While the Brisbane Broncos are missing custodian Karmichael Hunt, Justin Hodges, Brent Tate and captain Darren Lockyer – leaving them light-on in the backline. Apart from the missing Sam Thaiday, the Broncos forward pack is full strength and ready to take up the slack tonight.
For the Parramatta Eels they have their giant centre Ben Smith back from a leg gash, but are still missing Daniel Wagon and Luke Burt for tonights clash. The Eels have been fortunate to be blessed with good depth in the backs and have covered for the Burt loss well – injecting sensation Jarryd Hayne into the custodian role.
The Brisbane Broncos currently sit in 5th spot on the NRL Table after fighting back from shocking early season form and have now managed a stretch of five wins in succession, however their mettle will be tested – as they will certainly miss the the skill and experience of a representative backline not only tonight but continuing into the lead-up to the NRL Top 8 Finals.
For Parramatta their coach Michael Hagan has spoke about improving their away win record (currently 3 from 5) as the Eels move towards the finals, his other areas of concern is the Eels in-ability to build pressure in attack during the past month. With such a classy and varied backline, the Eels have been able to get enough line breaks recently but have been unable to convert these efforts to points. The Eels managing just 5 tries in their previous 2 outings (Knights and Souths). Fortunately for the Eels they have chipped away quietly at the NRL Table and have managed to hold down a top 4 spot without attracting too much media attention.
Shaun Berrigan (Broncos) VS Mark Riddell (Eels)
The face off between these two elder statesmen of the hooking role will have a significant impact on the match. For the Eels, so often when Mark Riddell fires up – the Parramatta side lift behind him (in defence and attack) and for Brisbane, they will look to the experience of Berrigan to guide the younger crew around the park.
Berrigan has been pivotal in the Broncos revival since Bennett moved him to the position last season, with his zip and creativity out of dummy half causing havoc for opposition defences. A durable player who reads the game well in both defence and attack – Berrigan has been instrumental in much of the Broncos attack this season with his uncanny ability to dart from dummy half and pop a short pass to support runners.
In the Eels camp, the dual edge weapon of Mark ‘Piggy’ Riddell and PJ Marsh is almost impossible to contain. Riddell is dynamic close to the line, with his trademark bash and barge. The Eels also lift as a side when Piggy gets going – his roll forward and fearless charges are inspirational to the Parramatta side. A side often critised for lack of passion – they will look to Riddell and Finch to talk it up.
Michael Ennis (Broncos) vs Tim Smith (Eels)
For journeyman Michael Ennis, he has come a long way after a shattering leg injury early last year and frequently changing clubs of late. Now a pivotal utility in the Broncos arsenal, his kicking game is now even more important after the loss of Lockyer and he is another experienced campaigner that will add starch to a young squad.
Tim Smith since nabbing the rookie of the year award in 2005, has really been trying to find his niche in the Eels side. He has done well considering personnel changes to the Eels forwards and coaching ranks over the past few years – but he seems to be developing a good link with halves partner Brett Finch. He has started attacking the line more this year and has a talented kicking game at times compared to the level of Andrew Johns. Currently ranking sixth for NRL try assists in 2007, Smith is critical to the Eels in attack.
While plenty are talking the Broncos down after losing their entire backline, Wayne Bennett won’t be hanging himself just yet. A crowd upwards of 25,000 at least can be expected and the Queenslands will hope the Eels attitude plays into their hands. The Eels will have appreciated the hard clash with the Bunnies last week and would hoped to have honed their rusty skills since the BYE and the Knights debacle. The Broncos will lack a little in attack with their playmakers missing, the Eels should have enough to do the job tonight – if they fail it will certainly raise some questions about their ability in the NRL Finals.