Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Daunting Suncorp test for Warriors

Ryan Hoffman of the Warriors and his team look dejected after a Tigers try during the round one NRL match between the Wests Tigers and the New Zealand Warriors. Photo / Getty Images.
Ryan Hoffman of the Warriors and his team look dejected after a Tigers try during the round one NRL match between the Wests Tigers and the New Zealand Warriors. Photo / Getty Images.

Here we go again. The Warriors face the ultimate test at Suncorp Stadium tonight against a team that have always been the yardstick for the Auckland club.

Since their inception in 1995, the Warriors have always looked up to the Broncos. They were the expansion team that all others were modelled on, a one-city side that became a juggernaut.

The Broncos have been in countless grand finals and playoff series (they have missed the finals just twice since 1992), generate millions in revenue and make few mistakes off the field.

The Broncos were the Warriors' first opponents in 1995, and no one will forget that gripping 25-22 Brisbane win inspired by Allan Langer.

From there, they became the benchmark for the Warriors. For a long time, the Broncos were the team they couldn't beat, enduring six seasons without tasting victory against the Queenslanders before a breakthrough win in 2001.

Occasionally the Auckland club has topped their rivals, notably in
2002, 2003 and 2011 but most of the time they have played second fiddle. That's where they find themselves again tonight.

The Broncos regained their verve under Wayne Bennett last year, after a few middling seasons. They are the best defensive side in the competition, with their capacity to absorb pressure and soak up repeat sets unparalleled in the NRL.

The likes of Ben Hunt, Anthony Milford and James Roberts, along with the offloading of Adam Blair, offer plenty in attack, and the Broncos started strongly against the Eels last week.

As for the Warriors' true level, more will be known after tonight. If they can beat or at least compete well with the Broncos, then last week's humbling by the Wests Tiger cubs can be dismissed as a blip. But if the Warriors flop badly again, then serious questions will be raised.

"It's something you have to look forward to," said Warriors captain Ryan Hoffman. "As a player, if you don't get excited about playing at Suncorp Stadium on a Friday night, then there is probably something wrong with you."

Hoffman was part of a well-beaten Warriors pack last weekend, with only James Gavet and Bodene Thompson standing out against the enthusiastic Tigers forwards. The defensive effort of Simon Mannering, Hoffman and Ben Matulino will be crucial tonight, against a Broncos side that are masters at retaining possession.

And if the Warriors are to have any chance, the output from their much vaunted spine tonight needs to be considerably better. Issac Luke had a disappointing debut at Campbelltown, while Shaun Johnson and Roger Tuivasa-Sheck mixed flashes of brilliance with mistakes.

"We all know what they can do," said Matulino. "They are all good players and it is just a matter of getting the combination going."

As always, the focus will be on the Warriors' defence, particularly around the edges. Their resistance was almost non-existent at times last week, with the left edge of Solomone Kata and Manu Vatuvei particularly vulnerable.

"Defence is always a team effort," said Blake Ayshford. "You can't really pick out individuals. When a try is scored, it is usually the end result of a combination of things. We know what we need to improve."

The Warriors have a reasonable recent record against the Broncos, winning four of the last seven encounters.

Pivotal Warriors-Broncos clashes

Round one, 1995
Broncos 25 Warriors 22

The beginning of the Warriors and the start of an enduring rivalry. In front of almost 30,000 fans at Ericsson Stadium, the two teams put on a thriller. The Warriors fought back from 10-0 down to lead 22-10 midway through the second half but some late Allan Langer magic got the Queensland side home.

Round six, 2001
Warriors 13 Broncos 12

After six fruitless seasons, the Warriors clinched a first win over the Broncos, who fielded 11 Origin players. Henry Fa'afili and Logan Swann scored tries and a late Stacey Jones field goal sealed victory at Mt Smart. Monty Betham later claimed the success of 2002-03 could be traced back to that night.

Round 23, 2002
Warriors 18 Broncos 4

This match established the hard edge of the Warriors side, epitomised by a slugfest between Kevin Campion and Shane Webcke. The fight sent a message that the Warriors wouldn't back down to anyone. It also capped an impressive victory, with Ivan Cleary (two) and Francis Meli crossing for tries and kicking three conversions.

Round 22, 2011
Broncos 21 Warriors 20

This match announced Shaun Johnson to the league world. His freakish solo try captured the headlines in his eighth NRL game. Johnson beat six Broncos in a 70m slalom to the line, with some huge side steps and a goose step at full pace.

Round 19, 2014
Broncos 28 Warriors 22

The beginning of the end in 2014. The Warriors went in to this match on a three game winning streak and looked odds on to make the finals. But they lost 28-22 and were then defeated by the Sea Eagles the following week to lose all momentum. The Warriors never recovered and missed the top eight on points differential, pipped by the Broncos.

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