Steven Ross, North Queensland Correspondent, NRL.com
Warriors v Broncos
Mt Smart Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm (NZ local)
Any time the Broncos come to town is a big occasion for Warriors fans, with games involving Brisbane featuring heavily in the New Zealand club’s 19-year history.
They tend to be hard-fought spectacles, reflected in recent meetings which show three of their past five have been decided by 10 points or less.
Heading into this Round 15 clash at Mt Smart Stadium, only four points separate the fifth-placed Broncos and the Warriors in 11th.
The New Zealanders keep the spine of their side which lost to the Rabbitohs 34-18 in Round 13, but lose influential forward Ben Matulino to a knee injury.
Rookie hooker Siliva Havili also drops off the bench, which opens the door for prop Charlie Gubb and utility Ben Henry to join the 17 for this Saturday’s match.
Their opponents' initial team is a weakened one, with halfback Ben Hunt the only State of Origin player named to back up.
Fellow Maroons Matt Gillett, Justin Hodges and Sam Thaiday remain uncertain at this stage.
Corey Parker is out with a facial fracture, with Auckland-born Alex Glenn to captain the side in his absence.
First-choice hooker Andrew McCullough caps off a long injury list for Brisbane, meaning Jake Granville will start in the No.9 jersey.
Early advantage sits with the Warriors, who are healthier and have had a more settled preparation with only front-rower Jacob Lillyman involved in Origin camp.
The Kiwi side will be eyeing up a mid-season run, with this game the first of three consecutive home matches for the club.
Watch Out Warriors: Approaching Round 15 the Broncos have conceded only 35 tries, an average of 2.6 per game which stands up as the best in the NRL. In their past two home fixtures against the Raiders and Knights, the Warriors have won off the back of scoring a combined 16 tries, but that seems an unlikely scenario against this week’s opposition.
In their last-up loss to Souths the Warriors missed a season-high 42 tackles, showing that despite recent improvements, their defensive issues are far from over. Do that against a Broncos team that already average 22 tackle busts per game, and a flood of points are likely to follow.
Watch Out Broncos: The Warriors grow another leg at home, becoming a much better team on both sides of the ball. In their past three home matches the Warriors average 1547 run metres, five line breaks and 37 points. In defence they have leaked an average of only 17 points in their past three New Zealand games, and missed seven tackles less than their season average of 28.
Despite sitting on a four-game winning streak, the Broncos can be reckless with the ball. They sit mid table in the NRL for most incomplete sets, and across their past four games have been completing at 76 per cent. Subsequently Brisbane lost the possession battle in two of those games. The Warriors finished their last home fixture against the Knights with a 92 per cent completion rate and only one error, so wasting the ball against them could prove costly.
Plays To Watch: The high ball to the wing is a play well utilised by both of these sides, with Manu Vatuvei and Dale Copley the favoured targets. The Warriors (70) and Broncos (61) both sit in the competition’s top five for bombs launched this season, with Brisbane forcing 11 opposition errors from bombs, just ahead of the Warriors’ nine. Vatuvei has already crossed for two tries off towering kicks this year, and set up several more with his bat-back play to a waiting teammate below.
Watch too for offloads in the middle of the park, where some mobile forwards combined with speedsters Ben Barba and Sam Tomkins tend to punish opponents for loose tackling technique.
Where It Will Be Won: Second-phase play off the back of the forwards is a key for both of these sides, with Barba and Tomkins always looming in support. However both the Warriors and Broncos will need someone else to stand up for them this week, having lost their leading offload exponents to injury. Parker leads the competition in that category with 34, while Matulino had 22 in his 11 games before breaking down.
The History: Played 34; Broncos 20, Warriors 14. The Broncos were the original bogy team for the Warriors, going through the first five years of head-to-head matches without a loss to the Kiwis. Thankfully for the New Zealand club, recent games have delivered significantly more success, and they have won three of their past four meetings. The Broncos are also without a win in Auckland since March 2009.
What Are The Odds: Brisbane have drifted from $2.40 to $2.60 with Sportsbet.com.au despite attracting more interest than the home side. Warriors are in from $1.60 to $1.50. The Warriors are more popular at the line, giving away 5.5.
Match Officials: Referees - Jared Maxwell & Dave Munro; Touch Judges - Russell Turner & Anthony Eliott; Video Referees - Steve Chiddy & Steve Folkes.
The Way We See It: They come off a bye but the Broncos are likely to have a few sore bodies backing up from State of Origin duty only three days earlier, which could show towards the end of the game. The momentum is with Brisbane, having tasted victory in their past four games. The Warriors would have appreciated the week off, after enduring an opening 13 weeks where they had nine games outside of Auckland. The home team’s recent record in Auckland, plus the fatigue factor for the Broncos is why we see the Warriors winning by 12.