Having revived their fortunes after a poor first half of the season, the Brisbane Broncos will be out to keep their finals chances alive when they host the Melbourne Storm at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.
After Anthony Seibold took over from Wayne Bennett during a tumultuous pre-season, the Broncos struggled to adapt to the ex-Souths mentor’s coaching, losing six of their first eight matches to languish near the bottom of the ladder.
Not only that, Seibold oversaw James Roberts and Jaydn Su’A reuniting with Bennett at the Rabbitohs mid-season.
Fullback and captain Darius Boyd also copped criticism for his poor individual form this season, the two-time premiership winner appearing a shadow of the player who burst onto the scene as a premiership-winning teenage winger in 2006.
However, the Broncos have turned a corner over the past two-and-a-half months, winning six of their past ten matches, and drawing with the New Zealand Warriors in Round 17, to climb into the eight for the first time since Round 2.
Their last outing was their most impressive performance this season, defeating the Gold Coast 34-12 at Cbus Super Stadium and reversing a 26-18 loss against the Titans Suncorp Stadium in Round 13.
They’ve also beaten top eight sides the Manly Sea Eagles and Sydney Roosters in the past three months, displaying the football that they are capable of producing when they are at their best.
However, this Friday night starts a stretch of home games in which the Broncos face current top-eight sides the Panthers, Rabbitohs and Eels.
As for the Storm, they suffered just their third defeat of the season when they lost to Manly 11-10 last Saturday night.
They’d also lost to the Roosters in golden point on Good Friday back in April, while they were beaten by Cronulla back in Round 8, by just two points.
Coincidentally, this means the Storm’s three defeats have come against three of the four teams to beat them in a grand final.
Therefore the Broncos, who took out the 2006 premiership at the expense of a side nobody knew had been illegally assembled at the time, will be looking to make it a clean sweep and hand Melbourne their fourth loss of the season.
On the opening night of the season the Storm handed Brisbane a 22-12 defeat and the glamour club has an overall poor record against Melbourne – especially at Suncorp Stadium, where they have not beaten the men from the AFL capital since Round 2, 2009, and only three times overall (the other times being 2004 and 2005).
The last time the Broncos beat the Storm at home, ex-Storm winger Israel Folau, who was then representing the Broncos, scored a spectacular first-half try to help his side to a 16-14 victory.
Overall, Craig Bellamy’s side hold a 32-2-13 win-draw-loss record across nearly 50 matches, including taking out six of eight finals meetings.
A lot of this success against the Broncos has got to do with the leadership of former Queensland and Australian captain Cameron Smith, whom the Broncos let slip through their fingers at the turn of the century.
Smith debuted for the Storm in 2002, which was the last time the club missed the finals because of their on-field performances. There was a time when Smith was about to finish his career at the Broncos – thus bringing him much closer to home – only for the now-36-year-old to remain loyal to Melbourne, where he will almost certainly finish his NRL career.
Earlier this month, Smith racked up his 400th NRL first-grade game – a remarkable achievement given his club doesn’t regularly get the same attention they do in Victoria, despite their ongoing and overall success.
He will feel at home playing at Suncorp, where he has led Queensland to multiple State of Origin series victories, and Australia to the rugby league World Cup in 2017.
Thus, if the Broncos are to continue their late-season surge, they will need to prove that they can not just match it with the best, but also beat them at their own game.