ROUND 3: Brisbane Broncos v. St. George-Illawarra Dragons (Suncorp Stadium, 28/3/19)
The Dragons knocked Brisbane out of the finals at Suncorp last year with a decimating 48-18 win, so it was personal when the Broncos hosted them for the third round of the 2019 season. On the other side of the Steeden, St. George were still winless after two weeks of football, while several of their key players, such as Euan Aitken, were still yet to win a game at Suncorp. In the end, it came down to a field goal, with both teams racking up four tries and goals over the course of the night.
The Dragons made a fast start, with Aitken breaking through the line on the first set. Instead of taking the tackle, though, he tried to pass out to Mikaele Ravalawa, and the footy went tumbling over the sideline. Ravalawa then knocked on at the end of the next Brisbane set, but only while intercepting a pass from Boyd that would probably have put Corey Oates over the line. It all came together for the Red V a few sets later, however, when Cameron McInnes made good on Aitken’s run, breaking through the line out of dummy half and making his way up the middle of the field.
The last line of defence was Boyd, who was celebrating a milestone game – becoming the eighth most capped Bronco in Brisbane history. McInnes saw him coming, though, dummying out to James Graham and forcing Boyd to commit to a tackle that never came, before sliding over beneath the posts, and setting Widdop up for the first two-pointer of the evening.
The visitors got their next chance ten minutes in, when Tevita Pangai Junior made an error in the play-the-ball just as Brisbane were starting to get rolling. Corey Norman brought back memories of last week’s match against the Bunnies with a harbor bridge pass to Jordan Pereira, who was only just cleaned up on the left edge. Nevertheless, the Dragons went left again on the next play, when Ben Hunt set up Tim Lafai for the short ball that sent Pereira across for the next four points.
This was a brilliant putdown from Pereira, who remained just within the field of play – so close that the Bunker had to really scrutinize his footwork – before leaping through the air to land football-first in the wing, ensuring that no part of his body got to ground before the Steeden touched earth. While Widdop missed the sideline conversion, it still felt like the Dragons were channeling the best parts of their game against the Rabbitohs, while correcting some of the mistakes of that match as well.Embed from Getty Images
Twenty-two minutes in, the Dragons accelerated, as Norman beat three defenders to bring the footy back into the field of play, before Aitken reprised his right side run from the opening set. This time Aitken took the tackle – and broke out of it, making his way to the ten metre line, where he was only just brought down by an ankle tap from Boyd. While St. George turned the ball over a tackle later, an early error from Brisbane got them the scrum feed, and Hunt almost sent Graham over in the middle.
The Broncos survived, though, and seemed galvanised by having hung out, putting down their first try a set later, when Ravalawa lost the footy on the third tackle. Seizing his opportunity, Oates scooped it up and brought it back over the line before the Dragons knew what had hit them. The initial call was no try, but the replay showed that it was a loose carry, and the Broncos got the four points, with Isaako making it six with a good clean kick from right in front of the posts.
Norman and Aitken’s speed had almost defied the Broncos a few minutes earlier, but Oates had gone one better, ratcheting up the intensity of the game with a single sublime play. The two teams now went set for set for about five minutes, with only a few errors to break the rhythm, as Norman shifted to fullback to give Widdop a bit more flexibility, and Hunt made a couple of enterprising plays – notably a big run over Milford up the right side, and a wide pass to Aitken that risked an intercept from Jack Bird.
Yet Brisbane’s next try was just as rapid and stealthy as Oates’ putdown, as James Roberts caught a left-boot kick from Widdop on the full, swivelled away from Widdop, and then ran the length of the field to slam down another four points. Although Roberts didn’t even reach full gear, there was no chance of a Dragon catching him, and the most Norman could do was cruise up the middle of the field to force Isaako into a sideline conversion. Nevertheless, Isaako added the extras, putting the Broncos ahead for the first time as they headed to the sheds.
Four minutes into the second half, the Dragons got a dropout, and Isaako went short – the shortest this year – but it backfired when Oates knocked on, getting the Dragons the scrum feed. They wasted no time with a right sweep, as Milford stormed in for an intercept, but ended up ricocheting the Steeden into Norman, who responded with a cut-out pass to Ravalawa, who maintained possession of the footy with both hands as Boyd tried to bump him touch, before scoring his first NRL try.Embed from Getty Images
Widdop added a superb sideline conversion to cap off a good second stanza start for the Red V, especially given their record in the back forty so far in 2019. A set later, Isaako fumbled the footy when trying to receive it from Boyd, before a slow peel from Alex Glenn set up Widdop to boot through the only penalty kick of the night. The Dragons followed with a scintillating set, replete with big runs from Sims, Vaughan and Norman, but Brisbane put considerable pressure on Hunt for the kick, setting up Oates to catch it on the full.
Brisbane now executed their most restless, searching set of the night, asking big questions on both edges of the field before getting a repeat shot when Vaughan was penalised for an escort. David Fifita and Jayden Su’A got things rolling with big runs at the line, before Milford sent through an early kick for Glenn to cross over on the left edge – a dazzlingly simple and confident play after the Broncos seemed to have showcased their whole playbook to make a break at the line.
With Isaako adding the extras, the game was all locked up at 18-18, with twenty-five minutes left on the clock. Five minutes later, after Isaako coughed up a good chance for Brisbane, Korbin Sims collected the footy from McInnes, put his head down, dodged away from Milford and burrowed through three defenders to slam the Steeden down beside the posts, before Widdop added the easiest conversion of the night to regain a six point lead for the Red V.
The Broncos got a big scare fifteen minutes out from the end when Oates lost the high ball at the tail end of a Ben Hunt kick, and the Dragons got a repeat set towards the end of the tackle count. Tariq almost followed Korbin with a big run on the left edge, before Korbin tried to build on his brother’s momentum, and repeat the glory of his earlier try, only to lose the Steeden into a pack of Broncos determined to make sure he didn’t cross over for a second time, with Fensom and McCullough preventing him getting a second chance at the play.
The Sims brothers took out some of their frustration on the next set with a huge hit-up – the biggest of the night – on Fensom, but the Broncos would still be the next to score. They wouldn’t manage it on the next set, when Matt Gilllett lost the footy on the right side of the park, but it was worth the wait for the set after, when a superb offload from Milford on the second tackle laid the platform for the most suspenseful and surprising tryscoring sequence of the night.Embed from Getty Images
Building on Milford’s momentum, Kotoni Staggs broke through the line, losing more than passing the football backwards, where it bounced on the turf before Boyd booted it forward. For a moment, Widdop seemed to have cleaned it up beside the posts, but he lost it as he somersaulted on the try line, leaving the ball live for Bird to scoop in and score. Isaako added the extras easily, but the big news was that Widdop seemed to have injured his shoulder again while trying to secure the ball.
As Widdop was let off the field, it became even more paramount that the Dragons come away with a win here, since losing their captain and their third game of the season would have been too much to bear. The pressure mounted when Isaako missed a field goal a minute and a half from the end, before Norman avoided golden point by slotting through the one-pointer a mere seven seconds before the siren rang out.
Norman couldn’t have asked for a better way to cement his arrival at St. George, providing his team mates with the vision and leadership they needed with Widdop off the field. They’ll be waiting on Widdop’s shoulder anxiously, then, as they get reading to meet the Knights in Newcastle, where they’ll be looking for a bigegr win margin. Meanwhile, this was a pretty frustrating loss for Brisbane, who will be keen to put a strong win on the board when they meet the Roosters at the SCG in a week’s time.
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