ANALYSIS: Broncos boilover stuns Panthers, Knights new spine clunky as Webster’s Warriors pick up win

The Premiership defence wasn’t meant to begin like this. If St Helens broke the aura around Penrith Stadium, the Broncos smashed straight through it with a gutsy, committed 13-12 win inspired by two Herbie Farnworth tries and a whole heap of superb tackling.

The story will inevitably turn to the Panthers and their defeat, but Brisbane were excellent and fought for every inch of their win.

With around half an hour to go, Michael Ennis on the Fox League commentary speculated that they couldn’t hold out and win on 12 points.

He was right, and they needed the late field goal from Adam Reynolds to give themselves a big enough margin to make it, but the wider point was true too. 13 points should not be enough to win at Bluebet Stadium, but it was.

The Panthers were far from their best, but that was because Brisbane made them look rubbish through defensive organisation.

Broncos buck the trends

When the Broncos were good last year, it was based on their ability to turn leads into wins, even when the other side threw everything at them.

No team was so efficient, in that they turned games that they lost on almost every metric into real wins. On multiple occasions, they took a lead and held on through force of defensive will, just like tonight. They lost the metre count, the possession count and the territory, but held firm for the win.

Their scramble was excellent, and in keeping Penrith so quiet tonight, they proved that that willingness to put themselves about is still there. Doing it over 27 rounds might be the bigger question, but anyone who doubted their ability to arc up for their coach should be in no doubt now.

This was a combination of smart tactics – shutting down the Panthers left, more on which later – but also pure application and, when the time came, execution. Brisbane created two chances to score and scored both of them, then repelled multiple attacks when Penrith would have thought they were in.

Where was the Panthers left edge?

Penrith’s lethal left edge already looks dulled by the absence of Viliame Kikau. It goes without saying that his are big boots to fill, but the loss of him and the injured Taylan May at the same time has taken away one of the greatest weapons in the Panthers’ arsenal.

Luke Garner was solid if unspectacular, and while he might work out long-term, Kikau was both solid and frequently spectacular. These things take time. Sunia Turuva is the same, a potentially great player, but one who is in the same boat that May was this time last year as a relative newcomer.

Where teams once acted in fear of the left edge, Brisbane aimed up at them and proved very successful at shutting down. There was some early-season rustiness, but that was exacerbated by the Broncos’ linespeed and ability to stop the flow. Save for one fluent move to the right in the first half, Penrith proved incapable of creating.

Jarome Luai, in particular, struggled with the constant attention from Kotoni Staggs, who clearly thought there was hay to be made by jamming onto the five eighth. Luai was worth six runs for 40m at half time, which shows how quickly he was shut down.

Herbie goes bananas

Herbie Farnworth was excellent last year, and yet somehow still flew under the radar. His bicep injury midway through the season ended his campaign on 12 tries from 14 games, a stunning return from a centre, which he backed up with excellent performances in the World Cup for England.

It’s been clear to everyone from day dot that Farnworth had all the physical attributes needed, but there were deficiences too, especially in defence. That seemed largely solved last year before his injury and, without that question mark, all his best instincts came to the fore.

There’s the pace and the strength, but also the guile and an intangible knack of being in the right place to score.

His first tonight was the former, darting back against the line, and his second was the latter, a desire to get the footy and score the try. Expect big things this year from Herbie.

Where was Soni Luke?

The dynamic late last year was working perfectly: Mitch Kenny began the game, took all the punishment and paved the way for Api Koroisau to come in and dominate from about the 20th minutes on.

Many expected Ivan Cleary to continue the same trend with new personnel: the mercurial Soni Luke coming in where Koroisau was to offer a huge attacking upside. Yet, as the clock ticked around, the Tongan international was nowhere to be seen.

Kenny is a perfectly serviceable 9, but his talents are generally more in the ‘honest toiler’ mode, which the Broncos proved more than capable of dealing with.

It took until the 55th minute for him to enter, and his impact was instant with a sharp dart that caused panic in the defence. His try, late in the game, had been on for a long time before he actually pulled it off. One wonders why he wasn’t introduced earlier.

New Zealand Warriors 20-12 Newcastle Knights

By Danielle Smith

With both teams trying to put a very disappointing 2022 season behind them, it was the New Zealand Warriors who have started 2023 on the right foot, with a solid 20-12 win over the Newcastle Knights in Wellington on Friday night.

While the Knights had the perfect start with forward Lachlan Fitzgibbon scoring in the opening minute, it was the Warriors who slowly built momentum continued the grind and won the arm wrestle. The Knights lost Tyson Frizell to a failed HIA, and the tide slowly began to turn. Trailing 10-6 at the break was a flattering scoreline for the visitors, who struggled throughout most of the match.

The Warriors upped the tempo in the second half, and were easily the better side for the 80 minutes. Holding onto a 14-12 lead, desperate defence as the clock wound down proved the difference as the Knights tried their best to regain the lead but continued to come up empty. Eight consecutive sets of six resulted in zero points.

A late try from Wayde Egan gave the Warriors an eight-point lead and then eventually the game. It was a gutsy start to the season for Warriors, who showed plenty of promise. It could be a long season for their opponents though.

Ponga at six not an instant fix, but the spine should be fine

Ponga’s move into the halves has been one of the most highly anticipated aspects of the 2023 season, and while there were some positive signs for the Knights from their newest five-eighth, the change will not achieve the desired results immediately.

There were some good moments for Ponga, who looked more at ease in the front line as the game went on. The independent doctor saw him leave the game with eleven minutes to go, so he was unable to finish the match on his terms.

His new halves partner Jackson Hastings looked like he had all the time in the world to make decisions and put up kicks, and hooker Jayden Brailey made the most tackles for his side with 48, and fullback Lachlan Miller ran the most metres with 174 and both were full of effort.

It won’t happen overnight, but it should happen.

The Warriors have bought very well

There has been a lot of talk about the new recruits for the Warriors. Mitch Barnett was solid against his old side, Dylan Walker showed what a valuable and versatile player he is and Marata Niukore was as tough as ever.

While everyone played their part tonight, two were absolute standouts.

Charnze Nicoll-Klokstad was one of the best players on the field, with the Warriors new fullback proving he has still got it. Safe under the high ball, quick on his feet, scoring one try, making two tackle breaks, running for 190m along with two huge defensive plays, his experience out the back was undeniable and so very needed after the departure of Reece Walsh.

Then there was Jackson Ford. How did the Red V not find any room for him? The backrower had a terrific debut for his new club, playing the entire 80 minutes and finishing with 149 running metres, three tackle breaks and 25 tackles.

The Knights need Young for the year

With the star winger becoming a Rooster in 2024, a lot of talk has been around whether the Knights will release him early, with some frustrating fans wanting him left out of the side.

But with what the Knights produced, they cannot afford to have him leave early or play in the lower grades. They need as much help as they can get, and the effort and toughness he puts in every week, they need him for as long as they can keep him.

Lack of consistency from Johnson may hurt the Warriors

It looked like it was going to be more of the same from the Warriors number seven this year, beginning the game looking very disinterested and producing a poor kicking game including making just one metre when kicking for touch after his side earned a penalty.

Then in the blink of an eye, he was making breaks and creating opportunities.

It ended up being a mixed bag from Johnson for the rest of the match, which can prove the difference when it comes to the teams in the top eight and those in the bottom eight. Consistency from your halfback is a must.

What a shame Luke Metcalfe will be sidelined for so long this season.

Tohu Harris is a machine

What an absolute monster of a player this guy is.

Another big boy on the field for the entire game. 51 tackles, 33 of them in the first half, along with 15 hit-ups.

He led from the front and was the inspiring leader his side needed. If he continues to do that, who knows where the Warriors may end up.

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