Brisbane’s woes continued on Saturday night, when they compounded their recent losses to Newcastle and Manly by going down to a New Zealand outfit who were already emotionally depleted without Roger Tuivasa-Sheck in the fullback jersey. Peta Hiku was taking over at no. 1, and the Broncos targeted him early, driving him back several metres on his first tackle under the high ball. Still, the Warriors showed they could do just as well on the kick chase, cleaning up Jamayne Isaako a set later.
Hiku did better with his next collect and carry, Isaako almost bobbled Kodi Nikorima’s next bomb, and both Payne Haas and Tevita Pangai Jr. poked their noses through the line, as Brisbane finally got the first restart to disrupt this early set-for-set rhythm. In the process, Haas had run over Kodi Nikorima, who was taken off for an HIA, and replaced by Chanel Harris-Tevita, leaving the Warriors’ spine even more exposed without RTS on the park.
Brisbane got another restart off an Adam Blair error and looked more dangerous than they have in weeks, raring to break through at every tackle, from an Issac Luke twist-and-spin on the right, to five post-contact metres from Haas on the left. Back on the park after last week’s suspension, Patrick Carriagan sent a wayward offload out the back that cost him men twenty, but Darius Boyd got them back on track with a harbour bridge ball to Xavier Coates, before a Brodie Croft grubber secured the first dropout.
They didn’t show any signs of slowing down on the restart, tiring out the forwards with a series of big runs up the middle before shifting to a rapid right sweep that saw Tesi Niu send Xavier Coates over for his third try in only his fourth NRL game. Isaako’s sideline kick bounced off the left upight but this was still a pretty strong start from the Broncos, who’d proven that they that they could build efficiently and economically on opposition errors, coming up with a clinical restart to boot.
The Warriors did better on their next set, thanks in part to an early run from David Fusitua, in his 100th game, that cleared up space for Harris-Tevita to almost trap Niu in goal. While the young gun fullback avoided the dropout, he still had to work it back from half a metre out, making it easy for the Warriors to rack up the pressure in defence, culminating with Fusitua and Patrick Herbert converging on Isakao to drag him over the sideline from five metres in field.
This was the first augmented field position for New Zealand, but they wouldn’t commence their comeback just yet, since Gerard Beale put down a poor inside ball from Harris-Tevita to hand the scrum straight back to Brisbane, who got six again two tackles later. They came close to scoring on the other side of the park, thanks to a short pass from Niu out to Isaako, but no. 2 saw nothing was doing and so popped it back into no. 1, only for New Zealand to drag their second player over the left sideline.
Like Brisbane, they got six again early in their next set, but the Broncos got revenge for their botched left sweep, as Herbie Farnworth bumped Ken Maumalo over the chalk as he tried to reel in a short ball from Harris-Tevita. Meanwhile word came down from the sheds that Nikorima’s night was over, and the Warriors found themselves bunched up in their own end next time they had ball in hand, forcing Blake Green to kick within the forty.
That just made it all the more momentous when a big Herbert tackle forced an Isaako knock-on – just the kind of gutsy one-man effort the Warriors needed to get back in the game. Yet Brisbane bounced back even bigger, as Coates collected a Harris-Tevita grubber, made his way back from five metres in goal, slid past Maumalo, stormed down the sideline, and put in a big right foot step to fend off Blair and make his way to the halfway line.
Maumalo spread it to the left on the next play, bumping off three defenders, but the adrenalin tempted him into a late offload that cost Brisbane their best tryscoring opportunity of the night. Nevertheless, Coates made good on his linebreak a minute later, intercepting a Karl Lawton pass and going all the way this time, decelerating at the twenty when it became clear that no Warrior had a chance of catching up to him. With Isaako adding his first conversion, the Broncos were now ten on the board.
Both teams went error for error for the next minutes, but the critical mistake came from Corey Oates, who fumbled the footy forward after Luke shot it out of dummy half. Maumalo fumbled a low Harris-Tevita ball on the left with open space all around, but made up for it on the next set. Receiving the footy from Beale at the twenty, he flew into Niu when there was no room left on the sideline, rolling over the Brisbane fullback to put down the first New Zealand try.
Harris-Tevita added the extras to make it a four point game as each team headed to the sheds, and the Warriors got into a good groove on their first set back, thanks to a fifteen metre run from Maumalo. Still, Isaako responded with a strong take beneath the high ball, leaping up above three New Zealand defenders to get his men rolling once again. Brisbane got a restart on the next set, and Luke now mirrored Maumalo’s run with nobody at marker, only to crash straight into Harris-Tevita’s forehead.
Luke also ricocheted off Lawton, but the contact with the ground was what sent him off for an HIA, bringing Tom Dearden onto the field earlier than expected, after the medical staff made sure that the ex-Warrior’s neck was OK for him to gingerly head to the sheds. Brisbane couldn’t resume their rhythm after the pause, however, as Croft sent out a loose pass to the left edge that Isaako knocked forward despite facing his own goal line when he received it.
Jack Hetherington offloaded two tackles into the next set, New Zealand got six again on the next tackle, and Jack Murchie made four or five post-contact metres after collecting a short one from Green. Hetherington made it two offloads a play later, as the Warriors finally compressed and condensed into first gear, with Lawton and Agnatius Paasi barging hard at the left edge, before a Tohu Harris offload was touched by Boyd and the visitors got a penalty restart when Milford was offside in the ten.
Two tackles later Paasi made good on his previous run, slamming through Niu and Alex Glenn to score beneath the uprights, off a no-look pass from Wayde Egan. Harris-Tevita booted through the extras, and so the Warriors had taken the lead in seven minutes of football, consolidating further with one of their best sets on the restart, when they forced Niu to work it back from five metres out once again, only for Milford to effect a sudden momentum shift with a strip on Herbert next time they had ball in hand.
Brisbane opted for another right sweep, and this time Coates knocked on into a combined tackle from Harris-Tevita and Lawton, but the Broncos still steeled themselves with one of their strongest defensive sets in some time, keeping New Zealand in their own thirty right up until the last tackle. Haas was massive early in the next set, and Croft almost forced his second dropout of the night with a low, fast ball that Maumalo only just tapped into touch.
The initial call was dropout, but the replay showed that Farnworth had made contact first – pretty intuitive in real time – and Hetherington responded with his third great offload of the night, even if Harris-Tevita didn’t have anywhere to go with it. With the Panthers loan going to ground on the last, the Warriors’ advantage started to wane, especially with only a two-point lead on the board, so the match felt open for Brisbane to resume their pointscoring dominance of the first thirty-five minutes.
Sure enough, Milford’s next kick landed with the harshest bounce of the night, splitting Hiku and Maumalo and careening in goal where Farnworth got past Hiku and Harris-Tevita to get it to ground, restoring the Broncos’ four-point lead after Isaako booted his last conversion through the posts. This was easily the best bomb of the night – and, combined with the earlier strip, suggested that Milf might be reaching one of those peak flow sequences that always galvanizes his Brisbane teammates.
The Broncos got six again on the restart, and made a series of big carries up the middle, so the starch of the New Zealand defence here probably won them the game, since the hosts would likely have scored if Fusitua hadn’t made his biggest leap to collect Milf’s next kick. Green got their last quarter comeback going with a 40/20 kick next time he got a boot to ball – a pretty worrying moment for a Brisbane outfit that had been outscored 70-4 in the second stanza since the resumption of the season.
Fusitua crossed over a second later, off a deft right sweep, but Brisbane made their first Captain’s Challenge of the year – and arguably the best Challenge since the option was introduced. In slow motion, you could indeed see that Isaiah Papali’i had slid into Milford, and while Milf was never going to stop the try, and Boyd had already committed defensively, the Bunker had no chance but to ratify Brisbane’s call.
Yet this just made it all the more exciting when the Warriors crowned the game with a terrific trio of tries in the last twelve minutes, the first of which came off a Green kick that Isaako collected on the full as Maumalo and Herbert piled on to slide him over the dead ball line. Papali’i took his first run on the first, and Egan scored one of the toughest tries all season on the second, slamming through Milford, Flegler and Niu, and yet somehow twisting his torso out of the maelstrom to get the footy down.
A Brisbane Challenge might have cost Fusitua his try, but the Warriors’ next four points came off a successful Challenge of their own, with Glenn calling on the Bunker to prove that a supposed strip from Blair was actually a loose carry from Croft. Maumalo scored thirty seconds later, launching his left foot into the air just as Coates was about to drag it over the sideline, remaining aloft for long enough to slam the Steeden down as Croft stormed in for a last-ditch tackle.
New Zealand probably had the game wrapped up here, but they sealed the deal ninety seconds out from the siren, when Papali’i went from assister to scorer, after Dearden made an error out of the scrum, and Milford was called offside within the ten – two plays that seemed to crystallise all of Brisbane’s back-half struggles over the last couple of weeks. Papali’i took the first carry, and then crossed over on the last, building on a Green fend and offload to dispose of Haas and Dearden for the last try.
So ended one of the best matches of 2020, and a historic match for both sides – for the Broncos, who had lost six straight for the first time in fifteen years, but also for the Warriors, who had found the rallying-point they needed to remain in Australia during the remainder of the COVID era, and for Green in particular, who played as if he would be remaining at the Warriors for the rest of his career. No team can hold their head up so high, regardless of how they perform against the Titans next week.