That match ended 48-6 in Melbourne’s favour, with the Storm delivering the Broncos their worst ever loss at Suncorp Stadium.That Brisbane side was missing Jordan Kahu, Jack Reed, Greg Eden and Tom Opacic before a ball was even kicked, while winger Corey Oates left the field in the 18th minute due to concussion. Oates’s injury forced coach Wayne Bennett to move the 174cm Kodi Nikorima to the Broncos’ wing, but there was one large problem, his direct opponent was 18cm taller than him. Melbourne winger Suliasi Vunivalu took full advantage of this with the help of halfback Cooper Cronk as the two took the match away from Brisbane. Cronk put a number of pinpoint cross-field kicks above Nikorima’s head, with Vunivalu soaring above Nikorima time and time again to score three tries, while Cronk himself notched up five try assists. It was the definition of using a side’s weakness to one’s advantage and something that could not have been achieved without the accuracy of Cronk’s kicking game. But all things going to plan, the Storm should not be afforded the same benefit on Friday night, with Oates intent on staying on the paddock for the full 80 minutes this time around. It is not just Oates’s health that has Blair confident of a Broncos victory, with the 31-year-old saying his side are in a better headspace and physical condition than this time last year.”We lost a lot of players that night. Kodi ended up out on the wing so it was a tough one,” Blair said.”We are in a really good place at the moment player wise. Mentally we are very good and majority of us are doing well physically. “We’ll go into this game with a good preparation. Energy and a great attitude is key to it so hopefully those things can help us come away with the win.” Recently named captain of his home country New Zealand, Blair is using his time as captain of the Broncos to hone his leadership skills heading into the 2017 Rugby League World Cup. He received the opportunity to take charge of Brisbane due to a thumb injury to regular captain and fullback Boyd who is not due back until Round 20 at the very earliest. With Boyd’s return still weeks away, Blair is enjoying the opportunity and focused on guiding his side to their first win over the Storm at Suncorp Stadium since 2009. “I still feel like I’m filling in. I guess it is a role I have to start getting used to anyway,” he said. “I enjoy being a leader, whether that is on the field with my actions or with my talk. “I’m a passionate player but at times you have to be calm and collected as a captain. “Those are the things I want to be better at so this period while Darius is away is a good opportunity for me to practice those things.” Photo by: Scott Davis/ NRL Photos. Suliasi Vunivalu soars above the Broncos to score a hat-trick at Suncorp Stadium.
The message is simple – work hard.Players have started on an even keel competing to impress at the upcoming trials ahead of game one of the season against South Sydney Rabbitohs in March.”There was a gap we needed to close in certain areas, hence why we made a decision on the back end of the year to bring someone to the club like Alex (Corvo).” says Kearney.”It’s pretty demanding but that’s because that’s what the game asks for and the boys have really responded.”Part of that demand before pre-season was training mixed martial arts at a New Lynn gym under jiu-jitsu black belt Steve Oliver. The idea was to work combatively on defence – not unfamiliar to Rugby league.In 2013 the official tackle coach to the Bulldogs NRL team and the New South Wales Blues was Brazilian jiu-jitsu professor Marcos Neve, the Rabbitohs have called on jiu-jitsu specialist Marco Villela, and last year the Melbourne Storm were known for their jiu-jitsu and MMA sessions.”During the off season before pre-season I’d send a few of them along to learn some new skills, it was about the defence aspect.” says Kearney.”They’re on wrestling mats which is a little bit softer than the ground and there will be times particularly in the long turn-a-arounds we’ll use the facility.”It’s quite clear that the adoption of Melbourne Storm’s winning culture is being filtered into the Warriors – both in the squad and coaching ranks, something new recruit Tohu Harris is already accustomed to.”All this training is pretty familiar, my first couple of years were under Alex Corvo and without sounding negative, it’s been tough – there’s no way around it.” says Harris.Despite the 2017 NRL premiership title under his belt with the Storm, the second rower says after nursing injuries the pressure is high to earn a starting spot for game one of the season.”There’s a lot of competition for spots but if you look past the trials you might find yourself watching the boys run out in round one, so you have to make sure you’re always training as well as you can.”The Warriors will hold their first trial match in Rotorua against Melbourne on February 17, then travel to the Sunshine Coast for their second trial against the Gold Coast Titans.
With the Oceania Teams Tahiti, Samoa, New Caledonia, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Zealand and the host Papua New Guinea will vie for qualifier to the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia.The defending champions are Tahiti, who won their first title at the 2012 OFC Nations Cup and are looking forward to defend their title again this year. The games will be played simultaneously starting tomorrow (Saturday) with the Pool B division at 16:00 when New Zealand will take on Vodafone Fiji and at 19:00 Vanuatu will play Solomon Islands in Pool B at Sir John Guise Stadium in Port Moresby.Other matches that will follow will be on Sunday when the host nation Papua New Guinea go up against New Caledonia followed by the game between the defending champions Tahiti and Samoa.Then on May 31, Vanuatu will play New Zealand and Solomon Islands will clash against the Fijians whilst PNG Kapuls will be ready to take on the champs Tahiti in their second game on June 1 and New Caledonia against Samoa.The last four games before the finals for Pools A and B will be played on June 4 and 5, respectively as in Pool B, Fiji plays Vanuatu and New Zealand plays Solomon Islands whilst in Pool A on June 5, Samoa will take on Papua New Guinea and Tahiti meet New Caledonia.The finals will kick off starting on June 8 to 11.