Matt Harris, Queensland Correspondent
Broncos v Warriors
Broncos fans have every reason to feel nervous ahead of Saturday's vital encounter against the Warriors considering what happened to their side when these two clashed at Suncorp Stadium last season.
On a rare Monday night fixture, the rampant Warriors ran in 10 tries en route to a 56-18 humiliation of the Broncos. Brisbane were without their Origin stars on that occasion and had to field a disjointed line-up due to other injuries, but nonetheless the 38-point loss was the lowest point of Brisbane's disappointing 2013 season.
The Broncos have turned their fortunes around in 2014 and Saturday's twilight match shapes as a crucial encounter for both sides in the context of their finals aspirations, with the seventh-placed Broncos sitting on 20 competition points, two points behind the Warriors who sit one place above them on the ladder.
Brisbane will be desperate for a win to ensure they steer clear of a logjam of teams also on 20 points with the Storm, Dragons, Tigers and Eels all ready to leapfrog the Broncos should they slump to a third loss in a row this weekend.
The New Zealanders have soared up the ladder in recent weeks, coming from 12th spot in Round 13 to currently sit in sixth position. They've done this via a favourable draw through the Origin period having enjoyed two byes and three straight home victories since mid-June, including their 19-10 Round 15 win over Brisbane. They now have some travelling to do but head across the Tasman in scintillating form having scored 78 points in their past two games including last weekend's 48-0 thrashing of the Eels, the third largest win in their history.
With the Origin period now fully behind them and a clean bill of health for all their key players, the Broncos are in a much more promising position to topple the Warriors for the first time in more than two years. Brisbane pushed the Panthers all the way in Monday night's enthralling 35-34 loss despite having to overcome an early 12-point deficit brought about by a lack of discipline.
The last time a full-strength Broncos side bucked the Warriors was also a Round 19 fixture back in 2012, when the home side held on to win 10-8 in an absorbing contest with a solitary Corey Parker penalty goal in the second half proving the difference. This match also has the potential to be another tight affair between two very physical sides with plenty of muscle across the field.
Having said that, when you throw the likes of Shaun Johnson and Sam Tomkins for the Warriors up against Ben Barba and Ben Hunt for the Broncos, combined with the other ever-present attacking qualities both teams possess, every match between these two has the potential to deliver tonnes of excitement and exhilarating rugby league for those who come to watch. If you’re lucky, you might just spot a ‘Let’s Gone Warriors’ sign, too.
The RiseForAlex Round will ensure a big crowd of around 40,000 should be in attendance with many of those expected to be vocal local Warriors fans. The NRL will donate one dollar from every ticket sold towards the RiseForAlex Fund to assist Alex McKinnon's ongoing recovery and rehabilitation.
In team news, the Warriors have named the same starting 13 that demolished the Eels and will be further boosted by return of Thomas Leuluai who is back from a three-month injury layoff on an extended bench featuring Jayson Bukuya and debutant Agnatius Paasi.
Having missed Monday night's loss to the Panthers, the Broncos are hopeful of having Origin star Matt Gillett return from an ankle injury but have at this stage named the same 17 who played Penrith, with David Stagg included as 18th man.
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Watch Out Broncos: Whether he's setting tries up for himself or someone else, Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson remains a constant threat when grasping the Steeden. The Broncos will need to keep a close eye on the 23-year-old, who was in spectacular form last weekend against the Eels where he produced two try assists, one line break and four line-break assists as well as scoring one try and booting eight goals from as many attempts. He is currently the NRL's leading point-scorer with 133 points which have come from eight tries, 50 goals and one field goal. If Brisbane can stem his influence it will go a long way to ensuring victory for the home side.
Watch Out Warriors: Corey Parker's enforced spell on the sideline due to an eye socket injury seems to have invigorated the 32-year-old as he has produced back-to-back stellar performances, first against the Blues in Origin III and then five days later against Penrith. Parker made 208 metres, 29 tackles and eight offloads against NSW and backed that up with 155 metres, 43 tackles and five offloads against the Panthers. Brisbane's skipper will be determined to ensure his side doesn't slump to a third straight loss and will be primed for another big match against the formidable Warriors – his third game in 10 days.
Plays To Watch: The Warriors reminded those old enough to remember that pushing in the scrum is still an effective tactic that always springs the element of surprise on the opposition. There was no better example of that than over the weekend when the Warriors chose an Eels scrum 10 metres out from the line to execute a scrum push, ultimately leading to a try to Sam Tomkins. It will be interesting to see whether the Warriors decide to employ this tactic again against the Broncos, and whether the Brisbane forwards will be ready for it.
Where It Will Be Won: The forward pack that allows more room for their halves to work in will decide the winner on Saturday night. In their 48-point drubbing of the Eels, the Warriors made a whopping 1505 run metres. While not all of those metres were made by their imposing forward pack, it was double the total of what the Eels could manage with 43 per cent of the ball.
The Warriors' forward pack has been aided by the form of Jacob Lillyman this season, with the Queenslander averaging 128 metres from 13 hit-ups and making 21 tackles per match. Surprisingly, Lillyman is the only Warriors forward to average more than 100 running metres per match, while for the Broncos, Corey Parker (138 metres), Josh McGuire (127m), Alex Glenn (116m) and Matt Gillett (109m) are all above the 100-metre mark.
The History: Played 35; Broncos 20, Warriors 15.
Don't let the head-to-head stats fool you; the Warriors actually have the wood over Brisbane in recent times. Since 2010, the Kiwis have won six out of the past nine clashes against the Broncos although only two of those victories have been away from Auckland. The Warriors have won the three recent clashes including last year's match at Suncorp Stadium, but they have never won back-to-back games at the venue.
What Are The Odds:
The Warriors are one of the hottest teams in the NRL at the moment and Sportsbet has seen nine times the amount placed on the side from New Zealand compared to the Broncos. The Warriors' price has been slashed from $2.55 to $2.15 and the weight of money suggests the Warriors may challenge for favouritism eventually. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Adam Devcich; Assistant Referee: Grant Atkins; Touch Judges: Michael Wise and Clayton Sharpe; Video Referees: Steve Chiddy and Steve Folkes.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.
The Way We See It: Both teams are at full strength so this match has all the ingredients to be a classic high-scoring encounter if the recent scoring form of these sides continues. Picking a winner is almost a toss-of-the-coin job, really. The Broncos are hosting a red-hot Warriors side fresh from piling on 78 points in their past two games and also face a short five-day turnaround since their one-point loss to the Panthers. They'll have a strong home crowd behind them, but even that might not be enough to stop the rampant Warriors who will be looking to replicate their strong home form on Australian soil. Warriors by four points.