Warriors v Brisbane Broncos: Schick Hydro Preview
Mt Smart Stadium
Saturday, 5.00pm (NZT) | 3pm AEST
Round 13 marks a pivotal point in the season for the Warriors, while for the Broncos it's about trying to fight their way out of an unfamiliar position following consecutive losses.
Sitting 14th with only four wins, the Kiwi club needs to turn their form around fast, and there is no better time to do that than after a bye round against a team heavily affected by player involvement in Origin I.
Brisbane have been only a field goal away from winning both of their last two clashes, going down 19-18 to the Cowboys and Wests Tigers, and have dropped to third on the NRL Telstra Premiership ladder.
Following the Warriors 38-12 defeat to the Raiders in Round 11, coach Andrew McFadden has swung the axe, with Jonathan Wright, Matt Allwood, Jazz Tevaga, John Palavi and James Gavet all dropped.
That sees Nathaniel Roache, Albert Vete, Charlie Gubb and Ligi Sao recalled from reserve grade to sit on a five-man bench.
The Warriors will also have a new-look left edge with veteran winger Manu Vatuvei returning after a month off on medical leave, and Solomone Kata back from a one-game suspension.
Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett has named Darius Boyd, Corey Parker, Josh McGuire and Sam Thaiday to back up from Origin I after missing last week for the Broncos, but Corey Oates and Matt Gillett are set to be rested.
That means Greg Eden and Jaydn Su'A are out, while Travis Waddell replaces Andrew McCullough who is out with a broken thumb.
Herman Ese'ese and Jai Arrow drop to a six-man bench.
Watch out Warriors: After 12 games the Broncos sit among the NRL's best in the key attacking categories. They are equal-first in tries scored, have the outright most points and are behind only the Raiders in line breaks made. Brisbane are relentless with the ball in hand, possessing genuine threats all over the park.
In their last four outings the Warriors have conceded 30 points per game on average, and overall they have the second-worst defence in the entire competition. Edge defence remains their big issue, with several teams targeting their frail flanks this season with great success.
Watch out Broncos: Over the bye week the Warriors' playing group held a crisis meeting in a desperate attempt to save their season. They know that while the Brisbane game isn't a must win, it's crucial they at least put in a strong performance. The Broncos should expect plenty of fire in the belly of their opposition this Saturday.
Brisbane have been involved in one-point losses in consecutive weeks, which would have been taxing both physically and emotionally. Add to that the toll of having four players involved in Origin I and named to back up, plus the trip to Auckland, and Brisbane are in danger of suffering the effects of fatigue come kick-off.
Key match-up: Tuimoala Lolohea v Darius Boyd. It was easy to see last week just how important Boyd is to Brisbane, he averages 139.2 run metres with six try assists this year. He could have a field day this week against the porous Warriors edges. Since moving to fullback Lolohea has been at his best when highly involved in ball handling. He has set up four tries so far this season, but needs to add to his 90.6 average running metres against the Broncos at Mt Smart Stadium.
The history: Played 37; Warriors 15, Broncos 22. Brisbane have had the better of their trans-Tasman rivals in the last three head-to-head clashes, but they have usually been tight matches, with six of the past eight decided by margins of 10 points or less. The venue hasn't always been kind to the Broncos, having come away with just one victory from their last five trips to Auckland.
What are the odds: Sportsbet have struggled to take a bet on the Warriors and 97 per cent of all head-to-head bets on the game are on the Broncos. Brisbane 13+ is holding more on it than all of the other margin options combined. Expect Brisbane’s price to firm as we get closer to kick-off. Latest odds at Sportsbet.com.au
Match Officials: Referee: Henry Perenara. Assistant Referee: Chris James. Touch Judges: Shane Rehm and Belinda Sleeman. Review Officials: Ben Galea, Jason Robinson. Senior RO: Luke Patten.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live coverage from 2.30pm (AEST)
How we see it: There is plenty going against the Broncos ahead of this one, but they have a much stronger side than the Warriors on paper and are well-versed in continuing to perform through the Origin period. It should be close for the most part, but expect Brisbane to trust their superior defence and outlast the Warriors, with killer punches to be delivered in the final quarter of the clash. Broncos by 10.