The Rabbitohs turned up to Suncorp on Thursday evening more vulnerable than they have been at any other point during the 2018 season. With Greg Inglis, Alex Johnston, Campbell Graham, Robert Jennings and Adam Doueihi all missing from their backline, they were almost a different team, in organization and configuration, from the lineup that’s put them in the top four at this late stage in the 2018 season.
The Broncos wasted no time in making the most of it either, opening with two of their most effortless tries of the 2018 season, both of which came on the back of successive South Sydney errors, and both of which targeted the relative inexperience of Richie Kennar and Tyrell Fuimaiano on the right edge. The first came after Fuimaiano himself made the first error of the night, losing the footy at the start of the tackle count under pressure of a big tackle from Alex Glenn.
Moments later, Angus Crichton was penalized for a flop, gaining the Broncos the field position they needed for Darius Boyd to send across a superb cut-out pass for Corey Oates to crash over in the left corner. Nothing signals a Brisbane consolidation quite like a Boyd-Oates matcup, especially when it’s as fluid as it was here, and so there was no doubt who had control of the match from the opening minutes.
For a second, it looked as if the Broncos would score again immediately, after Kennar knocked an Anthony Milford kick backwards, had another go at it, and then knocked it on. A tackle later, Boyd made a mirror move on the other side of the field with an equally deft cut-out pass to Jamayne Isaako, but the Bunnies’ left edge read the play better, with Hymel Hunt bumping the Brisbane backliner into touch as his teammates ran into assist him.
Still, a combination of errors allowed Boyd and Oates to repeat their try and try assist a couple of minutes later. No doubt, the loose carry from Crichton, the subsequent loose carry from Dylan Walker, and then the penalty on Crichton for a slow peel, gave Brisbane the platform they needed for Oates to cross over again. But the spectacle of South Sydney flailing also consolidated Brisbane’s confidence during this period, allowing Boyd to repeat his cut-out pass verbatim without the fear of Kennar and Fuimano being able to contain it.
While Isaako may not have added the extras, he made it a converted try lead a couple of minutes later, when yet another sequence of mistakes – an error for Reynolds followed by a penalty from Cameron Murray – gave him the chance to kick for two. A couple of minutes later, Korbin Sims crossed over, thanks to a brilliant try assist from Milford, forming a sequence that spoke volumes about the Broncos’ supremacy at this point in the match.
For one thing, Milford started by scooting around Damien Cook, pivoting so deftly that he didn’t even have to fend off the South Sydney hooker. Given Cook’s massive efforts over the last few weeks, there was something sobering for cardinal and myrtle supporters in seeing him outpaced and outstepped in this way. Similarly, the fact that Milford sent the footy to Sims across Sam Burgess’ chest spoke to the dominance of the Broncos’ big men up the middle of the field this evening.
It didn’t hurt, either, that it was Milford who contributed the try assist, since he’s been a bit inconsistent this year, making these periodic moments of consolidation all the more spectacular. Finally, Sims himself has become almost as much of a Brisbane tryscoring institution as Boyd and Oates in 2018, with the result that his four points also lent the Brisbane advantage – eighteen points once Isaako added the extras – a particularly emphatic and decisive air.
In other words, this was starting to feel like a landslide, as the absent Bunnies backline made itself felt more than most viewers might have expected against a team that entered the match sitting at the very bottom of the eight. They needed to score, and they needed to score desperately, so a resurgence of the right edge was just what the doctor ordered. It started with a grubber from Reynolds that allowed Fuimaiano to force a dropout, followed by a pair of passes from Reyno and Gagai that saw Kennar cross over in the right corner for the first Bunnies try of the night.
The try assist was every bit as dexterous as Boyd’s, partly because Gagai took a leaf out of Boyd’s book, drifting back from the line to offset Reynolds as he ran right up into the line, and getting himself in place for a catch-and-pass to Kennar at just the right moment. It marked the beginning of a general South Sydney resurgence, with the cardinal and myrtle clocking up six straight sets of six, and three successive dropouts, as the first stanza wound to a close.
On the first dropout, Brisbane went short, allowing the Bunnies to pop the ball back and get a dropout on the first tackle, perhaps explaining why Brisbane chose to go long on the next one. Nevertheless, Souths couldn’t translate their sudden surge in field position into points. Twenty seconds before the siren, Andrew McCullough leaked a penalty for holding down, and the visitors wisely chose to take the two, narrowing the lead to ten points as they trotted into the sheds.
The back forty started with two near-tries for South Sydney. The first came on the back of what initially appeared to be a serious injury for Jason Clark, only for the future Super League player to get to his feet after writhing in agony on the ground to put in ten of his most focused minutes in weeks. A hard run from him provided Damien Cook with the speed to get right to the line, while a couple of tackles later Clark also acted as lead runner in a decoy play that saw Walker crash over as a massive gap loomed in the Brisbane defence.
Agonisingly, for South Sydney, the replay showed that Walker had lost the footy just as he’d made contact with the ground, despite none of the Broncos defenders managing to get beneath him as he careened towards the turf. It was a dispiriting moment for the visitors, and was only compounded when John Sutton slammed through a wall of Brisbane jerseys and stuck a hand up to signal he’d got the footy down, only for the Bunker footage to fail to find an angle that could confirm it.
Slowly but surely, the Bunnies were starting to lose the momentum they’d found at the end of the first stanza, so it was especially cathartic when Reynolds, Gagai and Kennar repeated their tryscoring combination much as Boyd and Oates had repeated their tryscoring combination in the first half. The only real difference this time was that both Reynolds and Gagai came into the line, for an even more fluid and sweeping linkup with Kennar than had occurred for the previous try.
In the absence of so many players, Reynolds seemed to be everywhere over the course of the evening, setting up the next try with one of his most elegant deceptive plays this year. Catching the Steeden within the twenty on the lack tackle, he drifted to the left and put a hand out as if he was planning to kick it, lingering just long enough for the Brisbane defence to reorient themselves around a high ball, before sending a cut-out pass across to Sutton, who moved the footy through Braidon Burns for Hymel Hunt to score in the left corner.
As luck would have it, Reyno missed the conversion, keeping the score level at 18-18 as the final quarter of the match started to loom. The Broncos were the next to have a try disallowed, after Glenn crashed over what looked like their next four points, but they got themselves back in the game pretty quickly, as Oates racked up a hat trick with sixteen minutes left on the clock.
This time, Oates singlehandedly beat the Bunnies right edge without even needing Boyd to help him, outleaping both Kennar and Gagai to take control of a Milford bomb before storming ahead of them to get it to earth. With Isaako adding the extras, the Broncs starting rejuvenating much as the Rabbitohs had at the end of the first stanza, as evinced in a massive run from David Fifita down the centre of the field that set the platform for him to cross over a tackle later in the right corner, after some deft timing from Boyd and a judicious show-and-go from Sam Thaiday.
All of a sudden, Brisbane had regained control of the game, as the first NRL player to be born this century compounded the veteran efforts of Boyd and Oates with a vision of the next generation of rugby league’s big boppers. A dazzling sideline conversion from Isaako brought the Broncos twelve points ahead, as South Sydney dug in for what had to be one of their best comebacks of the year if they were going to come away with the chocolates.
The darkest period of the match now followed for the Bunnies, as an error under the high ball from Kennar saw Reynolds become collateral damage, as the South Sydney halfback ricocheted away from the subsequent scramble for possession and landed on his left elbow in a particular awkward way. While he managed to get back in the game, the injury didn’t seemed completely resolved, adding yet another vulnerability to the Bunnies’ rapidly depleting arsenal.
To make things worse, Sam Burgess gave away a penalty a moment after, allowing the Broncos to clock up another penalty goal before Reyno had returned to full capacity. For a moment, Hunt and Cook appeared to have regained a bit of pride by dragging James Roberts into touch, but with a late penalty on Cook for a second effort all the moment they’d glimpsed dissipated as quickly as it had come.
The last real chance for South Sydney came when Oates lost the ball under the pressure of a big tackle from George Burgess. A deft Reynolds grubber forced a dropout, but this time the Broncos went for the short dropout and made the most of it, getting the ball back to make up for their botched short kick at the end of the first half. An intercept try for Kodi Nikorima ninety seconds out from the siren sealed the deal, bringing the Broncs to a twenty point win of 38-12 once Isaako added the kick.
Brisbane have bounced back from their loss to the Cowboys in the most emphatic way imaginable, then, but they’ll still be faced with a considerable challenge when they show up against the Roosters next Saturday night, especially without a home ground advantage. Meanwhile, the Bunnies have suffered two of the most frustrating and critical losses of their 2018 career over the last fortnight, and will be bringing everything in their arsenal to bear on a win over the Raiders in Canberra on Saturday afternoon.