NZ Warriors vs Broncos
Mt Smart Stadium
Saturday 5th May, 7:30pm
Darren Lockyer, Darren Lockyer, Darren Lockyer. That’s about all I remember from the last time the Warriors played the Broncos. The first week of the finals in 2011 resulted in the Warriors being handed a good old fashioned hiding by a Lockyer-led Broncos juggernaut in front of a packed Suncorp. That Broncos run was only halted by a cheekbone injury and an equally rampant Manly side.
Despite the much-feared ‘post-Lockyer era’, the young Broncos charges have started 2012 like seasoned veterans, with 7 wins from 8 games and sitting pretty at 2nd on the table before a possible momentum halting Origin period. By contrast, the Warriors have struggled with their start to the season, clocking 3 wins and 5 losses.
The lack of depth at centre and resulting weak fringe defence is again the Achilles’ heel of the Warriors. On a more positive note, rookie centre Ben Henry continues to improve each week despite looking horribly out of depth in his first few outings. The Warriors have also used no less than 4 different fullbacks in 8 rounds, which is again cause for considerable alarm amongst supporters. This trend looks set to continue with Kevin Locke sidelined for 3-4 weeks with a sternum injury.
Recent form: The Broncos cruised to victory over the Titans last week to make it 6 on the trot, while the Warriors felt they let the Storm off the hook down in Melbourne. Despite the eventual scoreline, the Warriors were very much in the contest for 60 minutes and showed signs that they are nearing the sort of form that most of us expect. Godinet showed promise in attack, though succeeded only in patting Chambers on the back as he steam-rolled the God for an easy hat-trick. Ben Matulino and Russell Packer stepped up to lead the forwards in a dominant display and the Warriors will be hoping they can continue that, in particular Matulino – who has cemented his role as the club’s top prop.
Players to watch: Nobody seems to have benefited more from Lockyer’s retirement than Peter Wallace. The guy has stepped up big time, and is playing so well that many expect him to be recalled to the NSW Origin side. As far as I’m concerned, however, it’s the Brisbane forward pack that is the real standout. Hannant, Civoniceva and McGuire have laid an excellent platform thus far, while Parker and Thaiday are capable of playing the 80. Kiwi boy Alex Glenn is coming off a 2 try effort against the Titans and will be keen to impress in his city of birth. In short, they’re a fantasy NRL dream pack that rack up big minutes and big stats.
Ropati returns at the back for the Warriors, while Krisnan Inu looks to have paid the price for his costly errors against Melbourne. The two names that excite me the most, however, are Konrad Hurrell and Shaun Johnson. Hurrell's recent absence has left a few of us scratching our heads after big hype in the off-season and a strong debut against Manly. If he can step up to be a consistent force in first grade, it will go a long way to solving our centre headache.
Feleti ‘Magic’ Mateo – okay, I made that up – has been quiet this season. For a player who turned down Tonga in a bid to make the step up to Origin football, his lack of trademark creativity has been palpable. In my view, he hasn’t done enough to force his way into Ricky Stuart’s mind, and if the Warriors are to go anywhere this season, Feleti needs to step it up. We can’t live off short balls to Maloney forever. His move to lock is an interesting one, but I like the idea. He's played a lot of football there in the past and I imagine he'll have a license to roam.
A bit of mid-week Broncos forum stalking reveals they’re not overly confident about their trip across the ditch. There are whispers they’ve already got one eye on the ‘clash of the season’ against the Storm in round 12, and the Warriors will be keen to remind them that they are (in theory) a force to be reckoned with this season.
My prediction: The Warriors were impressive against the Storm for the majority of their clash and I expect them to build on that performance. The forwards will need to match the Brisbane pack, and if we can tighten up around the fringes, we'll be competitive. This game kicks off the first of 4 season defining clashes and I’d rather be talking about our run to the finals, not how we avoid the spoon, come our first bye. The Broncos have a big month coming up with Origin sides being named and key clashes against the Sea Eagles and Storm. I expect the Warriors to be the more desperate of the two sides with home ground advantage. Home side to get the lollies here (who else misses Costo?). Warriors 26 - 22.