It was a pretty one-sided affair between Brisbane and Cronulla at Suncorp on Saturday night, with the Sharks only coming up with one try an hour into the match. With several of the key Cronulla players off the field, the Broncos were able to notch up two tries in the first fifteen minutes, both of which came at the expense of some of the younger players from the visiting team, with Anthony Kennedy and Ronaldo Mulitalo having a particularly challenging opening stint at fullback and wing.
The Broncos’ tryscoring started with a great kick from Anthony Milford that Kennedy only just managed to clean up, before sending an awkward pass out to Mulitalo. The ball bounced through the young winger’s legs, before Bronson Xerri showed some quick thinking and scooted around to boot the Steeden forward before Brisbane could get a hand to it. Nevertheless, the refs realized that Mulitalo had made contact with the footy as it tumbled past him, and the Broncos got possession.
Things moved pretty quickly from here, as a pair of successive penalties, both on the first tackle, got the home team one of their easiest tries of the year. First Andrew Fifita got pinged for holding down, then Paul Gallen for working on the ground, giving the Sharks some additional possession for their first stint down the Cronulla end of the field. From there, all it took was a short ball from Milford for Corey Oates to curve around from his wing and slice through Chad Townsend and Kurt Capewell to put down the first four points.
They became six points once Jamayne Isaako added the extras, and then twelve points when the Broncos scored on the restart. Once again, the try came off a Cronulla error, as Mulitalo let a Milford bomb sail through his hands. If possible, things were even simpler this time for Brisbane, as Jack Bird collected the footy and sent it over to Oates, who almost crashed over then and there. Instead, Oates opted for the next best thing – a quick play-the-ball to Alex Glenn, who slammed through Kennedy to score again.
Once again, Isaako added the extras, giving Brisbane just the opening surge they needed after only winning one from six so far in 2019. The Sharks would never recover from these opening two tries, which became fourteen points on the restart, when the Broncos managed to force a dropout, during which Matt Prior was pinged for working on the ground, allowing Isaako to boot through the game’s first penalty goal. This was the second time Cronulla had been penalised for this, following Gallen’s opening effort, and spoke to their mounting desperation to score.Embed from Getty Images
To make matters worse for the Sharks, Shaun Johnson was sent off with a hamstring injury, leaving them with a very depleted outfit as the second quarter of the game arrived. Fifteen minutes out from the siren, Kennedy sent a promising wide ball out to the wing, only for Sosaia Feki to overrun it and give the Broncos the advantage again. Things didn’t go so well for Kennedy at the end of this next set, as he spilled the footy right on the try line, leaving Glenn open for a second try once he booted it in goal and chased it down.
Luckily for the Sharks, Glenn was a bit too enthusiastic with the boot, and was unable to get to the footy in time. Nevertheless, the Broncos scored two tackles into their next set, thanks to another short ball from Milford. The recipient this time was Joe Ofahengaue, but the formation was almost identical to Oates’ try, except that Prior and Capewell were the casualties, rather than Townsend and Capewell. By the time Ofahengaue got to the line, Kennedy and Fifita were unable to hold him up, and Brisbane added another six points to their belt.
It was a worrying sign for the Sharks that the Broncos had been able to execute almost exactly the same play in exactly the same part of the field. Not only were Cronulla unable to score, but they were unable to correct, paving the way for a 27-0 deficit that would only be broken when they put down their first and only try at the 61st minute. Six minutes out from the sheds, they got their best attacking opportunity in ages, thanks to a linebreak from Josh Morris, and a skittering run from Xerri across the face of the defence.
Nevertheless, it tanked when Xerri dropped a pass from Scott Sorensen – yet another missed chance for Cronulla to consolidate Brisbane’s confidence. The next miss came at the end of the following Broncos set, when Mulitalo seemed to have cleaned up the high ball without fuss, only for Jayden Brailey to be penalised for an escorts penalty on Oates. After such a terrific bout of leadership – his best all year – it was apt that Milford finished off this first half with a field goal, making it clear to the Sharks that his team had all but won the game unless things changed dramatically in the second stanza.
Sometimes this kind of deficit makes for a scintillating back end of football, and a galvanising comeback narrative. It wasn’t the case here, however, as Brisbane more or less dominated the second stanza as they had the first, albeit without putting down any tries during the final quarter. Five minutes in, the Sharks showed some pretty good defensive energy, with Mulitalo, Kennedy and Brailey dragging Oates over the sideline after he’d collected the footy from Darius Boyd.Embed from Getty Images
Townsend was now forced to kick from within the twenty – almost within the ten – so it was a relief when Isaako spilled the Steeden just over the halfway line, but doubly disappointing when Brailey then lost it in turn on the first tackle. Despite a very brief burst of Cronulla energy, the Broncos had regained the momentum, with Matt Gillett dominating their next attacking period, coming centimetres short of the line on the fourth tackle, before potentially scoring the softest try of the night on the next set.
This set started with a strong carry from Isaako to get things going, and ended with Kennedy spilling a Milford kick right on the try line. Both Gillett and Roberts were in place, but only Gillett was able to spin around and get a fingertip to the footy before the Sharks could clean it up. The ruling was no try, with the Bunker deeming that the Steeden had been in the air when Gillett got a finger to it, and that the downward pressure hadn’t been sufficient to qualify as a try either.
The Broncos weren’t done, however, as Bird mirrored Isaako with a big carry at the start of the next set, before Brisbane sent the ball over to their right edge, where Nikorima tapped the footy on to Roberts at the side of the field. It felt like a messy play, but ended up being a try assist, as Jimmy the Jet came up with possession and slammed over the line for their next four points. For a moment, there was a question about whether Nikorima had knocked the ball on, since it clearly wasn’t a pass, but the replay clearly showed that it had travelled backwards.
It was worth losing the Gillett try to come up with this more decisive try, as Isaako’s conversion put the Broncos an astonishing 27 points ahead. If the Sharks didn’t score next, this could easily have become the kind of landslide that the Tigers suffered against the Eels at Bankwest the week before, so it was a relief for the away fans when Brailey crossed over off a kick from Townsend.
Despite their spotty form over the course of the game, this was one of the best kicks of the night, with Townsend aiming the footy at the uprights, and calculating exactly the right speed to trap Boyd against the padding. Once again, the younger players were a liability, with Kennedy initially appearing to brush the ball with his left hand before Brailey slammed it down. However, with an on field ruling of try, and ambiguous video footage, the play was cleared, and the ball left open for Brailey to score beneath the posts, before Boyd and Nikorima could regather the defence.Embed from Getty Images
In a game where so many Cronulla playmakers were absent, it was cathartic for the Sharks to see one of their key organisers finally orchestrating the play from the spine. The Broncos wouldn’t score again during the game, although you could read that in one of two ways. On the one hand, you could say that Townsend and Brailey’s effort brought an end to their tryscoring momentum, making just enough of a dent in their confidence to prevent any more four-pointers.
You could also say that the Broncos were confident enough at this stage to be unphased by Brailey’s try. This second situation was more likely case, since they Broncos chose to add two instead of taking another run at the line when Townsend undercut his try with a penalty shortly after, bringing them to the scoreline of 29-6 with which they won the game. They’re in a good head space, then, to take on the Rabbitohs at ANZ next week, while the Sharks will be keen to take advantage of their home ground atmosphere to try and notch up a big comeback against the Storm.