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The Warriors’ fairtytale ride to start 2018 hit its first pothole courtesy of a 27-18 loss to Brisbane side that ventured to Auckland as rank outsiders.

The out-of-sorts Broncos were rocked in the lead-up by injuries to Matt Gillett and Kodi Nikorima, but they carved out a gutsy, much-needed win through sheer effort and physicality – areas the Warriors were outstripped in for the first time this season.

Caught on the hop early, the Warriors looked to have regrouped but got worse as the match wore on. Comprehensively outperformed in the middle of the park, the Warriors struggled for field position, which was compounded by their lack of urgency on defence.

Their attack was disjointed and lacking purpose, while their kicking game below average. In almost every facet, the Warriors were unable to match the energy, intensity and execution of their unfancied opposition.

The Broncos ran for 300 metres more than the Warriors in perhaps the most telling stat of the match. They did a 2018 Warriors on the Warriors.

Lax, arm-grabbing Warriors cover defence allowed Corey Oates to go on an arcing 20-metre run to the try-line in just the fifth minute – an ideal fill-up for a Broncos side that had conceded the first try in each of the opening five rounds.

As they’ve done so often in 2018, the Warriors responded emphatically.

Marching upfield on the back of a penalty and earning a repeat set through Blake Green’s grubber, the hosts hit the scoreboard after Shaun Johnson’s beautiful cut-out pass for try-machine David Fusitu’a to stroll in for his eighth of the season. Johnson converted from the sideline.

The Broncos were on the rack again straightaway, but the Warriors let them off the hook somewhat by booting a penalty goal to edge in front. Jamayne Isaako kicked one for the visitors a few minutes later for 8-all.

Broncos prop Matt Lodge’s early injury departure was cancelled out initially by Leivaha Pulu being simultaneously assisted off, though Lodge later returned.

Another sign the Warriors turned up without their usual intensity came at the 20-minute mark as James Roberts embarrassed Green and Solomone Kata to set up Christchurch product Isaako for Brisbane’s second.

Green redeemed himself, however, with a kick-and-chase try after a bounce off the upright with six minutes of the first half remaining.

Anthony Milford potted a field goal late in the piece to send the Broncos, who were completing at 100 percent, into the sheds ahead 15-14. Overall a disappointing half of footy for a patchy Warriors side – but they were fortunate not to behind by more.

Brisbane won the early physical battle after the resumption, while a sloppy Peta Hiku error gave the visitors the opportunity for impressive young forward Jadyn Su’a to slither his way through for a try.

The Broncos put one hand on two vital competition points with a simple sweep play and a brilliant finish from Isaako outside Ken Maumalo in the 63rd minute. The rookie slotted a key conversion from touch for a 13-point lead.

Shaun Johnson gave the Warriors a flicker of hope with 10 minutes left after a wrap-around with Tohu Harris and some trademark quick-stepping.

But Solomone Kata hobbled off soon afterwards and centre replacement Anthony Gelling embarked on a one-man mission to thwart the Warriors’ comeback efforts.

If anything, the scoreline flattered the Warriors – the Broncos were outstanding, playing to the conditions and the situation far better than their hosts.

The biggest positive is the Warriors have given themselves a massive head-start before producing this insipid display; the loss of two points is not that much of a setback. But how they respond to it over the next few weeks – with a run of matches against the Dragons, Storm and Tigers on their radar – will shape their season.

Brisbane 27 (Jamayne Isaako 2, Corey Oates, Jadyn Su’a tries; Isaako 5 goals; Anthony Milford field goal) d Warriors 18 (David Fusitu’a, Blake Green, Shaun Johnson tries; Shaun Johnson 3 goals) at Mount Smart Stadium. Crowd: 15,636.

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