Despite the Roosters’ stunning form over the last couple of weeks, and the Broncos’ questions around form, Friday night’s match at Suncorp turned to be one of the most fiercely contested matches in Round 10. Only three tries – two from Brisbane, one from Sydney – were put down over the entire game, as the Broncos built on their win over the Sea Eagles to once again claim Suncorp as their home ground.
The game started inauspiciously for the Roosters, with an error from Matt Ikuvalu, and then a sin bin for Cooper Cronk, who gave into temptation and grabbed the arm of Darius Boyd while he was chasing down an Anthony Milford kick. It was rare for Cronk to be binned (only his third time in 357 games), and even rarer for him to be booed at Suncorp, but it was clear that he was enjoying the novelty, giving these first few minutes a comic quality that belied the intensity of the contest to come.
With Mitch Aubusson making a high tackle three plays into the next set, the Broncos opted to tap and go, forcing the Roosters to contend with two of their biggest men at the start of the tackle count. First, the Tricolors scrambled their defence to hold up Payne Haas right in front of the posts, and then Tevita Pangai Junior almost crashed over on the right side of the field. Supplementing strength with speed, the Broncos now rapidly shifted the footy across to the left, but a forward pass from Boyd to Corey Oates denied them their first try.
At the end of the next set, Luke Keary’s kick ricocheted off Gehamat Shibasaki, who showed some quick thinking in gathering it into his chest. The Roosters were even quicker, however, gathering into a pack defence to drag the young Brisbane centre over the sideline. Keary then followed up with a deception play on their right edge, calling for the ball from Victor Radley before dropping back and allowing James Tedesco to collect it right on the line.
Once the deception had been executed, there was almost nothing the Broncos could do, as Teddy slammed through Oates and Kotoni Staggs right on the chalk for the first four points of the match. Latrell Mitchell followed up with a superb sideline conversion – unbelievable, really, given the groin injury that had seemed to debilitate him so dramatically at this very venue five days before.Embed from Getty Images
The Roosters had now scored the first points with only twelve men on the field. This felt like the start of something big, but the visitors wouldn’t put down another try all night, despite racking up another four points on penalty kicks. Brisbane still hadn’t got rolling, however, starting the next set with some pummeling hit-ups, but ending with a second forward pass from Boyd to Oates, eroding some of the status that Boyd had been able to recapture during last week’s splendid match against Manly.
Jared Warea-Hargreaves followed up with a massive hit on Jamayne Isaako, who had already taken some hard knocks during the game, under the next high ball. A few moments later, Cronk rejoined the field, and the Chooks were able to breathe a sigh of relief, having survived – and prospered – off an early depletion of manpower. As if desperate to compensate for not having scored during that period, the Broncos followed up with a powerful play under the high ball, thanks in large part to Oates, who twisted around awkwardly to offload the footy after gaining possession.
While Tedesco might have intercepted the offload, the Broncos got it back again immediately, after Joseph Manu was pinged for an early tackle during the contest under the Steeden. The Broncos now consolidated pretty quickly, with Pangai and Haas tapping into the pummeling pair of runs that had almost set up the Boyd-Oates combination earlier in the match. As soon as Brisbane recovered the footy, Pangai slammed at the line, offloading to Tom Dearden when there was nothing doing.
Dearden then showed some equally quick thinking, shifting the Steeden across to Haas, who burned up the right side of the field, dancing away from Aubusson before getting to ground beneath Keary and Sio Siua Taukeiaho. Haas showed the same determination to demolish the defence as Tedesco, but he did it from fifteen metres out, rather than half a metre out. With Milford adding the extras, the two teams were neck and neck, but the speed and strength of Haas’ effort gave Brisbane the upper hand.
Two penalties closed off the opening stanza, the first following an offside error from Cronk, the second following a slow peel from Joe Ofahengaue, who had also put some severe pressure on a Cronk kick moments before. The Broncos still felt like they had the upper hand, but wouldn’t score another try until the 70th minute. Meanwhile, Tedesco established the last big chance for the Roosters this half, breaking through the line and sending the footy across to Sitili Tupouniua.Embed from Getty Images
Cronk kicked a tackle later, and for a moment it looked like Staggs had just managed to bring the ball back into the field of play. Nevertheless, dropout was the call, although the Broncos needn’t have worried, since Mitchell lost the footy almost immediately following a tackle from Dearden, just as some space was starting to open up in the Brisbane defence.
The Roosters continued this momentum into the second half, as Manu got them off to a good start, sticking a boot over the sideline while collecting the kickoff to gain some early field position. At the other end of the field, Tedesco found some space for Ikuvalu out on the right edge, but the Broncos managed to regather from the opening kick and bundle the Sydney City winger into touch, preventing what may well have been the match-winning try if they hadn’t got to it in time.
As both sides ground in, it became clear that this was going to remain a closely-contested, low-scoring game, with very few tries apiece. Reading the temperature of the match well, Milord opted for an early field goal, slotting the footy through the posts just over an hour in to bring the Broncos to a 9-8 lead. As each team ferried the Steeden up and down the park, it gradually became clear that whoever scored next was going to have a pretty good chance of claiming the game for their side.
While the veterans and key playmakers on both sides stepped up during this period, the four points ended up coming from one of the newest players to the park – or at least one of the newest players in the Brisbane jersey. With a little over ten minutes to go, the Roosters came up with two pretty confident takes under the high ball – the first a fumble from Ryan Hall that the massive backliner nevertheless managed to save, and the second a more fluid and conventional catch from Ikuvalu.
Neither of these efforts paid any dividends, however, since Tedesco dropped the footy almost immediately on the back of Ikuvalu’s take – an error that was almost as uncharacteristic as the spectacle of Cronk being sent to the bin in the opening five minutes. James Segeyaro scooped up the Steeden and almost sent Staggs through the line then and there, but the game was abruptly halted for an incredible two minutes after the big centre was downed with a series of leg cramps.Embed from Getty Images
Despite Alex Glenn running over to help Staggs with his troubles, the play was paused for long enough – more than long enough – for the Chooks to recover from the shock of Tedesco’s error. In response, however, Segeyaro doubled down on the quick thinking that had got Staggs to the line in the first place. As soon as play resumed, Chicko sent the ball out to Milford, who shifted it to Dearden, before the Brisbane halfback brought it back to the middle of the field.
Having been unable to set up two tries, Segeyaro now opted to score himself, collecting a rapid play-the-ball, dummying to the left, and then slamming over to put the Broncos six ahead once Isaako added the extras. In a game that had seemed to depend more and more on the strength of the forwards, it was a real twist to see one of the most compact players on the field score the winning try, especially since this was Segeyaro’s first match in Brisbane colours.
It also felt as if Segeyaro’s short-range effort had eclipsed Tedesco’s opening four points – an apt conclusion to a game where all three of the tries had come off courageous runs. While Mitchell got a penalty shot three minutes later after a rare scrum infringement from Boyd, the Broncos were too good, and came away with their most rousing win of the year so far. Last week, their victory was partly a matter of a severely depleted Sea Eagles outfit, but there was no excuse for the Roosters this week, who were playing with all their men after eight straight wins.
The damaging loss that the Broncos sustained against the Roosters at the SCG earlier in the year made this win doubly rousing, and a spiritual sequel to the Tigers’ similar comeback against the Panthers last round. While Boyd didn’t quite shine like he did against Manly, this is still an important return to form for the Broncos as a whole, and they’ll be looking to capitalise on it when they travel to Mt. Smart to take on a resurgent Warriors outfit on Saturday evening.
On the other side of the Steeden, the Roosters have lost their first game of the year since playing the Rabbitohs in Round 1. With it, they have lost a small quota of the invulnerability that has made them such powerful contenders in 2019, whether their wins have been close or massive. They’ll need to put in a really big effort, then, when they travel to Newcastle to take on the Knights next round, since two straight losses is unthinkable for their fans given the season they’ve enjoyed so far.