South Sydney were coming off a precarious win over the Panthers when they hosted the Broncos at ANZ Stadium on Thursday night, while Brisbane were on a runners’ high following a more emphatic win over the Sharks, albeit a Sharks outfit missing some of their key playmakers. The Wayne Bennett angle made this a bit of a grudge match, but nobody could have predicted just how much of a landslide it would be – six South Sydney tries to one from Brisbane, along with a moving tribute to Greg Inglis from some of their most iconic players.
The Bunnies hadn’t beat Brisbane since their first game against them as reigning premiers in 2015, and this match made them feel like premiership contenders once again. It didn’t start out that way, though, as Sam Burgess made a handling error in the first couple of minutes, and Brisbane responded with a sweeping movement out to their left edge, before coming back in field to apply more pressure, and forcing a slow peel from Damien Cook in the process.
While they headed out to the left again on the fourth tackle, some scrambling South Sydney defence only just prevented Jack Bird from putting down the first four points of the game. At the end of the next Brisbane set, Corey Allan knocked on under the high ball, but the Bunnies got the penalty after a tackle in the air from Jack Bird, allowing them to resettle and reset their game after a challenging opening. They now shifted the footy from side to side, with Dane Gagai almost crossing over, before Tom Burgess sent a harbor bridge pass across to John Sutton, whose kick forced Jamayne Isaako to concede the first dropout of the night.
The Broncos survived the repeat set, and continued to apply pressure on the Rabbits, culminating with a set about twelve minutes in, when they forced Adam Reynolds to kick from deep within the South Sydney end. This kick was the first big turning-point of the game, almost defying Darius Boyd at the other end of the field, where he stumbled back on the ground in order to secure the football. On the next set, Corey Oates made the first Brisbane error of the night, setting the stage for a spectacular opening try from the Bunnies.
The play started with Alex Johnston collecting the footy from Sutton on the left edge of the field, where James Roberts came in for some big contact that saw the Steeden wrenched out of the South Sydney fullback’s grasp. In slow motion, you could clearly see that Roberts had made incidental contact, and that this didn’t count as a one-on-one strip. It would have been a knock-on, then, if Johnston hadn’t stuck out his left boot and kicked the football forward before it could make contact with the turf.Embed from Getty Images
It was a visionary moment from Johnston, and paid dividends, as the bounce defied both Boyd and Tevita Pangai Jr. to find Cody Walker on the stomach. All Walker had to do was gather up the ball and slam forward to score right behind the posts, before Reynolds booted through the extras to make it a six point game. Walker now had a hand in 19 of South Sydney’s 29 tries thus year, while Isaako kicked the ball dead – a long way dead – on the restart to give the Bunnies the attacking advantage once again.
They scored again on the restart, thanks to some early vision from Cameron Murray, and some late vision from Cody Walker. Early in the set, a pass from Murray almost sent Kyle Turner through the line, before Murray collected the footy in the middle of the field and helped to set up Junior Tatola to come within centimetres of a try beneath the posts. On the fourth tackle, the Bunnies set the footy across to the right edge, where Gagai managed to offload to Walker just before coming to ground – a rapid sweep that built on the momentum and field position Murray had constructed.
Walker now kicked from fifteen metres out, chasing the footy down for two tries in five minutes, and doing the goanna for good measure on Greg Inglis’ tribute night. Once again, the bounce defied both Pangai and Boyd, while Walker effected the second change in direction this set after pivoting in the middle of the field a couple of tackles before. The shift was even more subliminal this time – the slightest of drifts out to the short side before Walker booted the ball back towards the posts.
The next South Sydney try was even quicker and even more shocking for the Broncos. It started with Boyd shifting the footy to Milford right on the South Sydney line, before Milford headed in field and attempted to pass it on to Alex Glenn in turn. He’d reckoned without Reynolds, however, who intercepted the football and ran the length of the field to do a goanna of his own in the same spot where G.I. had scored during the 2014 grand final. Once again, Reynolds added the extras, bringing the Bunnies to an imposing 18-0 lead as the half time siren loomed.
With two minutes to go, Souths got a zero tackle set, and then some additional field position following a high tackle from Joe Ofahengaue. At first, it looked like Reynolds might go for a field goal, but the Bunnies ended up banking on a try, and reaping the rewards, as Walker drew Roberts into the line on the left edge and opened up space for Turner to slam through Isaako and score another four points in Greg Inglis’ old no. 3 jersey. Reynolds was as reliable as he had been all night, sending the Broncos into the sheds 24-0 once he’d slotted through his fourth conversion.Embed from Getty Images
The second stanza started with a forward pass from Walker, but the Bunnies consolidated by preventing Oates crossing over twice, although they couldn’t contain him on the third effort. The first time, Allan managed to drag Oates across the sideline, while the second came after the refs deemed that a strip on Sam Burgess had been a loose carry. Two tackles later, Gagai followed in Allan’s footsteps by also dragging Oates across the sideline, although the big Brisbane winger had already lost the football by the time that he found touch.
While Sam Burgess was understandably frustrated by the refs followed his supposed loose carry, the call was fair when he was deemed offside shortly after, resulting in the first penalty for Brisbane since the third minute of the match. The Broncos made the most of it, too, as a wide pass from McCullough and a short ball from Milford sent Oates through the line on the right edge, where he slammed through both Walker and Turner to become the first Bronco to score in eight straight games against the same team, as well as the top equal tryscorer of 2019 with Walker.
This was a comeback moment, especially given Oates’ two previous botched efforts, and could have easily swung the game back in Brisbane’s direction if they’d piled on a try or two immediately. Not only would South Sydney score the next four points, however, but the Broncos wouldn’t score another point all game, turning this into their one and only consolation try as the Bunnies ground in to regain their opening momentum.
Worse still for Brisbane, Oates botched their next big play, going from a momentum-builder to a momentum-killer. Fifteen minutes out from the end, Bird managed a miracle offload on the left edge under some severe pressure from Gagai and Allan, at the tail end of a series of sweeping passes. The ex-Shark was presumably going for a low-risk move by flicking it across to his winger, since he could have conceivably broken through the line himself, making it even worse when Oates fumbled the footy instead of crossing over untouched.
It felt inevitable, then, when the Bunnies got rolling again on the subsequent seven tackle set, finally shifting into top gear and recapturing the splendid energy of their opening forty minutes. They almost broke through on the right edge, before Cook took control, dancing and dodging his way along the front of the defence as if cleaning up all the loose ends of the South Sydney game over this second stanza, before engaging Glenn and Milford and then popping the Steeden over Bird for Sam Burgess to score.Embed from Getty Images
The sequence had started with an Oates error and ended with a Surgess try – the perfect way to correct their tryless twenty minutes at the start of the second half. Reynolds booted through the conversion, and then a penalty goal at the 71st minute, before Sutton got the last goanna of the night, busting through Flegler and Lodge for the toughest four points of the entire game. There’s no doubt which team benefited from the coach swap, while Boyd’s 300th game marked one of the most disappointing milestones in the last couple of years.
Pride will be on the line for the Broncos, then, when they play the Sea Eagles at Suncorp Stadium in Magic Round, since a home loss at Suncorp when every team is playing at Suncorp will be unthinkable after their decimation by the Bunnies this week. Meanwhile, South Sydney will be keen to continue flexing their muscles against the Cowboys, and should be able to come away with an equally emphatic win, unless North Queensland manage to take their cues from the Sharks and orchestrate a shock win against one of the most dominant teams in the competition.