The Broncos came into their match against the Sharks on Thursday night anxious to continue the massive wins that they’d been able to showcase against the Panthers in Round 19 and the Titans in Round 17 – and just as anxious to prove that their loss to the Warriors in the interim was a mere blip in their run to the finals. Meanwhile, the Sharks were just as keen to make up for having suffered a four point loss to Brisbane a mere four weeks before at home, and to make the most of their subsequent wins.
Both teams had good opportunities to score in the opening minutes of the match, but failed to put down points. A strip from Tevita Pangai Junior on Andrew Fifita was ruled a lost ball from the big Cronulla forward, although the Broncos were unable to make the most of their good luck, while a quick tap from Paul Gallen and a damaging run from Chad Townsend came to nought when Matt Moylan lost the football while attempting to set up the next part of what should have been a tryscoring sequence.
While Darius Boyd may have been moved to the centres to make room for Jamayne Isaako to put on the no. 1 jersey, he proved just as powerful at creating pointscoring opportunities as he always has as fullback, and was equally adept at linking up with Corey Oates for what turned out to be the first try of the evening. It started at the end of what initially looked like a pretty promising passage of play for Cronulla, culminating with a risky over-the-head pass from Moylan that could have been the critical moment if he’d timed it better and hadn’t been so far into the Brisbane line.
As it was, however, this was the moment that Boyd chose to make his mark, scooping up the Steeden in mid-air and then burning down the left edge of the field before sending it across to Oates just as Sione Katoa was starting to gain ground on the wing, for his sixth successive try against Cronulla. In the way it reprised his modus operandi at fullback, and the elegance with which it reversed the momentum of the Sharks’ push, this was probably one of Boyd’s most effortlessly brilliantly moments of the back half of the season so far, and proof that he can function as a leader pretty much anywhere in the Broncos’ backline when he’s playing at his best.
Nevertheless, the visitors responded with a sequence that was just as spectacular, although in a very different kind of way. A couple of sets later, in what can only be described as a team try, the ball made its way through virtually every pair of Cronulla hands, shifting over to the right edge of the field before being sent back to the middle, where Chad Townsend fumbled it, but fumbled it backwards, leaving it open for Gallen to snatch up. Even then, Gal almost fumbled it himself, but managed to pass it back to Scott Sorensen to set up the tryscoring conclusion to the sequence.
From there, Fifita made his contribution by straightening up the play, allowing Valentine Holmes to plunge over the line with both Joe Ofahengaue and Sam Thaiday on his back, to become the equal top tryscorer of the 2018 NRL season along with Robert Jennings, with David Fusitua and Josh Ado-Carr just behind. Seeing Aaron Woods join the field for his first stint in Sharks’ colours initially looked as if it might help galvanise the visitors into a follow-up four-pointer, but as it turned out it was a defensive error from the ex-Bulldog that helped the Broncos crash over next.
This time it was Matt Lodge who got the chocolates, slamming over directly beneath the posts for the first try of his NRL career, with four defenders, including Woods, on his back. No doubt it was a powerful effort, especially right beneath the goal posts, but credit also has to go to a quick play-the-ball from Oates moments before, who moved from try scorer to try orchestrator with some rapid thinking right on the line.
The Sharkies’ first try had been so improbable, and so spectacular, that it had effectively seemed to guarantee them the momentum for this second part of the first stanza, so it was a bit of an upset to see Brisbane score again so matter-of-factly so shortly after. Cronulla seemed to feel it, too, executing a number of tryscoring opportunities that didn’t come to fruition, building a mounting sense of frustration that kept Brisbane four points ahead when it came time to head into the sheds, and suggesting that the Broncos could probably win if they just managed to defend well.
The first of these aborted tries was the most unlucky, and saw Ricky Leutele slamming over the chalk with Jordan Kahu on his back for the hardest effort of the evening so far, only for Isaako to unwittingly put in the most critical defensive gesture of the game by running alongside and standing over the play in case Kahu needed any help. Reaching out a hand to ground the footy, Leutele found Isaako’s boot in just the wrong position, and with the replay showing that he’d only managed to make contact with the Brisbane fullback’s foot, the Bunker ruled it was a no try.
The second botched try was less unlucky, but perhaps more frustrating, coming off the back of Leutele’s near-miss, as Sosaia Feki chased down the footy only for Kahu to beat him to it and ground it right on the try line. To come back from that double disappointment, the Sharks needed to start the second stanza with a bang, and that’s just what they did, thanks to a linebreak from James Segeyaro who made the most of Josh McGuire being relatively unsupported and a bit disheveled at marker.
Scooting around the big Broncos forward, Chicko slipped out of Korbin Sims’ grasp as well, taking the football right up to Isaako before popping it over to Holmes, who crashed over untouched to go from the NRL’s equal top tryscorer of 2018 to the NRL’s top tryscorer of 2018. It was a triumphant moment for the Sharks, but things quickly went downhill after Chad Townsend’s conversion hit the uprights, and a loose carry from Lewis saw the hosts get the ball back after a hard tackle from Sims.
All of a sudden, the momentum had swung back Brisbane’s way, and a penalty on Gallen for not being square at marker compounded it, as Kahu took the two to put his team two points ahead. As it turned out, however, these would be the last points scored over the entire game, while Townsend’s missed conversion has to rank as one of the most critical botched kicks of the 2018 season so far, and Kahu’s kick one of the most important penalty goals, especially with finals footy just around the corner.
Still, this wasn’t the most decisive victory for the Broncos – especially at Suncorp – and they’re going to be looking to do something a bit more emphatic when they take on the Bulldogs in Sydney next week. Meanwhile, this has to be one of the most heartbreaking and frustrating losses for the Sharks so far in 2018, and they’re going to be desperate to make the most of a home fixture when they take on the Sea Eagles next Sunday afternoon.