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New Zealand Warriors searching for home, Brisbane Broncos sink to old habits

Footy fans on the Redcliffe Peninsula are accustomed to coming out on a weekend to watch the Redcliffe Dolphins fight it out in Queensland's Intrust Super Cup. In recent years, they've been treated to A League franchise Queensland Roar playing a smattering of games at the boutique Moreton Daily Stadium.

But this is something entirely different.

The Brisbane Broncos, long term residents of Suncorp Stadium, are playing the Warriors, long term residents of New Zealand, in Redcliffe. This is very much a home game for the Warriors, as indicated by the plethora of green, blue and red tinged signage around the ground.

It's hot in Brisbane, perhaps a little too much so for a 2pm kickoff. The heat is made all the more apparent by the sweat on Kevvie Walters' brow as he participates in a sideline interview. That could also be the result of pressure of course, the Broncos are entering this one amid a sea of raised eyebrows after their dismantling at the hands of the Cowboys.

Those familiar with the two sides will feel a bit askew when a heavily revised teamsheet is confirmed. No Kurt Capewell, no Jordan Riki for Brisbane. Thomas Flegler returns from suspension and straight into the starting side for his first game of 2022. On the Warriors sheet- changes also- but the headline has to be the big inclusion in the number 24 jersey. Shaun Johnson, the prodigal son.

Even with his presence, the Warriors aren't exactly met with adulation when they run out. Another painful indication of how truly far away from home they are.

The Broncos are led out by a beloved local junior from another club, captaining this club in his maiden season. The reception is rousing, and the expectations high on Adam Reynolds.

It's a former Bronco that sets the early tone. Matt Lodge catches this kickoff and launches himself into his former teammates. No shortage of feeling in the early exchanges. The Warriors are playing with energy on their adopted home ground and it's not long before Keenan Palasea is exposed by a sweetly timed Johnson pass, and another former bronco- Jesse Arthurs- runs over in front of the Dolphins leagues club.

Early points through Johnson, and early frustration from Thomas Flegler, agitated in the immediate aftermath of suspension. The feisty prop goes on report for a high shot. The Broncos aren't quite in sync, as indicated by Herbie Farnworth receiving a crunching rib shot on the back of a panicked Tesi Niu hospital ball shortly after. There's a bit of sloppiness happening, despite the dry track, as Brisbane struggle to find tempo.

There's a few early engagements between Niu and Reece Walsh, with Walsh taking the early ascendancy. More good theatre for anyone interested in the NRL rumor mill. With contract clauses swirling in the breeze, this could be a battle with a bit more than the proverbial 'two points' at stake.

A high shot from Carrigan on Josh Curran sparks a minor melee. Frustration is aimed primarily at Flegler, involved again, this time with a cannonball dive at the legs. The 22 year old is reported twice after the incident, taking his tally to three in 21 minutes. He's given ten minutes to think about his sins. The Broncos are consigned to a 12 man defensive line, and are displaying a worrying lack of line speed. Then Albert Kelly is hobbling off with a painful looking leg injury. On comes Billy Walters.

No sooner has Billy settled into the line, Walsh sends Arthurs over for his second of the afternoon. 12 nil Warriors, former Broncos still doing the damage.

Soon Carrigan is clutching at his leg after a cannonball from Jazz Tevaga. The Warriors pivot is on report and Carrigan left back on halfway as the Broncos advance for a rare foray into the Warriors half. A decent attacking opportunity is iced by Reynolds, who submits a halfback special for his first Broncos try. A cheeky grubber and regather, before triumphantly hoisting the ball into a throng of Brisbane fans in the northern grandstand. The moment is dampened slightly by the departure of Carrigan, who joins Kelly in the sick bay.

The return kickoff goes dead, Reynolds finds touch from halfway, the Broncos start another set just inside the 30 metre line. That desperate search for tempo looks to finally be working out. Then Billy Walters drops it just outside the 20- pressure off. What seems like no time at all later, Johnson is peppering Corey Oates with a high ball- pressure reversed.

Flegler's back on the park and Brisbane rides another penalty back inside the 30. Kotoni Staggs makes a rare foray into the attack on the right edge. He's unable to throw off Marcelo Montoya despite his best efforts, and turns the ball over. The Warriors survive a testing period, blink, and it's 16-6.

Montoya, the beneficiary of a deft flick ball, in a play started by Walsh. This time it's Staggs exposed without the ball. Brisbane's discipline is shot, on and off the ball.

The margin remains unchanged at the break. The Warriors are winning the points and the stats, with starting props Lodge and captain Addin Fonua-Blake both running over 100 metres in an industrious opening. Haas is the only Bronco to do so.

New Zealand Maori culture is in the limelight at halftime, with a beautifully orchestrated haka and tribal dance to welcome outside fans to this approximation of Warriors soil. They are working hard to make it feel like home.

Temperatures have eased slightly for the start of the second half. It's the Broncos with the early initiative; a Selwyn Coboo bust in the midfield, Reynolds finding a flying Corey Oates on the left edge. Oates attempts a spectacular diving put down, but is unable to keep the ball in play. Good signs, but Niu is facing bomb pressure on his goal line all too soon after. Johnson is leading the Warriors downfield, Brisbane's middle is backpedaling. After just a few minutes of the second half, they are increasing their advantage in the energy stakes.

Staggs scoops up an errant Reynolds bomb and charges forward in the 53rd minute, by far his greatest attacking feat of the match. The fans in the Western stand rise as one, Kotoni is a former Redcliffe Dolphin after all. He's pulled down, and the end of set bomb is dropped by Brisbane just short of the Warriors line.

Walsh plucks a Reynolds kick from mid air and the Warriors are back inside 40 a few short minutes later. The raid doesn't bear fruit, but Walsh is perpetually sniffing around the ruck, threatening to blow the Broncos away.

Patrick Carrigan flashes up on the big screen, sitting on the bench with his arms folded, his playing kit long since abandoned. Sitting next to him, there's a fair chance Kevvie doesn't even want to think about that prognosis just yet.

Staggs tries to lift his work rate with a strong charge on the left, but hands go to haunches immediately after he plays the ball. The strike weapon is quite clearly still underdone, perhaps even a bit concerned about his injured knee. Another topic for Kevvie's worry pile, which has grown exponentially in the past fortnight.

Brenko Lee is on the field for his Broncos debut, and it's hard not to feel for him when the former Queensland Maroon's maiden contribution is the concession of a penalty. Oates drops a golden chance for an intercept, just as the crowd of 9,260 is confirmed on the big screen. There's 15 minutes left, and the Warriors are still 10 in front.

Staggs drops it with 11.20 remaining on the clock, and one of those very winnable games is quickly falling out of reach.

Reynolds has a quiet word with Flegler when the prop is penalised yet again for a hip-drop tackle on Ben Murdoch-Masila, who leaves the field.

Flegler racks up his fourth report of the afternoon. Another stint on the sidelines may well be in his immediate future. The infringement allows the Warriors to kick the first points of the second half. They're two converted tries clear, a lead that remains intact when Selwyn Cobbo's athletic attempt to sneak under Walsh's guard and ground a kick in the in goal is deemed a bobble by the video ref.

The highly rated winger coughs up a bomb at the other end a minute later. Jake Turpin desperately tries to slow things down in the ruck, and earns himself a sin binning. Walsh lines up the kick from just next to the posts. Hits it sweetly. The Warriors are 14 points clear and that's another one gone for Brisbane.

They've turned a 2-0 into a 2-2 start to the season, capitulating at the halfway point of a first month deemed very winnable by plenty of good judges.

"It's just frustrating, because we've beaten ourselves," Reynolds says post match, when asked if he was missing Redfern.

"I like a challenge and (I'm) not gonna die wondering... we will play some good footy.'

Carrigan and Kelly are expected to miss at least a month each, and Flegler at short odds to avoid another suspension after his chaotic afternoon.

"That's never good for anyone,' Walters says of the four reports.

"He is not the type of player who wants to deliberately go out there and hurt people.'

Johnson and teammates share some love with their fans after the final whistle, the Broncos do the same on the other side of the ground. The match might not have ticked all the boxes for many fans present, but the spirit of rugby league is alive and well in Redcliffe.

Like Brisbane, the Warriors are 2-2, but ahead of a round 5 encounter with the rejuvenated Cowboys, it's probably fair to say their short term prospects are looking a little brighter.

They're starting to feel right at home.