony MilfordFive-Eighth for Dragons is number 6 Corey Norman
Halfback for Broncos is number 7 Kodi NikorimaHalfback for Dragons is number 7 Ben Hunt
Prop for Broncos is number 8 Tevita Pangai JuniorProp for Dragons is number 8 James Graham
Hooker for Broncos is number 9 Andrew McCulloughHooker for Dragons is number 9 Cameron McInnes
Prop for Broncos is number 10 Joe OfahengaueProp for Dragons is number 10 Paul Vaughan
2nd Row for Broncos is number 11 Alex Glenn2nd Row for Dragons is number 11 Jacob Host
2nd Row for Broncos is number 12 David Fifita2nd Row for Dragons is number 12 Tariq Sims
Lock for Broncos is number 13 Matt GillettLock for Dragons is number 13 Blake Lawrie
Interchange for Broncos is number 14 Kotoni StaggsInterchange for Dragons is number 14 Jeremy Latimore
Interchange for Broncos is number 15 Jaydn Su'AInterchange for Dragons is number 16 Korbin Sims
Interchange for Broncos is number 16 Thomas FleglerInterchange for Dragons is number 17 Luciano Leilua
Interchange for Broncos is number 17 Shaun FensomInterchange for Dragons is number 18 Zac Lomax
With the Dragons missing key men in the pack, experienced backrower Tariq Sims has a lot of responsibility on his shoulders against the powerful and mobile Brisbane forwards. Ditto for Paul Vaughan. They need to lead from the front – a la James Graham – and meet the likes of Tevita Pangai and David Fifita head-on or the Broncos will have an easy night at the office.
For the Broncos to win
Pangai was at his destructive best in 44 high-impact minutes of game-time in the all-Queensland derby with the Cowboys and Seibold pushed all the right buttons from the coach’s box with his use of the interchange bench. They’ll be wary of a desperate Dragons but the same game plan should hold the Broncos in good stead. Seibold will be counting on re-born Jack Bird (four line-break assists in two games) to maintain his good form.
For the Dragons to win
Going on the form guide, the Dragons will need to produce something special to avoid a disastrous 0-3 start. An upset certainly isn’t out of the question, but first and foremost the visitors will have to play the full 80 minutes rather than the 30 or 40 they managed in the opening two rounds. Ben Hunt and Corey Norman have shown promising signs here and there that their combination will ultimately click and McGregor will be banking on the pair to prove themselves or Gareth Widdop’s move to fullback will be short-lived.
Brett Kimmorley says ...
We saw Tevita Pangai jnr make a statement and put his hand up for Origin last week. It is now about him being able to repeat that performance. On the back of that, Kodi Nikorima and Anthony Milford were able to manage the game a little bit better. The biggest thing for the Dragons is they need to be able to play for the full 80 minutes. I thought they were really good for 40 minutes last week but then extremely poor. They need to be tougher when the game is on the line. Broncos by 10
Broncos Stat Attack
If you need actual proof big winger Corey Oates has started the season like a man possessed, these numbers tell the story: four tries (first in NRL), 14 tackle breaks (2nd), four line breaks (1st), 381 run metres (2nd). Needless to say, Oates looms as a giant headache for the Dragons on Thursday.
Dragons Stat Attack
Not a lot to smile about for the Dragons thus far but you can bet the Brisbane outside backs will be reminding each other all night to make ball-and-all tackles on Tim Lafai, who is equal-second in the NRL in off-loads (7). Winger Jordan Pereira has also been a handful with three line-break assists (2nd), while Vaughan loves a decoy run (20, 2nd).
And another thing ...
A few Broncos fans were perplexed by Anthony Milford’s decision to kick a fairly meaningless field goal in the dying seconds of his team’s 29-10 defeat of the Cowboys. The home-town supporters could sense a try building with players lined up on the right side and wanted the Broncos to make one more statement after Cowboys centre Justin O’Neill scored in the 70th minute. But Milford denied the fans a final highlight when he opted for an anti-climactic field goal, which was a little surprising given the result wasn’t in doubt.