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NZ Warriors Preliminary Finals Review: Warriors Memorable Campaign Over After Broncos Blowout

After their big win over the Knights at Go Media Stadium, the Warriors went to Suncorp Stadium to face a Broncos side looking to reach their first Grand Final since 2015.

In front of a sellout crowd, the Warriors looked ready for a tough battle with a good start, but the Broncos proved too strong by putting together two quick-fire scoring raids to walk away with a convincing 42-12 victory, ending the Warrior's season.

What Went Down

The opening quarter saw a shootout of the most thrilling kind as the two sides traded blows in an end-to-end contest.
Dallin Watene-Zelezniak opened things with a trademark diving effort before he became the single-season record holder for the Warriors with his 24th of the year after picking off a looping pass from Walsh and running 60 metres.
In between that, Billy Walters burrowed over before the Broncos put on a clinic down their left edge to score through Herbie Farnworth and Jesse Arthars and add another through Walters, which came after Walsh burst through the line and linked with his dummy half-back through the middle of the field. 
Down 24-8 with 12 to play in the half, the Warriors had to be next to score and crossed via Marcelo Montoya after Adam Pompey was denied a set earlier but drew a penalty for a tackle off the ball. 
But with Pompey pushing a third conversion wide, what could have been a one-score deficit remained 12 points at the break. 

As it turned out, the Broncos were far too good in the second half anyway, as things started to fall apart for the visitors, who had both Wayde Egan and Dylan Walker leave the field for HIAs, which they passed, and Pompey binned for a professional foul.
Brisbane took full advantage to put the result beyond doubt with further tries to Jordan Riki (albeit off a forward pass that was seen by all but the officials) and Ezra Mam, giving them a 24-point lead with 16 to play, which allowed coach Kevin Walters to take Adam Reynolds and Walsh out of the game early. 
Even without their star No.7 on the field, the Broncos kept the scoreboard ticking over. Farnworth grabbed his second of the night with 10 to play to confirm the final scoreline and set up a clash against the Panthers next Sunday at Accor Stadium. 

My Thoughts

This one hurt; I know I predicted a Broncos win in my review last week, but I still had a lot of confidence that the Warriors could bring the fight and score the upset. However, in the match's early stages, it was clear that Brisbane was at another level, and the Warriors were on the ropes. The Warriors kept fighting to their credit but couldn't keep the Broncos contained. I know there were some head-scratching calls from the officials (more on that later), and as much as that frustrated me, it was not the reason for the result; Brisbane was the better team and deserved the win here and will set up a great Grand Final. 

It wasn't the best performance to end the season with, and while I am disappointed with the result, I couldn't be more proud of this team. I would not have believed you if you had told me at the start of the year that the Warriors would be in the preliminary final. 
2023 was a fantastic season and an ideal foundation for future success for this club; there is plenty of work for this team to do to go to the next level, but I'm confident they have the right coach and group of players to do it.
Don't let this loss sour your thoughts on the season; it's been a hell of a ride, and I can't wait for the 2024 season.

There was one thing from this match to smile about, which brings me to my positive.

Match Positive

As already discussed, it felt like the Warriors were on the ropes early on, but despite that, they showed plenty of heart as the game progressed; when the offloads were flowing, the Warriors were scrambling, trying to put out fires all over the pitch. 
Apart from a brief patch of time where they dropped their heads after that forward pass, they were still trying to get points on the board. 
It's a positive sign for the future, as while the issues on both sides of the ball can be fixed, you can't just find more heart and resiliency; every team that has to face the Warriors in 2024 now know that they will have an 80-minute fight on their hands.

However, I did have concerns, which brings me to my negatives from the game.

Match Negatives

The Warriors were torn apart by the Bronco's second phase footy; Brisbane made 23 offloads in this match and appeared to be able to do it at will; this saw their attack operate at breakneck speeds that the Warriors couldn't contain. It was a dominant display of attack that proved too much and was hard to stop once they got a roll on.
It is a high-risk, high-reward style of play that could have worked for the Warriors if Brisbane had a case of the dropsies, but it wasn't to be in this match. 

A big reason the Broncos were able to unleash this free-flowing style of attack was down to their forwards dominating the battle of the packs. 5 of their forwards cracked the triple-digit target I like, whereas the Warriors only managed three. The Broncos pack is impressive, but I expected the battle in the middle to not be so one-sided. I still believe that the Warriors are one big bopper short (something I have said since before round 1), and this match and the first week of finals against the Panthers showed how much they miss that extra big body, but to get to the next level in 2024, the pack needs to lift.

Lastly, the officials, before ripping into them, I want to clarify that as bad as some of the calls they made/missed were, It did not change the result, but it did change the margin. The better team won, I can admit.
But onto the officials, I don't know how that forward pass was missed; it was mind-boggling, and a few other calls had me scratching my head. It's not just a Warriors problem; the officials have been dreadful in this year's finals, missing knock-ons and head highs, calling knock-ons when the ball hit the official, you name it, we got it.
I know they are human, but the finals are the real deal, and they need to be at their best; their touch judges need to lend a hand, as too often in this finals campaign, we have heard more about the officiating than the teams' performances. Brisbane looked fantastic here, but all we heard about yesterday after the match was that pass. 
Hopefully, the NRL look into the officiating in the offseason and find a way to make howlers few and far between, but I'm not confident.

Warrior of the Match

My Warrior of the Match goes to Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad.
Another busy night for the Warrior's Fullback, running for 207m, made several key defensive stops when the Broncos broke into open space and was safe under the high ball all night.
I've said it plenty this season, but CNK just puts his heart and soul into everything he does on the pitch, and this effort was no different. One of the first names I would write into the team sheet, and I look forward to seeing him continue to develop as a vital member of the Warriors spine in 2024.

Warrior to Improve

My Warrior to improve is Te Maire Martin.
I was close to selecting Adam Pompey here with his sin-binning and poor goal-kicking, but I have gone with Te Maire Martin here for the simple fact that he was invisible for a large portion of the match. He played a part in Montoya's try, but other than that, there wasn't much to write home about; he had 4 runs for 22m and made 13 tackles with 4 misses and no kicks. He wasn't the only player who didn't have the best night out, but with Luke Metcalf set to be back from injury in time for the start of next season, it makes the argument for which of the two should partner Johnson in the halves in 2024 more interesting.

Seasons done; What's Next for me?

So that's a wrap on the 2023 season, and man, what a ride it has been, a season that has truly exceeded my expectations, and while it did not end the way I wanted, it has filled me with plenty of hope for the future. Watching this team, I love winning over people from all over the country and the tribalism of the fanbase becoming a conversation around the globe. 

Unlike last year there is not that much of a roster change, with Bayley Sironen, Viliami Vailea and Valingi Kepu being the only three confirmed to leave the club (not including Ben Murdoch-Masila, Taniela Otukolo and Otukinekine Kepu who left during the start of the season) and the only new additions right now are big ones with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck and Chanel Harris-Tavita both returning to the club.
However, in a little while, I will touch on the roster updates when I write my season review, I usually wait to release it just before the Grand Final, but it may be a little later due to the Warrior's late exit this year, in that review I can unpack the entire year, highlight certain players and moments and look at what's to come in 2024.

I traditionally disappear in the offseason, but I am thinking of covering the Kiwis Pacific Championship campaign and doing match reviews after each match if that is something you may be interested in. I would also like to do some articles throughout the months before everything starts again, so if you have anything you would like to see my opinions on, let me know, and I will see what I can put together.

Last but not least, my show, The Stand-Off, will continue to stream live on Facebook and YouTube every Wednesday at 8pm NZ time; we haven't decided on a season finale time yet as we may stick around for the internationals, so come join us there as we discuss the footy.

So, that was a disappointing preliminary final, but as usual, I will leave you with some questions.

What changes does Andrew Webster need to make with this team to take it to the next step in 2024?
How would you grade the 2023 season overall?
Who has been your biggest surprise from the squad?
Would you like me to cover the Kiwis Pacific Championship matches?

This post first appeared on Nz Warriors 2017 Season Preview : Above The Line - The Kearney Era Begins, please read the originial post: here

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NZ Warriors Preliminary Finals Review: Warriors Memorable Campaign Over After Broncos Blowout


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