Greg Prichard, NRL.com
Warriors v Broncos
Mt Smart Stadium
Sunday 4pm (2pm AEST)
Talk about bouncing back! Nobody can say the Warriors haven’t shown great character in the wake of the 62-6 flogging they copped from the Panthers in Round 10. They have won four in a row since, over the Knights (28-12), Broncos (56-18), Sea Eagles (18-16) and Roosters (23-12). Those past two wins have been against teams in the top four, and were thoroughly deserved. So the Warriors are on the march, and in their current form they are a threat to any opposition.
The Broncos were without their State of Origin players and a couple of injured players as well when they conceded more than 50 points for the first time in a game in Queensland when the Warriors smashed them. But they didn’t make any excuses for the defeat, and regardless of what has happened since they will be particularly keen to put in a strong performance and beat the Warriors to make up for that performance.
Since that loss to the Warriors, the Broncos have had their colours lowered by the Raiders (30-18) on the road and beaten the Tigers (32-12) at home. Both the Broncos and Warriors had the bye last weekend. The Broncos are 11th on the competition table and the Warriors 12th. Both teams have six wins and eight losses, but the Broncos have a points for-and-against differential that is 63 points superior to that of the Warriors.
Still, it’s the Warriors who look more of a top-eight team than the Broncos. Where the Broncos sit is a reasonable indication of how good they are. They look like a mid-table team at best and will have to find something extra from somewhere if they are to make the finals. But the Warriors look like a genuine finals team when they are playing well. Their problem is to do with consistency, but they are in the zone recently and that’s got to be a big worry for the Broncos here.
The only change the Warriors have made to their starting side from their last game is to bring Ben Matulino up from the bench to start at prop, with Russell Packer dropping to the pine. Kevin Locke and Suaia Matagi have been added to what is a six-man bench.
The Broncos have an unchanged starting side, but Jarrod Wallace and Dunamis Lui have been added to form a six-man bench.
Watch Out Warriors: Prop Ben Hannant made a great return from injury for the Broncos against the Tigers. He played for 59 minutes, and made 22 runs for 163 metres, one line-break, two offloads and 38 tackles. Many people thought he would go straight into the Queensland team for Origin II, but they left him out. He’ll be pumped up to keep knocking on the selectors’ door with another big game here.
Watch Out Broncos: Incredibly, the man with the golden arm – Warriors second-rower Feleti Mateo – didn’t register any offloads in the last-start win over the Roosters. It was the third time that has happened this season, but Mateo hasn’t gone two straight games with zero offloads yet. He has had a whopping 36 offloads this season, and it will be a shock if he doesn’t get some quality ball away in this game.
Plays To Watch: When the Warriors are in form, they have players coming out of the back who can not only make big metres, but score tries or help create them. Glen Fisiiahi is on fire at fullback. During their four-game winning streak, he has run for totals of 105, 107, 148 and 146 metres, made two line-breaks and scored four tries. Memo Broncos: If you don’t contain him, he will make you pay.
If Justin Hodges is able to back up from Origin to play for the Broncos, he can be a big factor in this game with his power running and ability to set up supports. Hodges has run for over 100 metres in eight of his nae games this season, and registered 18 offloads, three line-breaks and four tries. They could do with a stellar performance from him here.
Key Match-Up: Only one man is going to come out happy in the battle of the old hooker and the young hooker. Warriors hooker Nathan Friend is 32, and has been tackling his heart out this season. During their four-match winning streak, he has averaged 50.5 tackles per game. But he has a sneaky offload as well. Broncos hooker Andrew McCullough, 23, had one of his best games of the season against the Tigers, with one line-break, two offloads and 32 tackles. The hooker who comes up with the smarts here can make a difference.
Where It Will Be Won: When the Warriors are confident, they are extremely hard to contain. They aren’t afraid to start passing the ball around down their own end, and if the passes stick against the Broncos they will be up the other end in a hurry. The Broncos have got to wrap the ball up in the tackle, or they are going to be chasing the Warriors all day. If they’re forced to do the latter, at least they can take a break standing in their in-goal after the Warriors score tries. But if they commit to what they must do in defence, they can be competitive and perhaps force the Warriors into forcing too many silly balls.
The History: Played 32; Broncos 19, Warriors 13. At Mt Smart Stadium there have been 15 clashes, with the Warriors winning eight and the Broncos seven. The two most recent clashes there have been won by the Warriors – 30-20 last year and 36-4 in 2010.
Match Officials: Referees – Gerard Sutton & Henry Perenara; Sideline officials – Dan Eastwood & Shane Rehm; Video referees – Steve Clark & Neil Wharton.
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Televised: Channel 9 – Delayed 4pm (AEST)
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The Way We See It: It’s always a bit risky to tip the Warriors, because you can never be sure which version of them you’re going to get. But they have looked pretty real in their four-win stretch, and playing against the Broncos at home is a challenge they’ve always relished. The Broncos have a few players backing up, hopefully, from Origin. The Warriors, without any Origin players, have enjoyed an uninterrupted preparation. The Warriors really should win this game. Warriors by 10 points.