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Brisbane Broncos v Warriors
Suncorp Stadium
Friday 7.35pm

Two losses from their past three games have the Broncos on edge as the race for the minor premiership heats up following Canberra’s shock defeat of table-topping Melbourne last weekend.

While categorising their defeats as a ‘slump’ would be wide of the mark – they were simply outclassed by the Cowboys in a 12-nil result and missing a plethora of Origin stars their baby Broncos were cannon fodder for the rampant Rabbitohs two weeks ago – coach Anthony Griffin would be aware another loss has the potential to leave some scars as the competition heads into the Glory Bound rounds.

Brisbane rested up their Origin bumps and bruises and banked their second bye last week. Despite their recent hiccup they are well-positioned – they share fourth rung on the ladder with two other teams, two wins adrift of the Storm. But their ranking is vulnerable to wild fluctuation: a win would keep them in the top four and in the hunt for the minor premiership; a loss and they could drop as low as seventh on the ladder!  

Meanwhile the Warriors leapfrogged the Wests Tigers to claim eighth place with a comprehensive 32-14 win over the Titans on the Gold Coast strip, their third victory from their past four outings. They showed signs during the six-tries-to-three rout that they are warming to their expansive best – and they’ll need to be if they are to get the better of the Broncos.

A win would see the visitors retain eighth place; a loss and the Tigers can win back their place in the top eight. Their immediate road ahead is tough, with games against the Sea Eagles and Sharks in the next three weeks.

It’s a radically different Broncos team this week to the one that fell to the Sharks: Gerard Beale returns to the wing at Lachlan Maranta’s expense, with Justin Hodges returning to the centres. Also, second-rower Alex Glenn has been named at left centre to replace the injured Jack Reed. In the forwards Petero Civoniceva will start up front for Mitchell Dodds, with Matt Gillett and Sam Thaiday forming the second row and Corey parker back at lock. Ben Te’o and Ben Hannant will be injected off the interchange.

Meanwhile the Warriors’ hopes have been delivered a huge blow with the loss of blockbusting rookie centre Konrad Hurrell with a foot injury – although in better news winger Manu Vatuvei returns on the left wing after being sidelined with a knee injury since Round 14. Lewis Brown is Ben Henry’s new centres partner, while Omar Slaimankhel moves to the bench to accommodate ‘The Beast’. Auckland Vulcans lock Sebastine Ikahihifo is the new face on the interchange.

Watch Out Broncos: There’s not a game goes by that Sean Johnson doesn’t provide headaches for oppositions with his jack-in-the-box vitality, blistering pace and uncanny deception skills. The No.7 provided two try assists the last time these sides met and dummied his way over for a dazzling try against the Titans last week. His combination with fellow playmakers James Maloney, Kevin Locke and Feleti Mateo will need to be watched, especially inside the Broncos’ 20-metre zone.

The Broncos need to offer a straight defensive line right across the park with inside defenders ready to ‘shut the gate’ should the need arise. The Warriors are the most expansive attacking team in the competition, with the fewest short-side raids by any team. They can cover the width of the park and back again in the blink of an eye.

Peter Wallace needs to read the pressure from the opposition when he shapes to kick and also get the elevation of his clearances right – the Broncos have had 16 kicks charged down so far, easily the most by any team. The Warriors can convert turnovers into points quick smart.

With Hurrell missing and Vatuvei back, chances are the Warriors will focus most of their attack towards the left flank. It’s their favoured go-to zone (29 tries to date).

Danger Sign: If Feleti Mateo makes a break or half-break in the opening 20 minutes you’ll know he’s switched on and ready to cause carnage. Mateo is just two offloads shy of Paul Gallen’s benchmark of 35 for the year. He’ll also look to take on the Broncos from close range; he scored a try this way last game against Brisbane off a Nathan Friend pass from dummy-half.

Watch Out Warriors: The Warriors will need to be at their attacking best if they’re to get the field position required to win. Despite scoring the second most tries per game (4.3) the NZers make the fifth-fewest metres each week. Given the Broncos surrender the fewest metres per game (1273 metres) the visitors will rely on some razzle dazzle to get them down the scoring end of Suncorp Stadium.

Five-eighth Corey Norman has developed into an accomplished all-rounder in attack, adding 11 try assists, 10 line-break assists and eight line-breaks, as well as scoring five tries. If the Warriors take their eye off him and scout for other threats they’ll regret it.

Incredible as it seems, regular second-rower Alex Glenn, shifted to the centres for this clash, is the Broncos’ leading try-scorer so far (with nine) and he looks set to threaten Frank Pritchard’s all-time record for four-pointers scored by a second-rower (13 in 2007). Glenn needs just two tries to join Ben Teo’s mark for most tries by any Broncos forward (although cruelly any four-pointers he bags here won’t count). Glenn will be tough to stop on the left edge and will likely target James Maloney, who has missed the second most tackles in the comp.

Danger Sign: When Peter Wallace directs the attack towards the right edge – that’s because the Warriors’ left-edge defence is proving wafer thin at times in 2012, leaking 32 tries so far (the second most by all sides). Consequently Justin Hodges, Ben Te’o, Sam Thaiday and Gerard Beale are excellent chances of bagging a try.    

Josh Hoffman v Kevin Locke: Two exciting running custodians who boast slightly different weaponry. Hoffman will hurt the Warriors through the centre where his involvement (273 runs) is unsurpassed in the NRL, while his tackle-busting ability is second only to Ben Barba in the No.1. Hoffman has tallied 77 tackle-breaks so far, helping propel him to 151 metres a game. He’ll be relentless, especially on kick returns, and will feed off his huge game against the Warriors in Round 9 when he made 19 runs for 163 metres with a game-high eight tackle busts. Meanwhile whippet-fast Locke is also an accomplished playmaker, helping out his halves with five try assists from his nine games to date. He has crossed for five tries as well. He missed the last clash with the Broncos 10 weeks ago and will savour his battle with Hoffman here.

Where It Will Be Won: Shutting down the breakaway raids. These sides haven’t the best record with their last line of defence, with the Warriors making the fourth-fewest try saves (53) and the Broncos close behind (55). Josh Hoffman has been required to make less than two tackles per game, while his opposite Kevin Locke is making five tackles but missing nearly two per game. One of these guys can play the hero for their team here.  

The History: Played 30; Broncos 18, Warriors 12. These sides enjoy a tremendous rivalry, winning four games apiece from their past eight-match-ups – and two each from their past four. However the Broncos hold a 5-2 advantage in matches at Suncorp Stadium.

The Last Time They Met: The Warriors showed tremendous grit to hold off the Broncos 30-20 in an entertaining clash at Mt Smart Stadium back in Round 9.

The Broncos dominated the opening quarter and looked in control when leading 10-6 before halfback Shaun Johnson’s try off a spilled Gerard Beale bomb on the half hour edged the home side ahead 12-10. Back-to-back converted tries in the final five minutes of the first half catapulted the Warriors to a commanding 24-10 advantage at oranges.

Ben Te’o got the Broncos back into the match when he crashed over on the right edge to make it 24-16 with 30 minutes remaining before Feleti Mateo put the issue beyond doubt, punching through the Broncos’ goal-line defence to score with seven minutes left on the clock.

Sam Thaiday scored a flashy consolation try for the visitors as the full-time siren loomed.

It was a  remarkable scoreline given the Warriors missed a staggering 47 tackles to the Broncos’ 29, as well as making two metres fewer and one line-break less overall on the night.

However, they built their win on some dazzling second-phase play, dominating the Broncos 13-6 in offloads.

The Warriors’ best players included Manu Vatuvei who made 13 runs, 128 metres and seven tackle busts, while Shaun Johnson added two try assists to go with his four-pointer.

Brisbane were best served by fullback Josh Hoffman, centre Justin Hodges (144 metres and five tackle busts) and hooker Andrew McCullough who made 61 tackles.  

Match Officials: Referees – Ben Cummins & Chris James; Sideline Officials – Steve Carrall & Michael Wise; Video Referee – Chris Ward.

The Way We See It: Konrad Hurrell’s absence through injury is a huge blow to the Warriors; the rookie has been in scintillating try-scoring form of late and we figure he’s good for six points a match for the Kiwis. Getting back Manu Vatuvei offsets that to some degree but more will be needed from Johnson and Locke if they’re to win this one. However, we’re expecting the Broncos to shake off the cobwebs and reaffirm their premiership intentions. Brisbane by eight points.

Televised: Channel Nine – Live 7.30pm (Qld), delayed 9.30pm (NSW); Fox Sports 2 – Delayed 1am.

•    Statistics: NRL Stats

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