Warriors v Broncos preview

With a penchant for close and exhilarating contests, these two sides have enjoyed a thrilling rivalry ever since the Warriors hosted Brisbane in their first premiership game back in 1995. That clash saw the Broncos prevail 25-22 after trailing 22-10 at one stage in the second half and although the Warriors fell short on that occasion they have considered Brisbane to be the benchmark for their own success ever since.

More recently, battles between Brisbane and the Warriors have been memorable for very different reasons. Their Round 22 clash last season saw Warriors halfback Shaun Johnson announce himself as a star of the future with one of the all-time great solo tries, before Peter Wallace potted a last-minute field goal to steal a 21-20 win, while their semi-final meeting saw the Warriors produce one of their worst displays of the year in falling 40-10. Little did we know at the time what a remarkable turnaround of fortunes we would see in the following weeks as the Warriors stormed their way to the grand final.

Once again, this game looms as a significant one for both sides, albeit moreso for the Warriors who have shown some positive signs in recent weeks but certainly need to show more consistency. Their 44-22 win over South Sydney in Round 7 was their most impressive attacking performance of the season and but for three late Melbourne tries they were right in the contest against the undefeated Storm last week.

The huge concern for new Warriors coach Brian McClennan remains their defence. Only once this season has the Kiwi club kept their opposition to fewer than 20 points in a game – against the Gold Coast in Round 4 – and on three separate occasions they have conceded 30 or more. 

That won’t fly against a Brisbane side quickly establishing itself as one of the premiership favourites this season. Notably, the Broncos have scored 20 points or more six times this season and 18 points in their two other games, so scoring points certainly hasn’t been a problem for them.

Ironically, as bad as the Warriors have been in defence they have been similarly lethal with the ball in hand – their 178 points bettered only by Melbourne, Brisbane and North Queensland – so we could well be in for a try-a-thon on Saturday night.

The Warriors welcome back a number of players for this clash, including Johnson at halfback in place of Pita Godinet who has been named on a five-man bench. Jerome Ropati is also back from the hamstring strain that ruled him out of last week’s clash with Melbourne and will start at fullback in place of the injured Kevin Locke.

Another to be recalled is centre Konrad Hurrell, with Krisnan Inu returning to the bench, while coach Brian McClennan has shuffled his back row with Elijah Taylor into the second row and Feleti Mateo named at lock.

Ben Te’o returns from his two-week suspension for Brisbane in place of Dunamis Lui on the bench.

The Warriors props will be looking to break a try-scoring drought in 2012 with Sione Lousi the only front-rower to score for the club this season (Round 3). Ironically, Manu Vatuvei is also on the verge of an unwanted record, having gone without a try in his past four appearances. Not since his first six NRL games has he gone five games without scoring. 

Brisbane will be looking to win their opening five away games of a season for just the third time after doing so in 1989 and 1996.

Watch Out Warriors: The Broncos are going to throw plenty at the Warriors through the middle and it will be up to the home side’s big men to withstand the challenge. Brisbane have been the most dominant side in the competition when it comes to gaining field position, with an NRL-high 1457 runs for 11,483 metres at an average 1435 per game (second only to the Sharks). That means the Warriors can expect to do plenty of tackling, with Brisbane forcing their opponents to make 1289 tackles so far in 2012.

Danger Sign: The Broncos play a simple yet effective game that includes prolific dummy-half running. In fact, no side runs more out of dummy-half than Brisbane, with 218 runs this season producing an NRL-best six dummy-half line-breaks and four line break assists. They also favour their right side when darting – heading that way 132 times compared with just 86 times to the left.  Watch for Justin Hodges (57) and Andrew McCullough (43) to scoot when the opportunity arises.

Watch Out Broncos: Brisbane’s big men have been dominant this season but they will be tested by the Warriors’ little men on Saturday night, with Shaun Johnson and James Maloney continuing to spark their sides’ attacks in 2012. Johnson leads the Warriors for try assists (eight), line-breaks (six) and tackle-breaks (23) this season as well as scoring three tries and producing three line-break assists, while Maloney has added four line-break assists, six line-breaks, three tries and five try assists. Only Melbourne duo Cooper Cronk and Gareth Widdop have been more prolific in attack this season.

Danger Sign: It is more important than ever this weekend for Brisbane to respect the football and avoid loose passes because the Warriors are the most lethal side in the NRL in broken play situations. The Warriors have scored six tries from broken play in 2012 – two more than any other side – with two of those tries coming directly from turnovers. They are particularly lethal when their opposition fails to defuse a bomb, scoring four tries from these broken play situations this year.

Shaun Johnson v Peter Wallace: The brilliance of Shaun Johnson against the steady, calming influence of Peter Wallace. Johnson continues to produce moments of wonder for the Warriors with his dazzling footwork and ability to create something from nothing and he will again be central to his side’s attack. Wallace, meanwhile, has guided his side around the park with aplomb this season to storm into NSW Origin contention. It will be a fascinating contrast of styles.

Where It Will Be Won: With both sides exhibiting wonderful attacking abilities, it will be how these sides defend against the arsenal about to be thrown at them that will determine which team prevails. That looms as a particularly big challenge for the Warriors, who have been woeful in defence at times; however if they can stand toe-to-toe with Brisbane they certainly boast the weapons to end the visitors’ six-game winning streak.

The History: Played 29; Broncos 18, Warriors 11. Brisbane hold an edge in the long-term but the sides are split at seven wins apiece at Mt Smart Stadium. Notably, they are also four wins each from their past eight meetings. The Warriors recorded their biggest win over Brisbane just two years ago when they prevailed 48-16 at Suncorp Stadium.

The Last Time They Met: Brisbane produced a scintillating performance to destroy the Warriors 40-10 at Suncorp Stadium in Week 1 of the finals. Despite the absence of representative forward Sam Thaiday through injury, the Broncos dominated from the outset with three first-half tries seeing them head to the break ahead 18-0 before putting their foot down in the second half.

The signs were ominous for the visitors early on with Jharal Yow Yeh denied a try by the officials before Alex Glenn opened the scoring from a Peter Wallace offload after 14 minutes. 

Jack Reed was next to cross when he darted over from 10 metres out and captain Darren Lockyer ensured his side took a handy lead into half-time when he crossed following a brilliant run and offload from Matt Gillett.

Corey Parker was next to cross for Brisbane 10 minutes into the second half after Jack Reed leapt highest to collect a Lockyer cross-field kick and passed inside for his unmarked back-rower to score and make it 24-0.

The Warriors finally sprung to life midway through the second half and briefly threatened a comeback with two quick tries – the first a well-angled run from Feleti Mateo off a Shaun Johnson pass and the second a sweeping backline move for Manu Vatuvei to finish. 

But three tries in six minutes from the Broncos through Andrew McCullough, Justin Hodges and Gerard Beale ensured a big win for the home side as Lockyer’s farewell tour continued.

Prop Josh McGuire enjoyed a superb game with 189 metres from 22 runs to go with 27 tackles and seven tackle-breaks. Gerard Beale was also impressive with a try and 197 metres. For the Warriors, lock Micheal Luck worked hard to produce 49 tackles.

Match Officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Jason Robinson; Sideline Officials – Ricky MacFarlane & Brenden Wood; Video Referee – Paul Simpkins. 

The Way We See It: A game we can’t wait to tune in to, this promises to be a high-scoring affair with both sides showing a love of throwing the ball around in 2012. It shapes as Brisbane’s sternest test since their Round 2 loss to North Queensland; however, so impressive have they been over the past month that it is impossible to tip against them. Broncos by 10.

Televised: Fox Sports 2 – Live 5.30pm.