NEW ZEALAND WARRIORS v BRISBANE BRONCOS – 7.30PM (NZT)/5.30PM (AEST) @ RAROTONGA MOUNT SMART STADIUM
The Storylines: The Warriors are chasing three straight wins for the first time since their watershed 5-0 start to 2018.
Staring down the barrel of finals oblivion only a few weeks back, the Warriors’ campaign is suddenly back on the rails after following their Magic Round comeback against the Dragons with a 30-10 thrashing of the Panthers at Penrith. Kodi Nikorima has so far proved an inspired buy, while their pack has laid a sound platform after some subpar showings in the opening eight rounds.
But now they need to regain form at home, where they crashed badly in their last two against the Titans and Knights.
The Warriors host a Broncos side also coming off pressure-relieving back-to-back wins. The under-fire Broncos outlasted Manly during Magic Round, then snapped the Roosters’ eight-game winning streak with a gutsy 15-10 victory last Friday.
Indigenous Round adds an extra edge to this showdown at the temporarily renamed Rarotonga Mount Smart Stadium, while it is also the defacto 25th-season celebration game for the Warriors after these clubs squared off in a historic clash at the same venue in 1995.
Ins and Outs: The Warriors have been forced into one change, with Adam Blair getting a reprieve following the in-form Agantius Paasi’s one-game suspension.
Bunty Afoa moves into the starting front-row with Blair recalled on the bench.
Brisbane have named an unchanged 17 with James Roberts remaining on the outer.
The History: Played 41 – Broncos 23, Warriors won 18
-The Warriors have won three of their last four against the Broncos.
-The Broncos have notched just three wins in their last 11 visits to Auckland.
-Just one of teams’ last five clashes featured a margin of less than 15 points.
-Brisbane’s highest score in their last 12 clashes with the Warriors is 28 points; they were held to 18 or less in seven of those.
-The Warriors have won only five of their last 11 at Mount Smart.
-The Broncos have won only one of their last seven away from Brisbane.
3 Key Match-ups
Kodi Nikorima v Anthony Milford: Halves partners only a few short weeks ago, Nikorima and Milford will be relied upon to provide the game-breaking offensive spark for their respective teams. Fascinating match-up.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck v Darius Boyd: Warriors fullback RTS has been lauded as one of the NRL’s best players and leaders so far in 2019. Broncos counterpart Boyd has been maligned for a series of dismal performance, but he has turned things around in the past fortnight. Another important duel – particularly for the visitors’ sake.
Tohu Harris v Matt Gillett: Two of the most respected, dynamic and reliable back-rowers around. Harris has been one of the Warriors’ most consistent players in a patchy start to 2019, while Gillett wants a big game to seal his Origin return. Both potential match-winners.
Last Time They Met: The Warriors bounced back from a horrific 36-4 loss at Penrith nine days earlier with one of their best efforts of the season, a 26-6 whipping of a confident Brisbane at Suncorp Stadium. The Warriors led 26-0 with 25 minutes left before putting the cue in the rack. Issac Luke, Shaun Johnson, Agnatius Paasi, Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Solomone Kata and Simon Mannering all had memorable games.
The Warriors cover at just 41% as a favourite, covering just 4 of 12. The Warriors are 8-16 ATS at Mt Smart at night. The Warriors are 9-4 ATS after scoring 30. Brisbane are 22-13 ATS as an outsider. Small interstate underdogs cover at 65%. Brisbane have covered just 6 of 16 interstate. Brisbane are 5-13 ATS interstate off two straight wins. The over is 27-16 when the Broncos are off conceding 14 or fewer. The under is 13-8 when the Warriors are favoured off a win. The under is 9-0 when the Warriors are at Mt Smart off a win of 13-plus.
TAB’s Best Bet: Broncos Win @ $1.93
The Verdict: A huge game for both teams heading into the bye. Both are in good form but need to keep the momentum going and will be desperate to head into the bye on a three-game winning streak. This has the makings of a classic between the great rivals. The key, as always, will be the Warriors’ ability to hold the middle third and achieve some field-position dominance. Containing the likes of Payne Haas, Matt Lodge and Tevita Pangai Jr shapes as a big ask, but if they can do that the Warriors hold enough of an edge at dummy-half, in the halves and out wide to carve out an important victory. Warriors by 10