It had been a rollercoaster fortnight for the Broncos when they took on the Panthers at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night. While they’d lost by twenty points to New Zealand at Suncorp the week before, they’d won by thirty-four points, and kept the home team to zero, when they took on the Titans at Cbus the week before that. With such a lopsided pair of games, and a home loss behind them, it was crucial that they come away with a resounding win against Penrith in this particular match.
They did just that, scoring up fifty points, and eight tries, before the night was over, only letting the mountain men across the try line three times over the entire game. The first two tries came pretty quickly, after a promising opening offload from Trent Merrin to James Maloney that came to nothing when James Roberts slammed in and applied some brutal pressure on the Penrith five-eighth.
For a couple of sets, the football was shuttled back and forth pretty efficiently, but a lost ball from Christian Crichton on tackle one provided the Broncos with the platform they needed after Joe Ofahengaue scooted in and scooped it up. The first of many clinical Brisbane set pieces now ensued, as Anthony Milford sent the footy across to Sam Thaiday, who muscled his way into the line before executing a dazzling left-handed offload to get Tevita Pangai Junior over the chalk for the first try of the night.
The next try occurred four tackles later, when Milford chipped for Kodi Nikorima midway down the field. Continuing his five-eighth’s momentum, Nikorima booted the ball forward in turn, as Roberts slammed down the park and got it to ground before the Panthers had a chance of cleaning it up. This was a classic Roberts moment and, in combination with Thaiday’s try assist shortly before, made it clear that the Brisbane veterans were determined not to let another game get away from them.
A couple of sets later, Pangai got a double, barging through a pack defence right on the line, and still managing to maintain enough momentum to muscle himself out of a sea of Penrith jerseys, reach out an arm, and get the Steeden to earth. Like the two tries that had preceded it, Pangai’s effort was remarkable for both its simplicity and its strength, further congealing Brisbane into their most merciless and efficient opening of the 2018 season so far.
It was already a pretty volatile, high-octane game, due to the amount of energy that the Broncos were pumping onto the field. While a few skirmishes had almost broken out, the most dramatic so far occurred following a tackle from Kodi Nikorima on Jarome Luai. After Roberts scooted in, and was pinged for high contact, he got some pushback from Luai, who then lost the footy on the fourth tackle of the following set after another powerful defensive hit from Nikorima.
The Panthers were getting more frustrated by the minute, and their frustration made them messy – especially Maloney, whose emotional playing style can be brilliant in the right conditions, but disastrous when he’s nettled. So it was here, as he charged down a Milford kick, only to be penalised for a shoulder charge a second later. The most promising defensive moment for Penrith in some time now turned out to be a penalty kick for Isaako, who had enjoyed a perfect night with the boot so far, and didn’t let his team mates down this time either.
A couple of sets later, Darius Boyd tried to link up with Corey Oates only to spin the Steeden into touch, but even here the Broncos found the game going their way, as a touch from Penrith got them six again out of the scrum. Five seconds after the ball left the huddle, a no-look pass from Nikorima sent Oates through the line, for a try so clinical and assured – so in keeping with the four tries scored so far – that it felt fortuitous in retrospect that Boyd and Oates hadn’t managed their more familiar combination.
Yet another conversion from Isaako brought the scoreline to 26-0, while the exhaustion of Viliame Kikau as Oates stormed past him spoke volumes for his entire team, who already seemed to have been playing eighty minutes of football, so lethargic and defeated had their body language become. Over the next couple of sets, they made a couple of valiant efforts to recover some confidence, whether it was holding up Milford on the last tackle twelve minutes out, or a terrific ball-and-all effort from Josh Mansour that possibly prevented Roberts scoring once again.
Still, these efforts weren’t enough, since what the Panthers really needed was a significant error from the Broncos to get them back into the game. Instead, they were forced to end the first stanza with arguably the most spectacular four points of the night so far for Brisbane, on the back end of a crossfield chip from Milford that found Oates and Crichton contesting it on the Broncos’ left edge.
For a moment, Crichton seemed to have won the battle, even if it cost him an injured ankle, and a fairly questionable obstructive move on the Brisbane winger, bringing them both to ground as the Penrith defence tumbled over their heads. Yet it was Oates who had the last laugh, positioning himself in the tackle so as to eschew all contact with the football, which ricocheted off Crichton’s topknot and sat end-up for the next player to come along and take advantage of it.
As it turned out, that player was Boyd, the calm within the storm, who scooted forward and collected the footy before the focus had fully shifted from Oates and Crichton’s tackle, jogging along to ground it beneath the posts in a one-man emblem of Brisbane’s calm assurance over the course of the night. It was just the sign of confidence a fullback should exude, while the role reversal of fullback and winger also suggested a team that could be as flexible as it had proven to be structured.
With the Panthers kept scoreless when the half time siren rang out, the Broncos were at 32-0, and had more than recapitulated their win over the Titans two weeks before. Not only had they managed to reach this scoreline by the forty minute mark, but the calibre and execution of their tries had been even more clinical and professional than in their game against Gold Coast. Meanwhile, a last-minute effort from Penrith said it all for the mountain men, as Sione Katoa crossed over ten seconds out from the break only to knock on the Steeden just before grounding it.
Nevertheless, the Broncos’ rhythm was a bit quashed by a series of stoppages during the first ten minutes back, allowing the Panthers to build enough energy for a miniature tryscoring sequence of their own. Maloney laid the platform for the first four points with a hard run and near-linebreak, lining up Tyrone Peachey for a superb ball out to Corey Harawira-Naera, who sent it back inside to Moses Leota in turn.
From there, a harbor bridge pass from Leota provided Cleary with the field position for a perfectly placed kick to the Panthers’ left edge, where Waqa Blake gained possession effortlessly to slam down the first four points for the mountain men. All of a sudden, the New South Wales halfback was warming up his kicking game, contributing a monumental bomb a couple of sets later that was almost more than Corey Oates could handle.
The Panthers now consolidated their attack, as a pair of no-look passes from Maloney and Kikau saw Waqa Blake accelerate up the left edge, dodging around Jordan Kahu before flipping the footy back into Mansour, who only made the slightest of trips before sailing through the air to notch up the Panthers’ second try. No player rallies the team around him quite like Sauce, and seeing him score on his first week back was a resounding message that Penrith had the energy to match the Broncos if they only managed to get into gear now.
Sure enough, their defence ramped up, with Leota spearheading an enormous pack effort to hold up David Fifita half a metre out from the line for what initially looked set to be a certain try. In the first stanza, it probably would have been, but this was a different Penrith outfit now – the team that had beat the Warriors 36-4 in Round 17, rather than the team that had suffered such a frustrating and contentious loss to the Sharks in Round 18 – and the Broncs had to step up accordingly.
For a second, it seemed as if luck was now starting to turn against the Broncos, as an unlucky bounce prevented Milford from gaining a 40-20 off a pretty solid kick. Still, Brisbane showed that they were prepared to make their own luck a second later, as an intercept from Nikorima on Maloney got the home team their first try of the second stanza. Of all the elegantly simple tries that the Broncos had scored, this was the best, the high point of a game that had seen them using the Panthers as a mere platform to refine their attack with each new opportunity.
It was also an intercept on the Panthers’ momentum as much as Maloney’s pass, forcing the mountain men into one last defiant passage of attack in order to regain a little bit of pride. This started with two linebreaks, both of which were promising and rousing in their determination, but neither of which ended up producing points. The first came from Cleary, and ended with Isaah Yeo contributing a superb kick chase only to knock on the football at the final moment.
The second came from Kikau, who arguably put in the barnstorming run of the night, shifting the footy from side to side like it was a tennis ball, before being stopped just short of the line by the full reserves of the Brisbane defence. Nevertheless, with Kikau making an error shortly after, the momentum dissipated once again. In the end, it was a Penrith dropout that did the job, as a skittering grubber from Maloney trapped Milford in goal, and set up Peachey to slice through the Brisbane forwards a couple of tackles later – the first time in the game that the Broncos looked tired.
They had a right to be tired, though, given the kind of game they’d enjoyed, and if they’d remained twenty points ahead this would still have been one of their most powerful victories of the year. In a final fanfare, however, the Broncs notched up two tries in the last five minutes of the game, as if to divest the three Penrith tries of even the most residual sense of consolidation. The first came after an escorts penalty from Peachey, who seemed to have made up for his error by collecting the ball from Milford on the next set, only for Nikorima to score his second intercept try of the night, this time at Whare’s expense.
It was as if the Broncos had refined their game to the point where there was nothing to do except repeat their earlier efforts, in what was starting to feel like a highlights reel more than the end of a regular match. Two minutes out from the end, Lodge put the icing on the cake with the last try of the evening, bringing the Broncos to a dazzling 50-18 scoreline – a surge of pure football momentum that they will be keen to replicate and extend upon when they take on the Sharks at Suncorp next week.