Saturday night’s top-of-the-table showdown between Sydney Roosters and Brisbane – and even the NRL minor premiership – could be settled by another brutal battle between Jared Waerea-Hargreaves and Sam Thaiday.
The two form front rowers staged a ding-dong personal battle in the clubs’ round six fixture, when Broncos star Thaiday enjoyed a points win and Brisbane defeated the Roosters in golden point.
That was back in April amid a four-game losing streak for the Tricolours, who have won their last nine straight.
Brisbane rocketed to the top of the ladder on the back of their early season form and have stayed there.
But the Roosters can claim top spot with a win at Allianz Stadium over a Broncos side who have lost two of their last three matches.
Waerea-Hargreaves has emerged as a key figure in the Roosters’ late-season surge, a record winning streak under coach Trent Robinson.
But the 2013 premiership-winning coach wasn’t guaranteeing a re-run of Waerea-Hargreaves v Thaiday.
“It will be interesting for the fans to see if there is a clash there tomorrow night,” Robinson said on Friday.
“It is about Jared continuing on the run of form he has had.
“He is the leader of our pack, he is in good form and we need him to continue that.
“He will be focused on how he plays his role within our team more than any other personal battle.”
Veteran Broncos coach Wayne Bennett still cherished the last match-up between Thaiday and Waerea-Hargreaves.
“Sam’s performance that night brought the crowd into the game, it was something you don’t see a lot of,” Bennett said.
“The courage he showed and the tenacity, and he brought his teammates with him and it turned out to be a wonderful night’s football. That was started by one player putting his body on the line.
“You don’t see it on a regular basis but it was there that night. It could be a fizzer tomorrow who knows?”
Brisbane centre Jack Reed has been ruled out of the match while Corey Oates has been preferred on the wing.
Dale Copley slots into the centres for the injured Reed (shoulder) while the lanky Oates replaces Lachlan Maranta on the wing.
* The Roosters have only four wins in the past 10 seasons against the Broncos, but have won two of three under coach Trent Robinson – their only loss coming in golden point in Brisbane in round six.
* Despite conceding almost 70 points in their past three matches, the Roosters have maintained their record this season as the best defensive team in the competition, conceding easily the fewest points per game (13.3) as well as the fewest tries (2.3) and line breaks (3.3).
* Brisbane have the best attack in the competition, scoring the most points (24.2 per game) and tries (4.3 per game)
* After his 223 metres last week Roger Tuivasa-Sheck needs just 143 metres to overtake Anthony Minichiello’s record of 4590 metres in a single season (2004).
(Statistics courtesy of Fox Sports Stats)