ROUND 5: Brisbane Broncos v. Wests Tigers (Suncorp Stadium, 11/4/19)
The Broncos were coming off a humiliating loss to the Roosters at the Sydney Cricket Ground when they hosted the Tigers at Suncorp Stadium for the first match in Round 5. If they lost this game, they would fall to 1/5 so far in 2019, so coming away with the chocolates was crucial. Meanwhile, the Tigers were coming off a pair of agonising losses to other western teams – to the Bulldogs, when they were top of the ladder and Canterbury-Bankstown were bottom, and then to the Panthers, in the first of the three golden point matches that made Round 4 so precarious.
While the Broncos had the home game advantage, then, it wasn’t inconceivable that the Tigers might mount a surprise win. Not only do they tend to go better against harder teams, but four of their five wins against Brisbane in NRL history have taken place at Suncorp. What was less predictable, perhaps, was the sheer number of bombed tries during the opening stanza of this match, resulting in an incredibly suspenseful forty minutes of football that saw the Broncos head into the sheds 8-6.
Two minutes into the match, Robbie Farah kicked on the fourth, but struck the ball a bit hard, resulting in seven tackles for the Broncos. Their fourth-tackle option went a bit better than Robbie’s, as Jack Bird collected the footy on the left edge, and then slid along the front of the ruck, fending off several defenders with his left hand before finding space to link up with Kotoni Staggs on the right edge.
From there, Staggs got the ball to Jamayne Isaako, who left it until the last second to drop it onto his boot, sending a high-speed kick back inside for Matt Gillett to collect and slam to ground beneath Luke Brooks. Once again, Gillett was the first to score for the Broncos, but it had happened three minutes into the match, rather than fifty-five minutes, as occurred against the Roosters, where it was also the only try scored by Brisbane over the entire game.
The Broncos now followed up with a pretty strong set, but it fizzled out a bit with Anthony Milford’s kick. Halfway through the next Brisbane set, Matt Lodge lost the football following a terrific defensive combination from Ryan Matterson, who came in on top, and Josh Aloiai, who added a low tackle. Matterson now followed up with a big run at the line on the fourth tackle, and was held up to the right of the posts, but his energy came to nothing when Jack Bird cleaned up Moses Mbye on the last.Embed from Getty Images
Both sides now completed a series of pretty good sets, until Lodge lost the football once again. For a moment, the Tigers looked as if they had a chance after Brooks straightened the play, but Aloiai then mirrored Lodge, losing the footy to give Brisbane the scrum feed. The visitors weren’t done yet, however, as Brooks, Corey Thompson and Robert Jennings combined to drag Staggs over the sideline on the first tackle, while Brooks followed up with a linebreak two tackles into the next set.
Brooks’ run occurred on the left edge of the field, but the Tigers quickly shifted the ball back to the right, where successive offloads from Mahe Fonua and Esan Marsters failed to get them any real headway. Once again, then, they sent it back to the left, where Russell Packer was held up right where Brooks had burst through the line. Farah and Aloiai now straightened the play, sending the footy left for the final time, where Josh Reynolds grubbered for Corey Thompson, forcing Isaako to play it safe and pop the footy into touch.
Luke Garner now stepped up, making a huge run over Staggs on the second tackle, while Farah answered with a terrific offload to Farah, only for Jennings to knock the footy on just as there was space opening up on his outside. It was a massive letoff for Brisbane, who got their second seven tackle set of the night, and doubly disappointing for the Tigers, given Jennings’ tryscoring propensity with South Sydney. While Thompson cleaned up Isaako’s kick at the end of the next set, Brisbane ended up with a repeat instead of a dropout following an escort from Brooks.
Darius Boyd now repeated Bird’s probing run along the front of the ruck, as Matt Lodge headed off the park to be replaced by Thomas Flegler. With Farah pinged for not being square at marker, Isaako booted through another two points, before two bombed tries followed in quick succession, one for each team. For the Broncos, everything was in place at the end of the next set, as Milford shifted the ball left, and Kodi Nikorima sent a cut-out pass to Corey Oates, who popped it back inside to Bird in turn.
With Bird dropping the easiest try assist of the season, the Tigers seemed set to capitalise, accelerating towards a terrific kick from Farah, only for Marsters to miss one of the easiest takes under the high ball this season. It was a frustrating moment for both teams, and for Bird and Marsters in particular, both of whom have copped a fair amount of criticism in recent times. The game had descended into disarray, and got worse when Bird lost the footy at the start of the next set, making this his worst ten minutes of football since moving to Brisbane from Cronulla.Embed from Getty Images
A short kick from Nikorima at the end of the next set didn’t go deep enough, allowing Brooks to scoop it up and start moving back down the field again. The away fans had a scary moment when Reynolds was downed following a low tackle on Boyd, but luckily Josh got to his feet again and continued structuring his team’s play. Shortly after, Milford’s hesitation got the better of him, as he was held up while deciding whether to dummy, pass or run, and a few tackles later Michael Chee Kam prevented a try from the Broncos on their right edge, leaking a penalty in the process.
As the Broncos got a repeat set, it started to feel like the critical moment of the first half was coming. They wasted it though, opting for two short-range plays that didn’t get them anywhere. With Mbye tackled in goal, Brisbane at least got a dropout, but three tackles into the next set Lodge made his third mistake of the night, fumbling the footy following an awkward pass from Andrew McCullough out of dummy half.
The Tigers now got their first zero tackle set of the match, and arrived at the Brisbane line pretty quickly, only for Fonua to drop the footy after a tight pass from Marsters out on the right edge. For a moment it looked as if the Broncos had capitalised on this error, as Gillett appeared to go from tryscorer to try assister, booting through the ball for David Fifita to chase it down and score. In slow motion, however, it emerged that Fifita had lost control just as Moses Mbye was gaining on him, in yet another reversal of fortune in this rollercoaster of a first half.
Something had to give, and a Brooks kick at the end of the next set was the tipping-point. Despite a very strong Brisbane chase, Chee Kam came up with it, gathering the footy into his chest despite a massive tackle from Isaako and Nikorima, before somehow getting an offload to Garner, who dodged around the defence, fended off Boyd with his right hand, and slammed the football to ground. To make things even better for the Tigers, Marsters added the extras, an important show of strength following his nightmare game with the boot against Penrith last Friday night.
The Tigers came back from the break feeling like the better team, thanks in large part to the vision from the halves. Not only did Brooks’ kicking game get better and better, but Reynolds showcased his strengths as one of the best kick chasers in the NRL. For the first time, he exuded the passion and energy that made him such a fixture at Belmore, partly because this was the closest and most suspenseful game that he’s featured in since making the transition from the Bulldogs.Embed from Getty Images
Brisbane initially looked to have put down the first four points of this second half, as Oates crossed over following a cut-out pass from Boyd. It was called back, however, due to an obstruction from Reynolds – a pretty deflating moment for the Broncos given Oates’ uncharacteristically underwhelming performance against the Roosters last week. Shortly after, Marsters levelled the score with a penalty kick, following a dangerous tackle from Bird.
While the two points were welcome, it was even better to see Marsters get the ball through – a real show of character from the Tigers backliner after some of the backlash he copped during the week. He got another two points a few minutes later, when an elegant crossfield kick from Reynolds was tapped back by Thompson, and caught on the full by Brooks. From there, Brooks put in one of the best passes of his career, flipping the Steeden backwards with his left hand, with just the slightest amount of spin, for Matt Eisenhuth to catch it on the chest and then slam it to ground.
Bookended by Reynolds’ kick and Brooks’ pass, this was the apex of the game for the Tigers’ halves. A penalty for Isaako gave Marsters the chance to add two more shortly after, but the Broncos now responded with a play that was more than elegant enough to rival Brooks. This time Nikorima was the star, dancing out of a couple of tackles, and breaking through several lines of Tigers defence, before popping the ball out to Fifita.
Reading the play perfectly, Fifita only held onto the footy for a second before sending it back inside to Nikorima to cross over and score. Not only did Isaako add the extras, but the closest of offside penalties from Reynolds moments latter allowed the Brisbane winger to boot through two more points immediately, locking up the score at 16-16 as the game entered its final ten minutes. If anything, however, the errors and frustrations only intensified during this last passage of play, leaving the teams still neck and neck with less than two minutes on the clock.
The Tigers now had their last chance of the night to kick a field goal, since they could be sure than the Broncos would try to send through one point when they got the ball in hand again. Agonisingly, they were unable to get Brooks in place on the last, but Chee Kam managed to keep the football in play, trying to find space to shift it across to his halfback before deciding to take a crack at the line himself.Embed from Getty Images
What ensued was the best sequence in Chee Kam’s career to date. Not only did his break through the line, but a big right foot step allowed him to elude Boyd at the ten metre line, before Milford got to him a metre out from the chalk. Even then, the Broncos might have held him up, had Chee Kam not had the speed, momentum and sheer passion to slam through the tackle so quickly that he was able to get up again after being momentarily held without committing a double movement.
It was an incredibly emotional moment for the Tigers, not just because of their last two losses, but because the prospect of losing by one point, or of heading into golden time, were both pretty traumatic after their loss last week to the Panthers. With Marsters adding the extras at the eightieth minute, they felt as if they’d decisively put the last two weeks behind them, and will be keen to continue this roll when they take on Parramatta at Bankwest Stadium next week.
On the other side of the Steeden, this was a pretty dispiriting loss for Brisbane, who have now lost a fifth of their games in 2019, and have been suffered their fifth of sixth losses to the Tigers at Suncorp. They’ll be looking for a big win, then, when they take on the Raiders at GIO Stadium, while Oates and Boyd, in particular, will be anxious to rekindle the magic that has been missing from their backline over the last couple of weeks.
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