Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett is glad Friday’s NRL clash with Melbourne didn’t come a month ago because he feels his team is only now ready to face the ladder-leading Storm.
The Broncos have rebounded from a mid-season slump to win three consecutive matches and give themselves a chance at a top four finish.
It’s a far cry from round 17 when the Storm faced an undermanned Broncos at Suncorp Stadium and secured a ruthless 48-6 victory – with halfback Cooper Cronk picking up five try assists.
Bennett says that defeat means little given he was forced to play Kodi Nikorima and Alex Glenn in his backline due to injuries, with Cronk relentlessly targeting the makeshift left edge.
“They exploited it as well as I’ve seen any team exploit our dilemma,” Bennett said.
“I can’t take much out of it considering the circumstances of that game.
“We’re in good shape to play the Storm now. We weren’t in good shape a month ago … we’ve got a bit more confidence and the guys are doing the things they know works for them.”
Brisbane skipper Corey Parker had a scare in training on Thursday when he rolled an ankle but the veteran backrower returned to complete the session and Bennett says he will play on Friday night.
Playmaker Anthony Milford and winger Corey Oates are also good to play as the Broncos take an unchanged lineup into the clash.
The Storm, who can wrap up the minor premiership with victory, are unchanged from their team which beat Manly last weekend.
Winger Suliasi Vunivalu, who scored a hat-trick against the Broncos in that round 17 thrashing, comes into the match after a four-try first half display against the Sea Eagles.
Bennett said both teams possess firepower out wide and he expected a strong battle on both flanks.
“Those two (Storm) wingers are very good but I’m confident in the two wingers we’ve got,” Bennett said.
“It’s good to have Jordan (Kahu) back and Corey’s playing well again so they might be thinking to themselves they’ve got a handful too.”
MELBOURNE v BRISBANE – Key match stats
* Brisbane’s Sam Thaiday will play his 250th NRL match. In 21 encounters with the Storm Thaiday has four wins and they’re the only club he hasn’t scored a try against.
* With one more try this year, Storm winger Suliasi Vunivalu will become the first player since Canberra’s Noa Nadruku in 1993 to score 22 tries in his debut season.
* Melbourne have won all 11 games against Brisbane in Melbourne with Cooper Cronk and Cameron Smith in the team.