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Broncos v Warriors
Suncorp Stadium
Saturday 7.30pm
Darren Lockyer is set to equal the mark for all-time first grade games this week (349) and would no doubt love to celebrate the milestone at home with a victory that would keep the Broncos on course for a home semi-final. But you can bet the Warriors, in with a sniff of the top four themselves on the back of some stellar recent form, will be out to spoil the party.

After falling to the Storm a fortnight ago Brisbane rebounded with a merciless 46-16 pounding of the Sharks last week. They sit fourth on the NRL ladder, alongside the Cowboys (who they meet next week) on 30 competition points but four points adrift on differential.

Meanwhile the Warriors sit sixth on the ladder just two wins behind. Their victory over Canberra last week was their fourth in succession, giving them a perfect record in the month of July for the first time since their maiden season in 1995. More importantly they have had the wood over the Broncos in recent times, winning both encounters last year including a 48-16 win at Suncorp Stadium – their biggest head-to-head victory. A win here would mark only the second time in 16 years that they’ve beaten Brisbane three games straight.

Ben Te’o returns for the Broncos this week, having finally fully recovered from his badly fractured arm. He displaces David Hala on the interchange, with the rest of the 17 as per last week. Dunamis Lui rounds out an extended bench of 18.

Purely cosmetic change for the Warriors this week, with Jacob Lillyman named to start at prop with Ben Matulino benched, while Feleti Mateo will start alongside Simon Mannering in the second row with Elijah Taylor relegated to the pine. Lewis Brown has been added as 18th man.

Omen Watch: The Broncos haven’t won the week after scoring 40 points or more since 2009. They need 31 points to hit 4000 scored at Suncorp Stadium. And a real big one – five of the past six premiers lost in Round 22 of their premiership year.

Both Steve Menzies (40-nil) and Terry Lamb (50-28) enjoyed massive wins in their respective 349th appearances – will Darren Lockyer get the same outcome?

Watch Out Broncos: The Broncos have proven stubborn opponents to make ground against each game, conceding the second-fewest metres by any side (average 1280.4) – but they may have trouble containing the Warriors’ advance given the Kiwi side’s awesome second-phase play. The Warriors rank second for offloads per game (13.8) while the Broncos concede the eighth-most offloads (11.4).

The Warriors matched their season average offloads last week (14) and gained 1520 metres against the Raiders; during their 48-16 win over the Rabbitohs the week before they made 23 offloads and clawed out 1573 metres. Clearly, upping the ante in offloads is paying off.

Their biggest threats are Feleti Mateo, who has made an NRL-high 61 offloads, as well as captain Simon Mannering (23), Manu Vatuvei (20), Kevin Locke (15) and former Bronco Joel Moon (13 in six games).

Moon and Vatuvei have been in stunning form on the left side of the field, scoring a combined seven tries over the past two games. Their clash with Justin Hodges and Jharal Yow Yeh will be pivotal to the outcome.

Danger Sign: If Feleti Mateo turns up to play there might not be much the Broncos can do to halt his input. He can be scarily good either running the ball himself (nine line-breaks) or setting up supports (11 line-break assists and 10 try assist). Monitoring the support players who hang off Mateo will be crucial. 

Watch Out Warriors: The Broncos will be heading right, where they crossed for seven tries last week. To date Brisbane have enjoyed more success in the right corner than any other team, crossing for 21 tries near the corner post. And the Warriors’ weak spot on the field appears to be the right fringe (their left fringe defenders) where oppositions have crossed for 15 tries.

This would be music to the ears of Broncos centre Justin Hodges, who will look to give his right-foot step another huge workout. Last week Hodges scored three tries and made a game-high 13 tackle-breaks and three line-breaks in a devastating performance of speed and strength. 

The Broncos’ back row will need to be contained or the huge momentum will give their speedy backs a great platform. Corey Parker ranks second behind Paul Gallen for running metres made by a lock (133) and last week gained 163 metres, while Sam Thaiday ranks second for average metres made by second-rowers (121).

Danger Sign: The Warriors have made the fourth-most kicking metres all year and they boast an excellent 59 per cent ratio of kicking to space rather than straight to an opponent. But they need to match or better those numbers here or the Broncos’ backs will make the most of any good field position.

Plays To Watch: Jharal Yow Yeh and Manu Vatuvei’s head-to-head battle; Justin Hodges shrugging off would-be tacklers; Lockyer’s short, flat passes to supports; Peter Wallace’s grubber kicks and cross-field bombs; Sam Thaiday in ‘minder’ mode on Locky; Kevin Locke’s speed off the mark; Aaron Heremaia’s crafty supports; Feleti Mateo’s offloads and select passes close to the try line.

Where It Will Be Won: The occasion. Lockyer will break the all-time games record away from home next week so don’t expect his team-mates to be anything but focussed on getting the job done for him in front of a packed house this week.

As for the man himself, with 18 try assists Lockyer is fast closing in on Johnathan Thurston’s NRL-leading 21; he won’t get as many chances to shine as he did last week (three try assists) but he’s still capable of mesmerising and dominating the Warriors. (Plus, he needs just one try to match Brad Fittler’s 122 career tries).

The Warriors can’t let the Broncos post an early lead or the adrenalin and crowd support may be too much for them to overcome.

The key to a Warriors’ win lies in their ability to bust the line – to date they make the fourth-most line-breaks – but incredibly they rank last for half-breaks with just 12. This indicates they either storm through oppositions, or they get stopped in their tracks. Which will it be this week?

The Broncos concede the third-fewest line-breaks in the comp (3.1) so clearly the Warriors will need to be at their best to have a shout.

The History: Played 27; Broncos 16, Warriors 11. The honours are even four games apiece over the past eight clashes although the Warriors won both encounters last year, including a 48-16 win at Suncorp Stadium – their biggest head-to-head victory. The Broncos hold a 3-2 advantage in games played at home.

Conclusion: In past years you would have questioned the Broncos’ defence up against an enterprising attack like the Warriors’ but under Anthony Griffin Brisbane have become much stiffer. They now average the fifth-fewest missed tackles (31.4 a game) and have cut their error-rate from worst in the league through Round 5 (averaging 14) to eighth best (11.7).

Meanwhile the Warriors average the second-most missed tackles (34.7); that’s enough to leave a massive question mark hanging over them here.

The Broncos by eight points. 

Match Officials: Referees – Ashley Klein & Gerard Sutton; Sideline Officials – Ricky MacFarlane & Luke Potter; Video Ref – Tim Mander.

Televised: Fox Sports – Live 7.30pm.

* Stats: NRL Stats