ROUND 23: Brisbane Broncos v. South Sydney Rabbitohs (Suncorp Stadium, 23/8/19)
There was an immediate energy on the field at Suncorp after the war of words between Anthony Seibold and Wayne Bennett this week, with both teams bringing an Origin-like intensity to the opening sets of the match. The Broncos got the first shot at scoring after a slow peel from Cameron Murray, but Darius Boyd proved too restless, opting for a wide pass to Corey Oates that missed its mark and spun over the sideline. While Boyd made up for it with a Steve Menzies-like tackle on Damien Cook a set later, a follow-up flop from Payne Haas got the Bunnies more ball.
After a couple of good early takes under the high ball, Adam Douehi was pinged for a knock-on, in the second South Sydney error of the game. Halfway through the tackle count, Boyd sent the ball to Oates again, who was faced with some big pressure from James Roberts and Corey Allan in the left corner. In real time, it looked like Oates might just have ground it, but the replay showed that he had lost possession at the last minute. The scrutiny didn’t stop there, however, since Roberts seemed to have taken his cues from the Bulldogs-Eels clash at Bankwest the night before, slamming his elbow down on Oates’ head as they were both sliding over the sideline.
The spectacle of this former Bronco being put on report and sent to the bin was as big an incentive to Brisbane as having twelve men on the field, especially since Oates was taken off for an HIA following Roberts’ dog move. His absence was felt immediately, since Brisbane resumed play with a left sweep – a pass from Boyd to Alex Glenn, who ricocheted the footy across to the wing, where Gehamat Shibasaki, playing in Oates’ postion, allowed himself to be bundled into touch without much resistance.
A mistake from Joe Ofahengaue and a strip from Sean O’Sullivan now allowed Adam Reynolds to put the first two points on the board, and eat up a couple of minutes with Roberts off the park. The Bunnies then kept the Broncos in their own ten for three straight tackles, only for Haas to shift the momentum with a linebreak. This felt like it might result in the first try of the game, but Boyd didn’t offload at the right time at the other end of the field. While the Broncos got the ball back almost immediately after an error from Doueihi, and followed up with a dropout, they still hadn’t scored by the time that Roberts returned from the bin.
Instead, the Bunnies welcomed Roberts back with a scintillating try – a silky sequence of passes and offloads that carved a clinical trajectory away from the inconsistent progress of the game so far. The spectacle started with Cook, who got around Haas, and then offloaded to Sutton, with O’Sullivan around his waist. Sutton offloaded even closer to the ground, shifting the footy across to Walker, who responded with a big run and turnaround pass to Gagai, who collected it about fifteen metres out from the line. From there, Gagai launched into full Origin mode, barely decelerated by the trio of defenders who greeted him right on the line.Embed from Getty Images
From the outset, it felt like this would be a try – it had that kind of momentum – putting the Rabbits eight ahead once Reynolds had added the extras. They got a dropout shortly after, and an offload from Knight to Cook suggested we might be in for another superb second phase sequence, only for Roberts to lose the footy on the right edge of the field, before Oates returned to the park on the next set. While Roberts may have compensated with a linebreak, the Rabbitohs were unable to capitalise on it, and the Broncos scored the next and final try of the first half, as David Fifita made the most of a short ball from O’Sullivan to slice through Cook, Reynolds, Doueihi and Graham.
The second half kicked off with a second former Bronco being put on report and sent to the bin, when Jayden Su’A planted an elbow in Alex Glenn’s face, allowing Jamayne Isaako to level the scoreline with Brisbane’s first penalty goal. The home team got an extra burst of energy once Haas returned to the field, and came close to scoring a set later, when Allan found himself under a Milford high ball, only for Oates to secure it, and offload to Boyd, who would have scored beneath the posts were it not for a spectacular trysaver from Murray, and a solid follow-up from Reynolds.
One of the more unusual sequences in the game came a few minutes later, when a Reynolds kick came off Glenn’s foot, and Glenn, Roberts and Doueihi all chased the Steeden down as it bounced unpredictably on the Bunnies’ left edge. Roberts managed to scoop it up and storm off down the field, coming to ground about five metres out from the try line, and rendering the question of whether he’d knocked on moot.
Moments later, Reynolds added another two points after an offside penalty from O’Sullivan, but the Bunnies hadn’t finished capitalizing on Roberts’ surge of momentum, or the adrenaline it had sent through their squad. On the very next set, Cook shifted the play to the right side of the field, turned around, and sent the footy across to Reynolds, who immediately kicked off the inside of his boot at high speed, setting up a bounce that sat up perfectly for Walker to gather the Steeden into his chest and score.
South Sydney weren’t done with these fluid movements up through the ruck, however, and on the restart a Liam Knight offload set up Cook to send the footy across to the left of the field, where Gagai broke through the line, and travelled back inside, sending the ball back to his hooker to run it all the way to the line on the right edge. Bookended by Cook, this try capped off one of his most sublime sequences this year, and the silkiest and slipperiest sequence of South Sydney tries. They might offload less than any team in the competition, but they made up for it here, more than doubling their second phase average as the last quarter got going.Embed from Getty Images
Fifita now responded with another short range try, once again off a ball from O’Sullivan, slamming through Reynolds before twisting and spinning through Allan to put down another four points for Brisbane. With Isaako adding the extras, the Bunnies were only eight points ahead, but somehow their momentum and acceleration made them feel more insurmountable than a two-try lead.
That just made it all the more dramatic, then, when the Broncos scored with three minutes on the clock, thanks to a dazzling display from Matt Gillett, who had been a big presence all night after returning to the park for the first time since Round 15 this year. Collecting the footy on the right side of the field, he slammed through the line, and managed to keep his arm above the ground for just long enough to offload to Kotoni Staggs, who ran a hard line to score another four points, before a quick kick from Isaako made it six.
What followed was one of the most suspenseful passages of footy this year, as a linebreak from Isaako on the right edge, and a one-on-one strip from Ofahengaue right on the line, made it look the Broncos might come away with a last-minute upset. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, however, as Cook now translated all his attacking acumen into the most important trysaver of the game – a low tackle that prevented what looked like a certain try from Oates, getting the Bunnies the ball again with less than a minute left on the clock, ensuring them a two point win.
This was exactly the show of strength that South Sydney needed after their shock loss to the Bulldogs last week – proof that they can still play like a top four team as finals footy grows closer. They’ll be looking for a much bigger win margin, though, when they travel to New Zealand to take on the Warriors next week, especially with the Roosters to contend with in Round 25. On the other side of the Steeden, this was one of the most visceral losses of the year for Brisbane, who will be looking to make better use of Suncorp when they host Parramatta on Friday night.
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