Both Brisbane and Parramatta had something to prove when they met at Suncorp Stadium for the third game of Round 24. On the one hand, the Eels had suffered a shock loss to the Bulldogs the previous week, and an end to their winning streak, so they were keen to make the most of having Blake Ferguson back on the wing after a sustained stint on the sideline. On the other hand, there was considerable pressure on the Broncos to come up with a big win after the media discussion about Darius Boyd’s form and future this week, especially since they lost to the Bunnies at Suncorp last week.
Brisbane got the first points, on the back of an Anthony Milford bomb that bounced awfully for Maika Sivo, allowing the Brisbane defence to tap it back. While Dylan Brown scooped it up and started making his way back down the field, he was called offside in the process, and the Broncos opted to take the two, with Jamayne Isaako slicing the kick through the posts. Brown made up for it a set later, though, with a one-handed tackle that prevented Kotoni Staggs cruising up the right edge of the Broncos’ attack after a short side play out of the scrum.
Still, this wasn’t the strongest start for the Eels, especially since Daniel Alvaro was exchanged early after a big hit-up from Matt Lodge. They only got back on their feet once Mitchell Moses’ boot started to making more of an impact, beginning with a bomb that Corey Oates secured in the middle of the field, but then lost into a big tackle from Michael Jennings. Jenko took the first hit-up, Kane Evans straightened the play, and then Andrew McCullough was pinged for not being square at marker, setting up Moses for the penalty kick that levelled the score.
The Eels had one of their best sets a few minutes, going side to side as a cut-out pass from Clint Gutherson sent Shaun Lane up the left, before the Eels shifted the footy to their right edge almost immediately. When they returned to the left side of the field, Isaako knocked the Steeden on, and the tackle count restarted. Once again, a cut-out pass from Gutherson on the second play produced a linebreak on the left edge, but this time it also produced points, as Sivo crashed over in the corner for the first try.
Full credit has to go to Dylan Brown, too, for bringing the footy deep enough into the line to draw in Sean O’Sullivan, and clear up enough space for Gutho and Sivo on his outside. Moses didn’t make the conversion, though, and had further troubles a couple of sets later, when Isaako prevented him getting to the kick in time. For a moment, this looked like it might end brilliantly for the Eels, as Peni Terepo regathered the footy and sent it to Gutherson on the left, but the Broncos ended up getting possession again after Jennings failed to make the most of it all.Embed from Getty Images
This was the kind of broken, frantic play that can break the game open. The Eels had almost capitalised on it, but the Broncos ultimately benefited from it, tapping into Parra’s momentum to put down their first try and best set so far. Boyd laid the platform, breaking through the line and then popping a right-handed offload to Glenn, who kicked to himself, regathered the footy and was brought to ground half a metre from the chalk. The Broncos maintained the momentum with a quick play-the-ball, and a second later Corey Oates sent the Steeden across to David Fifita to score
Isaako added the extras to recover Brisbane’s initial two point lead, as Anthony Seibold celebrated his fiftieth try since becoming the Broncos’ coach. Seeing Boyd break through the line was a big incentive to the home team, and things got even better after the break, when Boyd put down a Milford kick to land the second Brisbane try of the night. This was the most vulnerable moment for the Parra defence, as Moses seemed unsure of how to read Milford’s intentions, and Ferguson failed to get to the footy in time, putting them ten behind once Isaako added the two.
Parra got a big boost, then, when Sivo broke through the line on the left edge a couple of sets later, where he forced a professional foul that saw McCullough sent to the bin. The Eels looked set to score there and then, especially when Milford was pinged for holding down, but O’Sullivan managed to force a handling error by way of a ball-and-all tackle on Shaun Lane, with a bit of assistance from Matt Gillett. Moments later, James Segeyaro subbed on for Thomas Flegler to help the Broncos make the most of their twelve-man outfit.
Brisbane remained strong over the next ten minutes, as Staggs made a big statement with the hit of the night on Brown, surging up out of the line to force a handling error from the Parramatta five-eighth. When the twelve-man period was up, Patrick Carrigan returned in McCullough’s place, and the Eels had one of their biggest heartbreaks of the match, at the tail end of a superb right sweep that ended with an enormous wide pass from Gutho to Fergo that travelled about half the length of the field before finding the big winger on the chest.
Ferguson now did what he does best, navigating his way through a low tackle from Boyd, and a follow-up effort from Milford, before reaching a hand out of the maelstrom to plant the Steeden over the line. Yet the try was called back because Gutho’s pass was – supposedly – forward, while the Broncos got a fresh burst of field position after Evans was pinged for a shot clock violation. Fergo had a second chance a few sets later, when a brilliant pass from Moses started another right sweep, but the timing with Waqa Blake didn’t come off on the Eels’ right edge.Embed from Getty Images
Fergo’s fumble made this the tenth handling error of the night for Parra, compared to the Broncos’ five. This was Ferguson and Blake’s first game together on the right edge, and the new combination was showing, meaning that the Eels had to find another way to capitalise upon their star winger without going through the ex-Panther. A few sets later, Junior Paulo provided that alternative, sending an amazing cut-out pass to set Ferguson up for a one-on-one contest with Glenn.
The result was a sublime try even by Fergo’s standards – so close that it was impossible to tell in real time whether or not he’d managed to remain in the field of play. The replay showed two superhuman feats of dexterity, with Fergo first keeping his right foot just inside the sideline, and then managing to get the Steeden down with his left hand in the millisecond before his right leg made contact with the ground, all as his body was being contorted and ricocheted by the impact of the tackle.
The fact that Ferguson has lost a considerable amount of weight over the last few weeks made these contortions even more visible and dramatic, in what was easily the best try of the night – and one of the best tries of the Eels’ entire season. Blake nearly scored under the posts on the restart, before Milford managed to clean it up, but the Broncos couldn’t stop Evans four minutes out from the end, when the big prop slammed through Haas, Milf and Chicko to score right beneath the uprights.
With Moses booting through the easiest conversion of the night, the score was all locked up at 16-16, sending the match into golden point after neither side managed to send through a field goal. Isaako made an attempt from 43 metres out, but the footy faded away to the left, deflecting off the upright, and giving the Eels about twenty seconds to set up a one-pointer of their own. Yet with Manu M’au failing to offload at the critical moment, Moses didn’t quite get to the kick, and the match spilled over into extra time.
Parra didn’t even get a chance in golden point though, as Fifita made a monster run on the first set, breaking through five or six tackles to set up Isaako for a successful field goal the second time around. The result was an exuberant win for the Broncos, and for Boyd in particular, and an important rallying point for their critical game against Canterbury next week. On the other side of the Steeden, this was a heartbreaking loss for Parra, especially after going down to the Dogs last Friday, so they’ll be looking to come back big when they host the Sea Eagles at Bankwest.