NUMBERS GAME: WARRIORS V BRONCOS

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The Warriors took on the Brisbane Broncos on Saturday, and with this being the 25th season since the Warriors’ 1995 inception, it was also a chance to mark the occasion against their first-ever – and arguably fiercest – rival, a fixture that is always pencilled in early in any keen Warriors fan’s calendar.

The Broncos were the glamour side of the 1990s. It was a tough introduction to the rivalry for the Warriors in their formative years, losing their first 10 games against the perennial contenders, before turning it around in 2001 and winning five of the next six between the clubs.

Thankfully for Warriors fans their fortunes have turned in recent times, having won six of eight games at home against the Broncos from 2010-18 and helping to bring their win ratio back to parity somewhat with 18 wins from 41 clashes in the fixture.

Typically a high-scoring encounter, the Warriors had won three of their last four games against the Broncos by a margin of no less that 18 points on each occasion.

The Broncos, in somewhat of a rebuilding phase, and fielded three of the five youngest players to appear in the NRL in 2019 in this match, including the competition’s current youngest player – and the first player to be born in 2001 to appear in the NRL – 18-year-old halfback Tom Dearden.

Whilst the Warriors had made only one change from the win over the Panthers the previous week, with the much-maligned Adam Blair back in the pack for his 298th NRL match in place of the in-form (and current two-match streak try-scorer) Agnatius Paasi due to suspension.

Interestingly, 10 of the Broncos’ line up and five of the Warriors were not even born when the two sides met in the fabled inaugural match of 1995. On the flipside, current coach Stephen Kearney started in the second-row for the Warriors in that match. Brisbane coach Anthony Seibold was a lower-grader at the Broncos in ’95, eventually making his first-grade debut at Canberra in 1998.

In the 25 seasons since, a total of 13 Warriors players have played for both clubs at some stage in their career.

Neither club has had a higher attendance since the initial games in the 1995 season in this fixture, with the Warriors’ Round 1 home crowd of 29,220 still a club record and the final-round turnout of 54,645 at QEII Stadium (then known as ANZ Stadium) unsurpassed for a Broncos home game since.

Both teams were level on the competition ladder going into this match with 4-6 records and both on a two-match winning streak. A more even match-up there could not be.

A 17,495-strong crowd turned out at the renamed Rarotonga Mt Smart in honour of the NRL Indigenous Round on a reasonably good winter’s night in Auckland, the second-biggest home crowd of the season so far for the Warriors.

A fearless defensive battle ensued, leaving the Warriors try-less in the first half for the first time since their Round 2 loss to the Wests Tigers. It is worth noting that on every occasion the Warriors have beaten the Broncos in their history, they have either been winning or even at halftime. In their 18 wins they have been up 16 times at halftime, and even now three times. Could it be third time lucky?

Ken Maumalo was immense again, continuing his strong form with the ball in hand, running for a match-high 224 metres. Despite the right-hand edge seemingly being starved of the ball, David Fusitu’a, starting to look somewhere back near his best form, went looking for work, carrying for 185 metres – his best return this season so far.

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But the Warriors could just not crack the line, quite remarkable for a side who averages five line-breaks per game in 2019.

A last charge to score in the dying seconds finished with a dropped ball by the Warriors, their 15th error of the match – which meant that the baby Broncos took an 8-2 win, their third on the trot. It was also technically their first away win of 2019, having previously had four losses on the road. A sole ‘away’ win in the Magic Round which was played at their home ground.

This is only the second time in the Warriors’ history that they have lost when conceding single figures in a game, the other being against Melbourne in 2007.

There were no movers or shakers for the Warriors in the individual scoring charts this week with points so hard to come by in this match. Ken Maumalo slips down to ninth for the most tries so far this season (7). Looking back on last season, it was his fellow wingman David Fusitu’a scorching his tryscoring rivals with 12 tries already by this stage. However, the flankmen seem to have swapped stats this year, with Fusitu’a only bagging two so far.

Maumalo continued his strong start to the season and features highly in the NRL’s most runs (197 – second), most metres (1,853 – third), most post-contact metres (620 – second) and most line-breaks (9 – ninth) categories.

Captain Roger Tuivasa-Sheck remains a pivotal threat in attack, and his stats show the Warriors still rely heavily on him to spark something with the ball. He is in the top-10 across the NRL for: most metres (1,555 – ninth), most line-breaks (10 – fifth), most tackle-busts (44 – third) and most offloads (19 – ninth).

Tohu Harris and Leeson Ah Mau are the only Warriors among the 43 forwards to run for over 1,000 metres in the NRL this season. Bunty Afoa is next best on this list (994 metres), and showed his impact again running for over 100 metres for the fourth time this season.

This is now the third loss on the trot for the Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium – and they are back at home against the second-placed Storm in their next game after this weekend’s bye. They will be hoping to avoid equalling the club’s worst losing streak at the venue since 2004-05, when they lost five in a row; the Warriors went down four times in succession at home in 2007, 2012, 2015-16 and 2017. The Warriors’ longest run of defeats at Mt Smart came in 1998-99, dropping six straight.

The Warriors can take some positives from this game though with a strong defensive effort in holding the opposition to a single-digit scoreline for the second time this season, and the seventh time in the Stephen Kearney era (after last season’s record-setting five occasions).

Kearney and his staff will hope that a week off helps his charges to refresh and regroup before they take on the Storm in Round 13. Historically the Warriors fare well after the bye round, having won every match after their first bye going back to 2013.

 

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