In the end, the Warriors were a shirt-pull away from having a Shaun Johnson sideline conversion attempt to win it – but the scoreline in Origin-ravaged Brisbane’s 26-22 victory in Napier undeniably flattered Andrew Webster’s side in the most un-Webster-like performance of 2023.
Forget about the blatant forward pass that gave the Broncos the lead right on halftime, this wasn’t another hard-luck officiating story. The Warriors just weren’t good enough to get it done against a team stripped of five representative stars.
Trailing by 16 with seven minutes left, the Warriors awoke from their slumber with two quick tries before Pompey sent Montoya over for the second time in rapid succession in the 79th minute to bring the house down at McLean Park…only to be pinged for grabbing the jersey of a Broncos defender in a contender for bonehead moment of the year. It would have been an undeserving escape had Johnson got the chance to slot the goal, however, despite the match finishing four tries apiece.
A slew of tryscoring chances slipped through the Warriors’ hands in the first half and they essentially handed the Broncos 12 points with ball-handling bungles.
The likes of Addin Fonua-Blake, Tohu Harris, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak laid a sufficient platform for success – running for 932 metres between them – but an off night from Shaun Johnson, a mixed club debut from Luke Metcalf and the glaring absence of Wayde Egan (and to a lesser extent Dylan Walker) prevented the Warriors from capitalising on yardage dominance.
There was a nagging sense the Warriors subconciously felt just turning up and going through their processes was going to be enough to get the win – as it was against the Bulldogs a fortnight ago, when they didn’t have to do anything too remarkable to close it out.
The rejigged Broncos, led by an inspirational Adam Reynolds, threw more spanners into the works than the Bulldogs, though, and were streets ahead in terms of cashing in on their (comparatively rare) opportunities to score.
Reality check for @NZWarriors .
Late, late finale was bloody impressive, but there was an inescapable sense that they had underestimated the 'Baby Broncos' & paid a big price.
— Michael Burgess (@mikeburgess99) May 27, 2023
The opening 40 was the most painful half of footy the Warriors have dished up in 2023. They got over the line five times without a result before finally getting on the board, completed just two-thirds of their sets and came up with two major blunders to gift the Broncos both of their first-half tries.
After a Freddy Lussick forward pass in their second set put the Warriors under early pressure, they weathered a three-set storm on the try-line – but only after Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad and Addin Fonua-Blake produced a try-saver under the posts on Kobe Hetherington.
The Warriors’ first chance went begging soon afterwards, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak unable to grasp a genius banana kick from Shaun Johnson on the Broncos’ line.
Two minutes late Rocco Berry butchered another try, brilliantly tipping on a Johnson bomb but coughing it up in-goal courtesy of a miraculous defensive effort from Brisbane’s fullback stand-in Tristan Sailor.
The frustration continued in the 17th minute when DWZ opted to try and go through the defence rather than head for the corner and spilled it over the line.
Those missed chances were compounded by a colossal cock-up on the Warriors’ next attacking foray. Luke Metcalf’s pass went to ground and Marcelo Montoya inexplicably fumbled the ball straight into Deine Mariner’s breadbasket, the Auckland-born Broncos back-up winger subsequently racing 80 metres for the opening try.
Watene-Zelezniak almost produced a response in spectacular aerial fashion but stood on the touch in-goal line, before belatedly finishing off a more straightforward chance when Johnson, Nicoll-Klokstad and Berry combined to give him a passage to the corner.
Johnson goaled from the sideline for what should have been a 6-all halftime scoreline, but for gross incompetence from Tom Ale and Gerard Sutton.
The front-row tyro dropped it cold taking the first hit-up from the restart, before referee Sutton and his helpers unbelievably missed a blatant forward pass that allowed Jordan Riki to crash over through an isolated Metcalf seconds out from the break.
The costly lapses were a slap in the face to the likes of Addin Fonua-Blake, who played the entire first half and churned through 10 runs for 115 metres and 21 tackles.
That's forward. Fuck me, the ref was right there too.
— Anton Posa (@antonposa) May 27, 2023
The Warriors steamrolled through the Broncos up the middle in the first 10 minutes of the second stanza, but Johnson’s and Metcalf’s inability to execute with the boot stymied their ability to build pressure.
Lussick and Nicoll-Klokstad (who was cleared to return) left for HIAs within a few minutes of one another, then Tohu Harris came up with an ugly, uncustomary missed tackle on Adam Reynolds, who sped into space and found Ezra Mam in support to score.
Johnson’s short line dropout was too short and the Broncos were soon out to 20-6, but a little bit of SJ magic on the last produced the Warriors’ second try in the 62nd minute.
He put Marata Niukore through a half-gap with a flat ball and cleverly tipped on the return offload for DWZ to stroll in for his second.
But again the Warriors couldn’t sustain pressure.
Being too slow to challenge a clear strip on Metcalf (who had a knock-on ruled against him) with 10 minutes to go kind of summed up the Warriors’ night – half a second or half a metre off the pace in too many things they did.
From there, the Broncos pummelled the Warriors’ line for three sets and Sailor grubbered for Mariner to bag his second, seemingly wrapping it up at 26-10.
Nicoll-Klokstad powered onto a pass from stand-in dummy-half Bayley Sironen with six minutes left and beautiful work from Adam Pompey, who drew Mariner and flicked it out for Montoya to score in the 78th, setting up a grandstand finish that all bar the streaking knuckleheads that constantly interrupted the latter stages deserved at a sold-out McLean Park.
Pompey rinsed and repeated to put Montoya away for what was initially awarded as the equaliser, but the Bunker correctly pulled the enigmatic centre up for a agonisingly unnecessary grab on Sailor’s jumper.
We were tge better team tonight but just couldn’t get it together. We were going wide off slow ptbs; Metcalf couldn’t lock into shape, dummy half service slow and predictable. Just a hint of complacency too. AFB, CNK, Tohu DWZ did their best. Will be a frustrating rewatch.
— Fonzie (@fonzieswarriors) May 27, 2023
It’s two valuable points gone begging when the Origin scheduling seemingly handed them a gimme two points, leaving the Warriors immersed in the midtable logjam instead of sitting just a win behind the competition-leading group.
The good news is it’s the type of performance they can just put in the bin and move on from.
Egan and Mitch Barnett will be available next week, with Walker hopefully available in Round 15. But it turns the heat up on next week’s (Go Media) Mt Smart clash with the in-form Dolphins as the Warriors look to avoid slipping to a negative record for the first time this season.
Brisbane Broncos 26 (Deine Mariner 2, Jordan Riki, Ezra Mam tries; Adam Reynolds 5 goals) defeated Warriors 20 (Dallin Watene-Zelezniak 2, Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Marcelo Montoya tries; Shaun Johnson 3 goals) at McLean Park, Napier.