The NRL can dish up odd scheduling match ups and Aotearoa Warriors sliding over to Brisbane to face the Broncos, only a couple weeks after the Broncos came to Mt Smart to strangle the Warriors is super duper funky. That Warriors loss was peak woes, peak 'uggggh bro what are youz upto?' type of stuff as it had everything we have come to find frustrating about the 2018/19 Warriors, most notably some awkward attack.
Even though the Warriors racked up 24 points last week in defeating Newcastle Knights, their attack was still clunky and caught in the middle of trying to lay down structures while feeling the seduction of razzle dazzle. Under coach Stephen Kearney, the Warriors have looked their best in attack when using the two attacking styles to compliment each other, which naturally leads to the Warriors being stuck more often than not. This current Broncos team still has the hefty forward pack, but a young backline could help the Warriors settle into an attacking groove.
Selection wise, the only shuffle is with Issac Luke starting and Chanel Harris-Tavita coming on to the bench. Harris-Tavita will likely do some dummy half duties and while he will do a service-able job, think of this as more of a last man standing situation; Karl Lawton and Nathaniel Roache are unavailable, while the likes of Tyler Slade and Sean Mullany aren't quite at the required level. Harris-Tavita isn't a long-term dummy half, not even a mid-term and Kearney may instead ask Harris-Tavita to play a more free roaming role as Luke can churn out 80 minutes without much fuss.
Another wrinkle to the intrigue around how the Warriors score points is that they won't be able to rely on kicking to their wingers as much as they would against other opposition. The Broncos will have Corey Oates and Xavier Coates on their wings, with Coates being a clone of Oates - if not more athletic. The Warriors can still test them out with a couple probing kicks, however the advantage that the Warriors usually have won't quite be there.
The key to stopping the Broncos, is limiting the influence of their middle forwards. Matt Lodge had 18 runs for 184m (10.22m/run) and Payne Haas had 17 runs for 191m (11.23m/run) in the win over Cronulla Sharks last week, not only showcasing high output but also incredible efficiency. Today, the Broncos will also have Joe Ofahengaue and David Fifita back from Origin duty and they are named on the bench which could be a nightmare for the Warriors.
The Warriors don't exactly have a big forward pack, definitely not when compared to the Broncos. We know they are hearty however and the efforts, intensity and attitude shown by Adam Blair, Isaiah Papali'i and Jazz Tevaga will be crucial for the Warriors. These three need to offer some niggle, flop legally into tackles to add bodies and simply get around the park to plug holes. Smaller, but more mobile and all have a certain attitude that could lead the way for the Warriors.
Agnatius Paasi has re-signed and I'll write about the Warriors contracts in the next few days. Interestingly, in the Warriors yarn about Paasi's deal, Paasi talked about being in the leadership group and being a leader of the forward pack. Paasi has shown this in his performances and there's a bit of a lift when Paasi and Ah Mau are on the park; Paasi had 17 runs for 152m vs Knights (8.94m/run) and Ah Mau had 12 runs for 124m (10.33m/run). Now I'm eager to see Paasi hit a nek level, taking Ah Mau with him and that's especially intriguing when you consider that Paasi and Ah Mau could be underrated.
They need to show that though vs the Broncos and at least maintain parity with the Broncos middles. From that platform and only with some type of platform laid in the middle, can the Warriors go about moving the Broncos forward pack around with offloads and passing. I suspect the Warriors will be the team wanting to keep the footy in play, play a high tempo game and get the Broncos chasing the ball.
These aren't new Warriors insight, these are merely trends from when the Warriors are at their best and we just haven't really seen them establish this style of footy. From a slick kicking game, to high completion rate and being able to role through structure to get to integrating razzle dazzle; the Warriors have to be on fire to get into this groove. If they can get somewhere close to that, then the speed and footwork of the Warriors will be a huge factor.
Keep an eye on if Tevita Pangai Junior holds his edge forward spot as he's named to start but could make way for Fifita. If Pangai Juinor is defending on an edge and the Warriors can lay some of those attacking foundation blocks to build fatigue, they can target Pangai Junior just like Aotearoa had quick blokes running around Pangai Junior in the Kiwis vs Tonga Test. Then, it was Shaun Johnson and last week, even with Johnson taking just 9 runs for 45m vs Broncos, Pangai Junior still missed 4 tackles; tied with Kotoni Staggs for most missed tackles from a Bronco in that game.
Staggs played centre for Tonga in that Test, on the same edge as Pangai Junior. I'm not sure if they'll line up that way for Broncos, but the Warriors should be throwing plenty of traffic at Pangai Junior regardless. Not 'traffic' in the way big lads run at halves on the edges, but traffic in terms of structure to force Pangai Junior into difficult reads and lots of speed/footwork down that Broncos edge.
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