ROUND 2: Brisbane Broncos v. North Queensland Cowboys (Suncorp Stadium, 23/9/19)

The Broncos had lost by ten to the Storm, and the Cowboys had won over the Dragons in North Queensland, when they met at Suncorp on Friday night for the first Queensland derby of the season. The match started with two near-misses for Brisbane – a wide ball from Anthony Milford that Corey Oates missed on the left edge, and a linebreak and kick infield from Oates that Kodi Nikorima was unable to clean up before Javid Bowen got there first.

Both of these botched tries prevented the Broncos gaining an early scoreline that genuinely reflected their superiority in the opening minutes of the game, but they didn’t have to wait too long for their first chance, since they got the scrum feed after Bowen made a handling error securing the footy from Nikorima. A pair of superb offloads from Tevita Pangai Junior and Jack Bird put Oates across in the left corner, capping off a splendid start from Pangai, who had made the hardest hit-up so far to put Jason Taumalolo in a leg strap.

Brisbane’s momentum took a bit of a hit when Matt Gillett lost the ball on the third tackle off the restart, commencing a period of sustained North Queensland possession that started with three successive penalties – a dangerous hit from Pangai, offside from Boyd and holding down from Joe Ofahengaue – before a Jake Granville kick forced a repeat set after Isaako was forced to take his last tackle kick into touch.

The next set started well, thanks to a big run from Bowen that brough Gavin Cooper five metres from the line. With Pangai once again leaking an early penalty – this time for holding down – things looked good for the Cows, but all their accumulated possession and field position came to nothing when Nene Macdonald made a handling error at the end of a scintillating right edge raid. The visitors got one more chance with a difficult Michael Morgan bounce, but Isaako scooped it up perfectly, before shifting it across to James Roberts on his inside.

The last trace of the Broncos’ precarity over the last few minutes vanished as Roberts briefly bobbled the footy, before resettled the ship with a massive long-range kick that set up Brisbane for their first dropout of the night. No surprise that they scored off the next set, but the icing on the cake was that Roberts got to finish it all off, thanks to a visionary crossfield kick from Nikorima that replicated the scale, ambition and drive of Roberts’ downfield effort.

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Jumping up to meet the Steeden on the right edge, Isaako popped it backwards, where David Fifita tapped it out for Roberts to cross over for a pretty leisurely try, given the high-octane plays that had preceded it. While Isakao missed the sideline conversion, the Broncos were sitting on 10-0, leaving ample space for the Cowboys to mount a comeback as the second quarter of the game got underway.

The Broncos got their next big chance when Morgan botched a standard pass from Granville, as Milford put in the best kick since Nikorima’s try assist to trap Macdonald in goal. North Queensland haven’t looked so exhausted this year, especially after a big push from Pangai on the right early in the tackle count, meaning that Brisbane would probably have scored if Alex Glenn hadn’t put down a short pass from Milford under some inspired pressure from Tom Opacic.

Brisbane were thus only ten points ahead going into the break, which was a little disheartening for the home crowd, even if Pangai made an emphatic final statement with yet another huge hit-up – this time on Josh McGuire – setting the stage for the bigger win margin of the second stanza. Meanwhile, Macdonald was off for an HIA, and Taumalolo didn’t show any sign of returning after the break, forcing a reshuffle that saw Martin move to fullback, Kahu to right centre and Opacic to the wing.

The Broncos took advantage of that reconfiguration immediately, self-correcting after the delayed tryscoring of the first stanza to put down three four-pointers in the first twelve minutes. The first came off a misfire from Morgan, who tried to banana kick around the posts but instead set up Boyd to catch the footy on the full in goal. Nikorima and Bird responded with a long-range, left-edge sweep, starting at the Cowboys’ twenty, and ending with Oates receiving the footy and curving behind the posts after pivoting away from Martin and shrugging off a tackle from Flegler.

For a moment, it looked like they might score on the restart, thanks to a pair of massive runs from Bird and Pangai, and a last-tackle kick from Boyd for Oates, only for Martin to make the most courageous save of the night, diving on the footy right in front of the Brisbane winger’s boots. Still, Martin knocked on, and Brisbane kept intensifying on the repeat set, with Nikorima and Flegler coming right to the line on the right edge on the first two tackles, before Pangai built on their momentum to score on the third, disposing of Cooper, Morgan and Granville on the way.

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Finally, Isaako added a conversion, bringing the Broncos to 20-0 – the first scoreline that really reflected their assurance over the course of this game. They put down four more points a few minutes later, when Milford collected the footy out of dummy half and sent the ball across the chest of Nikorima, who was barking for his five-eighth to go wide. Boyd responded with a short ball to Roberts, who crashed over for a double, although Isaako was once more defied by the sideline conversion.

With about twenty-five minutes left on the clock, the Cowboys had to score a couple of tries in quick succession or else concede the game to Brisbane. They started their comeback quickly, with an elegant right side play that saw Granville drive deep into the line and sent the footy to Dunn, who responded with a cut-out pass that put Kahu over in the corner. On field, it was ruled no try, but the replay showed that the ex-Bronco had put down the Steeden just before it slipped out of his fingers, freeing him up to add the extras a minute later.

Nevertheless, a handling error from Dunn on the restart allowed the Broncos to start boxing in North Queensland again. On the next set Ofahengaue was held up over the line, while Boyd actually stormed over it, but was denied a try, since the assist from Mlford was forward. Brisbane made good a few minutes later, though, as Nikorima glimpsed an overlap on the outside and popped the footy across to Staggs, who shaped to kick but instead passed back to McCullough on his inside, who caught the ball on the bounce to put down another four points for the home team.

Amazingly, Isaako missed the kick right in front of the uprights, while the Cows scored their second and last try a couple of minutes later. It was one of the more spectacular team tries of 2019 so far, with the ball changing hands about eight or nine times in a broken sequence of play that ended with a pitch-perfect offload from Opacic to O’Neill just as the Broncos were closing in to shut things down – so close, in fact, that this was as much first phase play as second phase play, sent out just as the tackle started.

From there, the big backliner caught the footy above his head, bobbled it, regathered it, and stormed down the left corridor, bringing the Cowboys to ten points after Kahu missed the conversion. With another twenty or thirty minutes they could have mounted a serious comeback – maybe – but with only ten on the clock, the Broncos’ lead was secure. Still, Brisbane needed one last gesture to really cement their supremacy – and they got it thirty seconds from the end, when Milford sent through a cheeky field goal for good measure.

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The Broncos have got a bit more bang back in their season, then, and will be looking to continue their momentum at Suncorp when they host the Dragons next week. On the other side of the Steeden, this match proved just how much North Queensland depend on the 1300SMILES touch, so they’ll be looking to make the most of their home ground advantage, and notch up some serious competition points, when they host the Sharks on Saturday evening.

About Billy Stevenson (751 Articles)
Massive NRL fan, passionate Wests Tigers supporter with a soft spot for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and a big follower of US sports as well.

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