Warriors v Broncos
Mt Smart Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm (NZ time)
AS two of only three teams remaining undefeated and with the third (Bulldogs) set to be stripped two competition points for an interchange breach, this clash is a real top-of-the-table encounter.
When all is said and done, excluding a rare draw, the victor will be on top of the NRL while the losing side will join the chasing pack.
There is a lot to like about both sides; the Warriors did it relatively easy against Parramatta in Round 1 before storming home at Brookvale to beat the reigning champions. The Broncos managed to first nudge the Cowboys in a thriller before holding very firm in another blockbuster against the Storm.
As such it is a real firecracker waiting to explode.
Brisbane will be without star centre Justin Hodges who has taken a plea for a grapple tackle but with Israel Folau sliding straight back into the centres the side doesn’t really lose anything.
Youngster Jharal Yow Yeh comes off the bench to take a place on the wing.
Prop Nick Kenny also returns to the Broncos’ line-up which sends Dave Taylor back to the bench. Three extra reserves in Josh McGuire, Ashton Sims and Michael DeVere have been named at this stage.
The Warriors will be without man mountain winger Manu Vatuvei who has succumbed to a knee injury, with Aiden Kirk slated to take his place.
Micheal Luck also returns to the side, which pushes Russell Packer back to the bench and Leeson Ah Mau out.
Watch out Warriors: Karmichael Hunt may be in the news because of his undecided future but he is still a crucial cog in the Brisbane machine, one that will need to be shut down if the Warriors are to prevail.
The Broncos’ fullback is averaging 100 metres gained a match and while he hasn’t broken the line or scored a try in the opening fortnight he has provided three line-break assists and four try assists for his side.
If Hunt comes to the match in the right mindset he has the potential to blow the Warriors away. Maybe the home side should brush up on their Japanese and find some clever ways to taunt to Kiwi-born star.
Watch out Broncos: The Warriors will be looking to go directly through the middle of the Broncos’ defence. Having scored more tries up the middle (five) than any other side in the competition thus far the Warriors will continue to target the area – especially since three of the five tries the Broncos have conceded have come up the middle.
The likes of Wade McKinnon will be sniffing around Sam Rapira and Ian Henderson, hoping for offloads so he can slice past the bigger Brisbane forwards.
Where it will be won: Composure will be the key here. Both sides are in form but there may be limited opportunities to post points.
With this in mind it is imperative the two sides take advantage of the chances that come. Warriors five-eighth Joel Moon, centre Brent Tate and winger Denan Kemp are all former Broncos, which means they’ll be extra-motivated to perform well. But they have to ensure emotion doesn’t get the better of them. If they overplay their hands the mistakes will creep in and the Brisbane side won’t need a second invitation.
With Darren Lockyer calling the shots, composure shouldn’t be a major issue for Brisbane but players like Yow Yeh, Winterstein, Glenn and even Ben Te’o are unproven in real pressure cookers. This could easily turn into a furnace.
The History: Played 23; Warriors 9, Broncos 14. The Broncos may lead the overall head-to-head count but the Warriors have won four of the past six including the past two. Brisbane haven’t beaten the Warriors since 2006 but they have shared the 12 games at Mt Smart six apiece.
Conclusion: This is another of quite a few difficult games to tip this round. Both teams are in form and have legitimate claims to being favourites.
The Warriors have the edge of playing at home; however the Broncos have proven themselves in two tough, close fought encounters so far this year.
Whichever way you swing, you’ll have a good chance of taking the chocolates.
Match officials: Referees – Jason Robinson & Matt Cecchin; Sideline Officials – Gavin Reynolds & David Abood; Video Ref – Steve Clark.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live 5.30pm (AEDT).
* Statistics: NRL Stats.