Ben Hunt v Mitchell Pearce
Anthony Milford and James Maloney are essential to both sides’ fortunes, but brilliant halfbacks Hunt and Pearce need to take the reins and shoulder responsibility for directing their teams around in a sweltering Suncorp Stadium pressure-cooker. Despite his failings at Origin level (often at this ground) Pearce is big-match performer and produced the best football of his career during the 2013-14 finals series, but may struggle for fluency after sitting on the sidelines injured since Round 24. Hunt’s game-breaking ability has never been in question, but the Broncos also require a precise kicking game and sound fifth-tackle options from their No.7. His stunning golden point try in Round 6 will be fresh in the Roosters’ minds, however, and Hunt has racked up 11 tries, 11 line-breaks, 14 try assists and 45 tackle busts this year. Pearce’s 2015 numbers are one try, four line-breaks, 16 try assists and 21 tackle busts.
NRL games: Hunt – 138; Pearce – 202.
Representative: Hunt – 3 Tests for Aus; Pearce – 15 Origins for NSW.
Finals experience: Hunt – 6 (won 3, lost 3); Pearce 12 – (won 7, lost 5)
Head-to-head record: 3 games – Pearce won 2, Hunt won 1.
Justin Hodges v Michael Jennings
Broncos captain Hodges, on the verge of retirement, comes up against the club he won a competition with in 2002. Fittingly, he lines up for one last battle with one of his greatest rivals, the quicksilver Jennings. Regular sparring partners at Origin level, the blue-chip centres are among the NRL’s most effective game-breakers. Few players can beat a man like Jennings, while Hodges’ elusive dummy-half bursts and uncanny ability to set up his supports set the scene for a titanic clash out wide.
NRL games: Hodges – 249; Jennings – 192.
Representative: Hodges – 24 Origins for Qld, 13 Tests for Aus; Jennings – 15 Origins for NSW, 7 Tests for Aus.
Finals experience: Hodges – 24 (won 15, lost 9); Jennings – 10 (won 5, lost 5).
Head-to-head record: 21 games – Hodges won 12, Jennings won 9.
Darius Boyd v Roger Tuivasa-Sheck
Tuivasa-Sheck is arguably the hottest player in the code right now, obliterating running-metre records (he averages 241 per game) with an enormous appetite for tough work, while he is electric when given half an inch of space and is constantly improving as a ball-player. Boyd is equally important to the Broncos’ prospects. While not as busy and robust with the ball, Boyd is a big-game player – as his 2010 Churchill Medal attests – and his ball-playing class in conjunction with Hunt and Milford is second to none amongst fullbacks, while he is unflappable and ultra-consistent. A mouth-watering duel.
NRL games: Boyd – 220; Tuivasa-Sheck – 83.
Representative: Boyd – 23 Origins for Qld, 17 Tests for Aus; Tuivasa-Sheck – 8 Tests for NZ.
Finals experience: Boyd – 18 (won 10, lost 8); Tuivasa-Sheck – 8 (won 5, lost 3).
Head-to-head record: 5 games – Boyd won 2, Tuivasa-Sheck won 3.
Sam Thaiday v Sam Moa
Enforcers Adam Blair and Dylan Napa will play vital roles, but the teams will be expecting Thaiday and Moa to set the tone early on with their energy and physicality – particularly with the ball. Thaiday averages 32 tackles and 104 metres per game, while Moa makes 23 tackles and 95 metres each week, but what that stock-standard numbers don’t reveal is the quality of the Test forwards’ work. Both nuggetty customers have a knack of producing a big run, a deft offload or reeling off a big hit just when their side needs it.
NRL games: Thaiday – 230; Moa – 72.
Representative: Thaiday – 25 Origins for Qld, 28 Tests for Aus; Moa – 5 Tests for NZ.
Finals experience: Thaiday – 17 (won 7, lost 10); Moa – 8 (won 5, lost 3).
Head-to-head record: 4 games – Moa won 3, Thaiday won 1.
Kodi Nikorima v Jackson Hastings
Two of the NRL’s most talented young playmakers will be looking to make a big impact off the bench in the biggest match of both of their burgeoning careers to date, whether it be at dummy-half or in the halves. The 19-year-old Hastings deputised for Pearce superbly over the last four weeks in some high-pressure situations, while Nikorima, 21, showed his ability to break a game wide open by laying on Anthony Milford’s decisive try just seconds after taking the field against the Cowboys in the qualifying final.
NRL games: Nikorima – 18; Hastings -18.
Representative: Nikorima – none; Hastings – none.
Finals experience: Nikorima – 1 (won 1); Hastings – 3 (won 1, lost 2).
Head-to-head record: 1 game – Hastings won 1.