After a grand final thriller 12 months ago, the NRL Broncos starting line up Brisbane was expected to challenge the top four this year. They had big names like Corey Parker, Sam Thaiday, and Darius Boyd plus exciting young talent such as Ezra Mam, Selwyn Cobbo, and Reece Walsh.
The battle between Mam and Jarome Luai could be a key clash tonight. Both players are incredibly confident and X-factor players, but the experience factor for Luai will be crucial.
Ezra Mam v Jarome Luai
Two teams with a big Kiwi flavour go head to head in the first preliminary final of the season. Penrith five-eighth Jarome Luai has a Maori heritage while Brisbane fullback Reece Walsh and second-rower Jordan Riki both have New Zealand roots.
Both players are renowned for their big-game experience and premiership triumphs. Walsh is also a brilliant game manager and can find holes in defenses.
The Broncos are bolstered by the return of lock Payne Haas, who replaces Sione Finau (knee). Michael Molo starts at prop with the experienced Martin Taupau on the bench. Both teams have made a number of other changes with Nelson Asofa-Solomona and Tui Kamikamica among those rested. Herbie Farnworth and Kotoni Staggs will be in the centers against a Penrith center duo with plenty of big-game nous.
Kotoni Staggs v Mitch Kenny
Kotoni Staggs is a big-game player who has become a regular starter in the back row this season. He will face a tough test in the form of Mitch Kenny, who has stepped up to be Api Koroisau’s deputy this year and has carved out a quality No. 9 jumper.
Kenny has also been an asset in the centers, taking over seamlessly from Viliame Kikau and proving difficult for opposition defenses to contain. He will be tasked with marking Bronco’s new recruit Jackson Ford, who looks set to be the key cog in the middle.
In the halves, Nathan Cleary has cemented his position as one of the game’s best halfbacks. He will have a lot to say about the outcome of this Grand Final with his astute game management and strong combinations with his fullbacks, centers, and wingers.
Reece Walsh v Christian Tuipulotu
Known as the ‘catalog’ of the Broncos’ backline, Walsh has made the position his own this season. Adept at cleaning up in the ruck and cutting ball runners in half, the youngster is one of the game’s most improved players.
Walsh is a whiz kid with a flashy game that combines flair with steel. His nine tries and 35 line-break assists prove he’s a force to be reckoned with.
The Broncos’ newest signing has come in and made his mark with some strong performances. The big forward will add some punch in the middle and is a threat out of dummy-half with his carries and defense.
Nathan Cleary vs. Adam Reynolds
Two of the NRL’s gun playmakers go head-to-head in a blockbuster qualifier. Cleary produced one of the greatest comebacks in NRL history to seal a Penrith three-peat last season and is aiming for a Clive Churchill Medal and premiership ring this time around. Reynolds left Redfern with a sour taste and his desire to win another title is palpable.
Reynolds is the shrewdest player in his position and can read the game like few others in the competition. His goal-kicking is also outstanding.
He’s also excelled at the representative level, representing the NRL All Stars, City New South Wales, Prime Minister’s XIII, and the World All-Stars. He has the ability to break open games with his speed, footwork, and tenacity. He’s the key to Brisbane’s attacking threat.
Dylan Edwards v Kodi Nikorima
A premiership winner at Penrith in 2021, Edwards brings big-game nous to a position that has been lacking in Brisbane. The strapping second-rower is a fearless workhorse who also offers a potent kick-chase element for the Broncos.
While Edwards can’t quite match the pace of the likes of Reece Walsh and Adam Reynolds, he can be an effective ball carrier with plenty of game time at the club. He’ll face a daunting task this week against Sunia Turuva and Brian To’o who are both capable of tearing holes in any defence with their withering speed.