ROUND 4: Brisbane Broncos v. Sydney Roosters (Suncorp Stadium, 4/6/20)

James Tedesco was a late exit from Thursday night’s game at Suncorp Stadium, due to a high temperature, but he was replaced confidently by Brett Morris at fullback – a pretty good prospect given B-Moz’s incredible defensive acumen against the Rabbitohs the week before. Thomas Flegler bobbled the ball on the first Brisbane set and then regathered it, before the Roosters got the first penalty of the game when Payne Haas was pinged for being offside. The Morris brothers then linked up on the left edge, making good field position before Flanagan kicked to the left corner, where Ryan Hall got a touch back and Angus Crichton took the footy to the wing, but was unable to find a way through, flicking it inside to Joseph Manu. Both teams converged before Anthony Milford knocked on, and another Morris linkup ensued, as Radley sent the footy out to Keary for a catch-and-pass to Brett, who offloaded to Josh to scoop up the Steeden, swivel back infield, and twist and spin through Patrick Carrigan, finally reaching out his left hand to plant the footy to ground before Jesse Arthars slammed in on top.

This was a truly heroic sequence for Sydney City, even against a young Brisbane side. and the perfect way for the Morris boys to continue their momentum from last week – proof that their fraternal synergy was enough to compensate for Tedesco’s absence from the backline. The Roosters remained four ahead when Flanagan swerved the Steeden away to the left of the posts, and Brisbane responded to this brief glimpse of weakness by doubling down on their defence, holding up Sio Siua Taukeiaho midway through the restart, and then accelerating in attack next time they had ball in hand. Sydney City were unphased, though, as Josh scooped up the footy and ran right over Croft on the first play, before the visitors got the first set restart on the last. Croft got some catharsis with a trysaver on Boyd Cordner during the second tackle, but it didn’t make much difference to the Roosters’ rhythm, which was apparently just as good for their right sweeps, since the Steeden now moved fluidly through Taukeaiho, Radley,  and Flanagan, who popped it out to Manu, who was unmarked on the corner, and so finally able to make good on Crichton’s flick pass in the opening minutes.

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This time Flanagan added a superb conversion from the sideline for a ten point lead, while the Broncos were only playing their first ball in Roosters territory next time they had possession. The Chooks responded with one of their most focused and plosive sets so far, but made their first error when Jake Friend kicked too far on the last, allowing Jamayne Isaako to collect the footy in goal for Brisbane’s best attacking chance of this opening qauarter. They only got two of their seven tackles, however, since Radley made the best hit of the night so far on Flegler, burrowing down into the frontrower and lifting him entirely in the air to get the scrum feed for his team mates before the Broncos had even cleared half the park. There was now a fleeting shift in the Broncos’ favour when Corey Oates made one of the best Brisbane tackles so far on Crichton, and Haas somehow cleaned up Keary’s last kick a metre out from the chalk after it ricocheted off Croft. JWH got an offside penalty in the process – an amazing ending to a set where Sydney City seemed destined to score with almost every opportunity.

Yet Brisbane had to score to retain this momentum, so it was a big rhythm-killer when Flegler lost the ball in his second successive set. No surprise that the Roosters were even more dazzling with this unexpected opportunity, starting with a parabolic harbour bridge pass from Flanagan on the second play out to Ryan Hall, who barnstormed over Darius Boyd, laying the foundation for a set restart on the fourth tackle. The Chooks had five more plays up their sleeve, but they only needed five more seconds, since Radley culminated a night of hard straight running from his entire team, collecting the footy on the ten metre line and slamming through Carrigan and Isaako for the most direct four points so far. As with his huge hit on Flegler a few minutes before, this play was a testament to Radley’s evolving brilliance at combining the skill sets of front rower and halfback, bringing the Chooks to a sixteen point lead after Flanagan slotted through his second conversion of the evening.

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Finally, after twenty perfect minutes of football – as impressive, in their own way, as the Warriors’ seventy-five minute stint against the Dragons the week before – Josh Morris made the first mistake of the game, losing the footy when dummying to the outside edge, albeit almost getting a kick away in the process. Finally, the Broncos had a bit of breathing-space, and it seemed to galvanise them, as Boyd set up Oates for a try in the left corner on the very next set, only for Brett Morris to jam the big Brisbane winger into touch before he could get the ball down. Croft lost the ball soon after, and the Roosters capitalized immediately, thanks to a superb play from Flanagan, who condensed the best of his long and short passing game with a compressed harbor bridge ball right on the line to Crichton, who followed Manu in making good on their aborted right-side linkup in the opening minutes of the match. Flanagan made another sideline conversion, and the Roosters continued to skyrocket, scoring their next try soon after, off an equally efficient and effective passage of play.

This time Cordner almost got to the line, and Friend scooped up the footy, opting for a short ball to Radley, who responded with an equally tight effort that put Flanagan in place for the next try, to the left of the posts. This whole sequence as like a microcosm of the game as a whole, as successive waves of Brisbane defence tried and failed to keep up with Sydney’s speed, so it wasn’t surprising when Matt Lodge took out some of his team’s frustration with a high tackle on Lindsay Collins on the very next play – the start of a personal battle between the two big boppers over the remainder of the match. The Morris boys combined soon after for another tryscoring formation on the left edge, but it was called back due to a very harsh obstruction call on Cordner, who’d done everything in his power to stop his trajectory when Croft ran straight at him in the defensive line. Moments later, the Chooks missed a second try, when Keary attempted to replicate their opening try for Brett Morris, who rolled over, reached out his hand, but couldn’t get it down, since Arthars had leaned from his early defensive effort, and now arrived in time to make the low tackle needed to shut down the play.

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Brisbane had now kept the Morris brothers out twice, which in this particular contest counted as a shift in the Broncos’ direction, or at least a lapse in the Roosters’ sublime acceleration. Yet the home team couldn’t turn this brief glimpse of rhythm into points, as Keary closed out the first stanza with a field goal to bring the his team mates to twenty-nine unanswered points. For a moment, the Broncos’ first set back from the break looked pretty promising, but it all came undone with a loose pass and error from Isaako on the last, setting up Sydney City for their next and best try of the night. Collecting the footy a third of the way down the park, Isaac Liu broke through the line, got away from Haas, and flicked it across to Keary, who didn’t even need Brett Morris shouting up behind in support, since he was easily able to storm down the middle of the park for the next four points, putting the Roosters thirty-five points ahead after Flanagan added the extras. This was the kind of defensive lapse from Brisbane you might expect at the end of an exhausting game, but not after a G-up in the sheds, as the match started to shift from a one-sided affair to a total landslide of Tricoloured points.

In one of the Roosters’ rare decelerations of the night, Hall lost the footy immediately after while trying to play it – and the visitors had their first and last Captain’s Challenge in an effort to claim that the Broncos defenders had played a role in the error. Still, Sydney City continued to prevail, gaining a dropout and then another bout of field position after a strip from Joe Ofahengaue, before three successive penalties from Herbie Farnworth, Isaako and Arthars saw Arthars sent to the sin bin for the final infraction – a professional foul. Brisbane had already been playing like they had twelve men on the park, so this was their darkest hour, although it was notable that the Roosters had stopped scoring at the same rate as during the first half, despite this continuing surge of field position, which spoke to the tightened Brisbane defence during this period as well. The first major play after the sin binning was one of the most unusual for Sydney City – a wide ball from Keary that looked set to find Tupou on the wing, only to falcon off the Giraffe’s head and tumble over the sideline.

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Still, the Roosters scored off their very next set, which started to escalate when Keary popped the footy across to Josh Morris on the left edge. J-Moz sent it to Tupou, who was forced to flick it back inside when the play came apart, but Keary showed some of his best organisation of the match here, regathering the footy, skating across the front of the ruck, and passing it to Collins in the middle of the park, who made a hard run from fifteen minutes out to slam the footy down beneath the posts, for the only the second try of his NRL career. The Chooks had now completed three times as many sets as Brisbane – thirty to ten – and enjoyed 83% of possession, while the Broncos were starting to contend with their first ever zero-point game at Suncorp. The Tricolours’ previous best at the Brisbane home ground was 22, while their previous best against the Broncos was 36-4 at the SCG in Round 4 last year – both of which records had already been broken, and would remain broken, by this point in the game. It was also important that they’d scored during this sin-bin, since it would have been a serious dent in their armour if the Broncos had managed to survive an extra man on the park.

Their next chance came shortly after, when Keary kicked to the left corner, and Tupou was blocked by the Brisbane defence, leaving it to Taukeiaho to contest the footy with Tesi Niu in the air. Taukeiaho tapped the ball back, and Flanagan ran in to carry it around behind the posts, but the replay showed that the cult prop had knocked the footy into Niu, letting Brisbane off the hook for the moment. They looked like they might get another letoff a few minutes later, when Crichton collected the ball out of dummy half, five metres out from the line, and targeted two of the least experienced players in the Brisbane lineup, burrowing through Niu, on debut, and Bullemor, in only his fourth game of first grade, for what was initially called a loose carry, only for the Bunker to come up with the perfect angle to show how cleanly and deftly Crichton had got the tip of the Steeden to ground.

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The Roosters got another dropout ten minutes out, and executed their next try immediately, as a pass from Brett, and a catch-and-pass from Josh, pushed Tupou across in the corner to break the half century. When Taukeihao lost the Steeden on play one of the restart, the Broncos seemed to have a chance for a consolation try, but they just couldn’t catch a break, since an apparent dropout was called back after Boyd knocked on the high ball, costing them a Captain’s Challenge in the process. On the very next play, the three main playmakers of the night flexed their combinatorial muscles once again, as Josh muscled into the defence and popped the offload inside to Keary, who slammed up the left edge before sending the footy back infield to brother Josh to score. Brisbane got their last big chance with a penalised ball strip from Brett Morris, a set restart, and then a mistake from Manu, giving them possession for the last two minutes of the game. Yet with Tupou collecting the final high ball it was all over, and both teams headed to the sheds with a 59-0 scoreline.

Over the last week, we’ve seen how accelerating the speed of the game can produce incredible and ingenious displays of football prowess – and this performance from the Roosters was up there with the Warriors’ win over the Dragons last weekend in the way it seemed to take rugby league itself to a whole new level. Not only had the Roosters notched up a massive collection of tries, but they’d been remarkably consistent, putting down 29 points in the first half, and 30 in the second. While the Brisbane side were comparatively young and inexperienced, this was still an incredible achievement for the Tricolours, especially without Tedesco at fullback, as well as a historic game on its own terms – the first time that the Broncos have ever been held scoreless at their home ground, one of the most venerable fortresses in the NRL. It’s exciting to think what they’ll bring against the Bulldogs when they meet next Sunday at Bankwest, while the Broncos will be searching for strategies to put down as many points as possible when they take on a dominant Manly side for the first match of Round 5.

About Billy Stevenson (751 Articles)
Massive NRL fan, passionate Wests Tigers supporter with a soft spot for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and a big follower of US sports as well.

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