2018 PREVIEW 🔍 Perennial underachievers? Our fifteenth preview is here. Andrew Ferguson assesses whe...
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Glamour clubs raring to go in pursuit of week off
Looking to move on from an underwhelming win over the Gold Coast last Saturday, the Roosters will be out to make the most of their return to finals football after a disastrous 2016. Producing a remarkable reversal in fortune from second-last to second in the space of 12 months, some smart investments and fully fit stars have orchestrated a Red, White and Blue renaissance at Bondi culminating in a Qualifying Final against their 2000 Grand Final foes Brisbane. Heading into the fixture with a win-loss record over the Broncos this season, coach Trent Robinson will be out to instill the importance of winning their first final to ensure the clearest passage to making the premiership decider. In the three years the Roosters claimed the Minor Premiership under Robinson's tutelage, their lone triumph on Grand Final day was on the back of a win in the first week of the play-offs, while losses by margins of one and two proved critical in the side's absence on the first Sunday in October in 2014-15. Boosted by the returns of Dylan Napa and Aidan Guerra, expect the Roosters to come out with a mindset of restricting the Broncos attacking chances, while advocating for the opportunity to extend their lead by two whenever the chance arises. In other selection news, former international Daniel Tupou will be pushing for a late inclusion after being named on an extended bench alongside Zane Tetevano, who will be relieved to know his season is still alive after successfully earning a downgrade at the judiciary on Tuesday night which sees him miss just one match.
Boasting a finals reputation held by few clubs, the Broncos head into September off the back of a win, but will be forced to travel to Sydney without the services of their captain. Suffering a hamstring complaint on the stroke of halftime in Townsville, Darius Boyd will miss the Qualifying Final in order to ensure an adequate recovery in the following sudden death encounters. Guaranteed a second chance by virtue of finishing in the top four, the absence of Boyd sees a reshuffle with Kodi Nikorima taking over the custodian role and Benji Marshall starting at halfback for the first time this season, while interchange forward Tevita Pangai Jr has been replaced by Gold Coast-bound forward Jai Arrow after failing to get through the Cowboys clash. While coach Wayne Bennett opted to use the Kiwi duo in their named positions following Boyd's exit last Thursday, don't be surprised to see David Mead start the match at fullback following considerable experience in the role at the Titans. Holding a strong record in the first week of the finals in recent years, the Broncos will be prepared to grind away as they did in 2008 when the side fought back from a 16-8 halftime deficit to overcome the Roosters 24-16 at the same venue, a clash in which Sam Thaiday and Mitchell Pearce are the only remaining players at their respective clubs.
Who to watch: With every point scored in September invaluable, Roosters fullback Michael Gordon may well prove to be the best investment made by any of the eight teams vying for the premiership. Missing just three goals in finals football, the 33-year-old veteran has been a shrewd pickup for the Bondi club with his experience paving the way for the development of the side's impressive young speedsters. Proving that being over 30 doesn't mean being out of touch with the modern game, the former Panther, Shark and Eel produced a miraculous try to help down the Titans last week and will be ready in support of an offload from his forwards. Renown for his ability to land conversions in high-pressure situations, the troubles plaguing the Broncos goal-kicking in recent weeks may well see the difference between the Roosters playing in Sydney next week or in a fortnight rest on Gordon's right boot.
Having come to prominence as an 18-year-old with the Roosters, Tautau Moga will relish the opportunity to haunt his former employer on Friday night. Plagued by injury during his time in Sydney and North Queensland, the Samoan representative has discovered career best form under Wayne Bennett and reaped the rewards by penning a lucrative multi-year deal with the Knights. Before heading off to the Hunter, Moga will have his sights set on leading the way for Brisbane as they strive to make amends for the devastation of losing in extra time two season ago. Featuring in every game for the Broncos this season, the athletic centre has shown his worth by fighting back from the verge of obscurity and will be out repay the faith shown by the super coach with a performance befitting the occasion.
The favourite: While neither side will come into the clash with any great confidence following recent mediocre showings, the absence of Darius Boyd has the home side favoured to come away with the win.
1. Michael Gordon 3. Latrell Mitchell 16. Ryan Matterson 4. Mitchell Aubusson 5. Blake Ferguson 6. Luke Keary 7. Mitchell Pearce 8. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves 9. Jake Friend 10. Dylan Napa 11. Boyd Cordner 12. Aidan Guerra 13. Isaac Liu 14. Kane Evans 15. Sio Siua Taukeiaho 17. Connor Watson 23. Daniel Tupou
5. Jordan Kahu 2. Corey Oates 3. James Roberts 4. Tautau Moga 14. David Mead 6. Anthony Milford 7. Benji Marshall 8. Sam Thaiday 9. Ben Hunt 10. Adam Blair 11. Alex Glenn 12. Matt Gillett 13. Josh Mcguire 1. Kodi Nikorima 15. Jai Arrow 16. Joe Ofahengaue 17. Herman Essese