Vodafone Warriors v Brisbane Broncos
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland
Saturday, May 27, 7.30pm (NZT), 5.30pm (AEST)
A week on from suffering a heavy defeat on Kiwi soil, the Vodafone Warriors prepare to host their oldest rivals the Brisbane Broncos, who are heavily affected by selections for Origin I.
The Vodafone Warriors were limp in an eventual 14-30 loss to the St George Illawarra Dragons last Friday, while Brisbane recorded a six-try shutout of the Wests Tigers to win 36-0.
Across both sides no fewer than seven players will miss the 12th-round match due to State of Origin commitments with Brisbane's Darius Boyd, Corey Oates, Anthony Milford, Josh McGuire, Sam Thaiday and Matt Gillett joining Vodafone Warriors veteran Jacob Lillyman in the Queensland squad.
Outside of that the Broncos will also be missing hooker Andrew McCullough (concussion) but get a boost via the return of halfback Ben Hunt from injury.
The lengthy list of outs means Benji Marshall returns to the NRL frame along with Jai Arrow, Jaydn Su'a, Jonus Pearson and Travis Waddell while George Fai is set to make his first-grade debut after sitting on the bench for 80 minutes in round 10.
Jamayne Isaako, Joe Boyce and Tevita Pangai Junior are listed in the extended reserves at this stage.
For the Vodafone Warriors, prop Charlie Gubb is replaced by Albert Vete on the interchange while Simon Mannering returns from a hamstring injury which sees Bunty Afoa revert to the bench.
Why the Vodafone Warriors can win: You could be forgiven for not recognising this Brisbane team when it was named mid-week, given the sheer number of forced changes. There is unlikely to be a better time to face the Broncos, with seven of their frontline players missing, including their top contributor in terms of try assists (Milford with seven) and the NRL's top tackler in McCullough (averaging 51.5 per game). If the Vodafone Warriors bring the right attitude to Mount Smart Stadium there's little doubt they have a big advantage in terms of talent and NRL experience.
Why the Broncos can win: While Brisbane is minus four key forwards this weekend, it still has a strong pack and will come up against a Vodafone Warriors side which was steamrolled through the middle of the park against the Dragons last up and missed 57 tackles. The Broncos average 1691 run metres in 2017 compared to the Vodafone Warriors' 1537 and it's an area of the field where the visitors could really dominate in round 12.
The history: Played 38, Vodafone Warriors 16, Broncos 22. The most recent bragging rights belong to the Vodafone Warriors following their win in June last year but before that Brisbane had enjoyed a three-match run against the Kiwi side. Home-ground advantage is a big factor when these two meet, with the Broncos winning only five of 16 matches at Mount Smart Stadium since the turn of the century.
What are the odds: The New Zealand TAB has the Vodafone Warriors at $1.37 in the head-to-head betting with Brisbane at $2.90. Eighty per cent of the bets Sportsbet in Australia has taken on the game are with the Broncos, yet only three times the money has been wagered on Brisbane. There's more money on a Broncos 13-plus result than every other winning margin option combined, so punters are making their feelings known. Latest odds at www.tab.co.nz
Vodafone Warriors | Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (c); Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad, Blake Ayshford, David Fusitu’a, Ken Maumalo; Kieran Foran, Shaun Johnson; James Gavet, Issac Luke, Ben Matulino; Bodene Thompson, Ryan Hoffman; Simon Mannering. Interchange: Nathaniel Roache, Sam Lisone, Albert Vete, Bunty Afoa, Tuimoala Lolohea, Toafofoa Sipley, Ligi Sao, Mason Lino.
Brisbane Broncos | Jordan Kahu; Jonus Pearson, James Roberts, Tautau Moga, David Mead; Benji Marshall, Ben Hunt; Herman Ese’ese, Travis Waddell, Adam Blair (c); Alex Glenn, Jaydn Su’a; Korbin Sims. Interchange: George Fai, Joe Ofahengaue, Jai Arrow, Kodi Nikorima, Joe Boyce, Jamayne Isaako, Tevita Pangai, Francis Molo.
Match officials: Referee: Adam Gee. Assistant referee: Gavin Reynolds. Sideline officials: Michael Wise and Chris McMillan. Review official: Bryan Norrie. Senior review official: Ashley Klein.
Televised: Fox Sports – Live coverage from 5.30pm (AEST). SKY Sport – Live coverage from 7.00pm (NZT).
NRL.com predicts: Even with their best players missing ahead of a trip to a venue where they have had little luck in the past, Brisbane will likely arrive in Auckland feeling confident of getting a result. But against a team who haven't played much footy together this year the Vodafone Warriors can be expected to make the better start and from there the Kiwi side's superior class and experience should come through. Vodafone Warriors by eight.
- This article first appeared on nrl.com