Brisbane’s NRL top-four hopes go on the line against Canterbury on Thursday night as a cloud hangs over the future of centre James Roberts.
The Broncos’ preparations for the clash with the fourth-placed Bulldogs were disrupted on the eve of the match when it was revealed Roberts had been involved in an alleged drunken incident at a hotel.
Roberts was dragged out of the Normanby Hotel by security staff around 9.30 on Sunday night after being refused service at the popular nightspot.
The centre hasn’t been stood down for the Bulldogs clash but his place must be in doubt given the scrutiny he will face.
It’s an unwelcome distraction just as the Broncos appear to be getting their season back on track with a confident 38-16 win last Friday over Parramatta.
Broncos coach Wayne Bennett says Thursday’s clash is less about staying in the top-four race than continuing to build form ahead of the finals.
“We haven’t spoken about it (top four). Our main challenge right now is play consistently well between now and our next two games,” Bennett said.
“If we can do that, who knows what we can do?”
Possibly in anticipation of the Roberts’ revelations, the Broncos trained behind closed doors on Wednesday at Suncorp Stadium.
Bennett however denied there was anything ulterior behind the decision to shift training.
“Sometimes, a change of venue is all they need to freshen them up a little bit,” Bennett said.
In a positive for the Broncos, playmaker Anthony Milford has been cleared to play despite failing to finish training on Tuesday.
The only confirmed change from the team who beat the Eels is Jordan Kahu coming back from a pectoral injury in place of youngster Jonus Pearson on the wing.
Ex-Bronco Greg Eastwood returns in the back row for the Bulldogs with Raymond Faitala-Mariner dropping to an extended interchange bench.
Bulldogs coach Des Hasler has labelled the match a “State of Origin style” clash – an analogy Bennett has welcomed.
“I hope they play like the Blues. That’d be good,” he said.
BRONCOS v BULLDOGS: KEY STATS:
* Canterbury’s pack ran for combined 1893m against a young Brisbane team in a 40-14 thumping in June
* Brisbane have won four of their past six against the Bulldogs and three of the past four at Suncorp Stadium between the two teams
* Bulldogs winger Brett Morris scored a hat-trick to mark his return from injury in the round-16 win over the Broncos