Brisbane Broncos (5th) v Gold Coast Titans (8th) @ Suncorp Stadium
The Broncos and Titans lock horns in the Elimination Final in a QLD Derby cracker to open the NRL Finals on Friday night at Suncorp Stadium. It's the ultimate case of big brother versus little brother as the pre-season bookies favourite for the title the Broncos take on a side written off as certainties for the wooden spoon at the start of the season. The only previous time these sides met in the finals was way back in 2009 when the Broncos ran out 40-32 winners in a wild game. The sides have never met before in a sudden death game.
The Broncos have made one enforced change to their line up with young winger Jonas Pearson coming onto the wing for the injured Tom Opacic. Jordan Kahu moves to the centres to partner James Roberts. The Broncos started the season like a house on fire, however an alarming mid season slump saw them fall off the radar of the leading teams. Despite riding a 5-match winning streak they narrowly missed the Top 4 and will have to go the long way through the finals if they want to win the title. The Broncos have an outstanding record against the Titans having won 12 of their last 14 encounters. The average winning margin has been 14 points which suggests a fair disparity between the 2 teams on most occasions. The Broncos made a catalogue of errors last week with the football and need to be far more switched on and direct with the ball. Ben Hunt will be looking to put to bed his Grand Final nightmare with a strong opening to the 2016 finals.
The Titans have sprung one selection surprise with big body Nathaniel Peteru coming in the side. Zeb Taia has dramatically injured himself in the warm up and will be replaced by Ryan Simpkins. Gold Coast were made to sweat on their spot in the finals after losing their last 2 regular season matches. However after just 10 minutes of the Raiders mauling of the Tigers I reckon they would have been steeling themselves for the task of causing a big boil over to continue their fairy tale year. This side has been one of the stories of the season with rookie halfback Ash Taylor and a few grizzly veterans in the forwards leading them around the paddock most weeks. The Titans put some mid-season polish on their line up by recruiting Konrad Hurrell, Nathan Peats and Jarryd Hayne. Hayne has been more bust than boom in his 4 games so far, however he thrives on the big stage and you would not count against him putting in his best performance of the season on Friday Night.
Verdict - I think this will be a really tough and tense encounter. Despite the Broncos 5 match winning streak and general return to form, Brisbane do not resemble last year's juggernaut for mine. I think they still have the wobbly boot on in some respects. The Titans have added some real strike power to their attack mid-season and I think they can cause the Broncos problems here particularly on the edges. Where I do feel the Broncos have a sizeable advantage is their big game experience in NRL Finals and Origin. The likes of Corey Parker, Sam Thaiday and Darius Boyd are serial winners who know exactly what the big stage is all about. I really think this game is going to be quite open and go right down to the wire. I don't think the likes of Greg Bird, Chris McQueen and Ryan James will let the Broncos put one over them in the forwards. I think Jarryd Hayne will have his best game of the season and really involve himself more than previous starts. I can see both sides going try for try and scoring in the low 20's before Brisbane win one of the big moments at the end of the game. I just think the experience in the clutch can get them home. Brisbane to scrape over the line in a bottler. Broncos by 4.