St. George had won their last three games against Brisbane when they rocked up to Suncorp on Friday night, while Darius Boyd only had a 25% winning record against the Red V as he prepared to play them for the last time. Tyrell Fuimaono was off the park, after becoming the first player, along with Jesse Bromwich, to be suspended for a hip drop tackle, while Paul Vaughan was back after his COVID breach, replacing Tristan Sailor, but coming off the bench, with Josh Kerr starting in his place.
On the other side of the Steeden, Payne Haas was suspended after his dangerous contact on Siliva Havili, and Tom Flegler was out with a shoulder injury, as Joe Ofahengaue and Rhys Kennedy combined as a new front row duo. Anthony Milford was back from a hamstring injury, Jordan Kahu had returned to the park, and Isaac Luke was starting at hooker – just enough of a reshuffle for the Broncos to put in one of their stronger recent games, resulting in a mere four-point win for the Dragons.
The Dragons started fast, and got a repeat set right away, as Richie Kennar bent down to collect Corey Norman’s opening bomb, but found his left leg giving way on the dewy turf. Adam Clune did well to contain an awkward pass from Norman in his right hand on the first tackle, and Jacob Host came up with an even clutchier collect on the third, before the Dragons resettled with the first six again of the game, and Kerr smashed through Kennedy and Ofahengaue to score right beneath the crossbar.
It was a worrying moment for the Broncos’ new front-row combo, putting the Red V six ahead before the hosts had even got a touch of the football, thanks to a Zac Lomax conversion that brought him two points off Kyle Flanagan for top pointscorer of the season so far. The visitors got even more field position when Kennedy, who was having a rough couple of minutes for his first game starting, took out his frustration with a high shot on Cameron McInnes – and three plays later, Norman broke through the line.
This was just as clean as Kerr’s try, as Norman received the Steeden at the ten, shrugged off Ben Te’o, and accelerated through a legs tackle from Ofahengaue to score just beside the posts. Darius Boyd barked orders at his men as Lomax set up the tee, and then booted through his second conversion, before the Dragons got stuck into the restart, and the Broncos faced their eighth minute defending. Finally, they got a hand to the footy when Boyd brought back a long, clean, early kick from Ben Hunt.
A sea of Dragons jerseys awaited him, since the visitors were pumped for defence after so long with the football themselves. The Red V were just as staunch on their next set, as Lomax bumped off Milford on the left edge, and Hunt ended with a towering bomb, although this time Kennar collected it cleanly, giving the Broncos a slight boost, even if they remained trapped in their own forty for the entire set.
Kennar came up with an even better take next time around, outleaping Lomax to secure the Steeden with one hand, as the Broncos finally got a surge of field position – first, with a ruck infringement from Tyson Frizell, and then an offside penalty for Norman. Their set wasn’t perfect by any means, including a couple of slips and misplaced passes, but they still made it to the Dragons’ end, and had a few good tackles right on the line, before Adam Clune shut down David Fifita with alarming ease.
The Dragons followed Brisbane with six again on the first tackle, and forced the Broncos to work it back from their own end on the following set. Slowly but surely, though, the game was starting to settle into a more regular rhythm, as Jordan Kahu put in a huge tackle on Lomax, Boyd came up with a clean collect on the ground, nose strapped, Te’o made a half break, and finally Milf came up with the best Brisbane kick so far – a deft chip that trapped Clune in goal for the first dropout of the match.
Boyd now stepped up on both sides of the park, bumping off Clune and offloading to Dearden on the right, before shooting out a bullet pass on the left to assist Kennar, who put his opening fumble behind him by slamming down his third try of the 2020 season. Kotoni Staggs had the first sideline conversion of the night, and nailed the angle beautifully. In that perfect strike, the Broncos also put the opening eight minutes behind them, consolidating for what would turn out to be a remarkably close game.
They got a restart on the restart, and were doing well with the completions – 9/10 to the Dragons’ 11/11 – only for Kennedy to put the ball down before they could get to the kick. Still, they didn’t have to wait long for their next try, as Vaughan was pinged and put on report for an inadvertent crusher tackle on Kennar, giving them a chance to make good on their restart, especially when they received six again right on the line, off a crowding penalty from McInnes.
Luke nearly busted through three Dragons on play two, clearing up space for Corey Paix to slam over in his place for four more. This was tough stuff from the young half, who got in low, and drove his way through Blake Lawrie for his first try in the NRL, in his eighth game of first-grade football – exactly the determined effort Brisbane needed to level the scoreline. Staggs had a much easier angle this time around, and was always going to smash it through from right in front, to make it two converted tries apiece.
The Dragons steadily regathered over the next few minutes, however, starting with a pair of restarts off ruck errors from Boyd and Ofahengaue, followed by a successful Captain’s Challenge to prove that Hunt hadn’t knocked the footy into a Boyd tackle. Three plays later, Euan Aitken claimed he’d got a Clune grubber down, and while Jacob Host had shoved Staggs in backplay, Jamil Hopoate had put in a late hit on McInnes even further back, setting up Lomax to boot through the first penalty kick.
Taking the two here was a critical calming point for the Dragons, restoring their confidence enough to capitalise immediately on an offside penalty from Paix on the restart. Two tackles later, Matt Dufty lobbed an enormous harbour bridge ball out to Mikaele Ravalawa, who steamrolled over Boyd to score a terrific try on the wing – a perfect combination of speed and strength, and a testament to Dufty’s vision in the no. 1. Lomax missed the extras, but they were still six ahead after his penalty kick.
Norman put down the ball on the brink of half time, but the try was denied due to a Lomax knock-on while joining Kerr to collect the high ball in the air, while the Red V were pretty scrappy when they returned from the sheds, and unable to recapture their splendid momentum of the opening eight minutes. Staggs conceded some ground with a strip penalty almost immediately, but he made up for it by scoring on the very next Brisbane set, with an incredible long-range effort – the Broncos’ best try in weeks.
It was only Staggs’ fourth run of the night, but it felt like four runs in one, as he received the footy from Dearden inside the Dragons’ twenty, skittled Aitken with an enormous left hand-fend, ducked out of a tackle from Clune, accelerated into Brisbane’s end, dummied to the left as Aitken came in for the intercept, and finally stormed over himself. Despite missing six games, he was still Brisbane’s top tryscorer, three ahead of Coates and Farnworth, as he converted his own try to level the score once more.
No matter their season, this was top-tier footy from the Broncos, so they felt like a new team on the restart, raising the intensity for both sides, as the match accelerated into the strongest, hardest, fastest set-for-set rhythm so far. Milf attempted a 40/20 ten minutes in, and Ravalawa broke through the line on the wing, but this time Boyd held on fast, and so it took a Carrigan escort to finally break the longest deadlock of the game, as Lomax slotted through the second penalty kick of the night to make it 20-18.
Despite this brief hiatus, however, the gamed look set to settle back into the same arm wrestle, as Hunt grew restless on the restart, and the Broncs showed no signs of slowing down either. Pereira had his best take of the game under the high ball, the Brisbane defenders wrapped up Frizell before he could get to an offload and, finally, a superb kick-and-chase from Clune trapped Farnworth in the far left corner of the in goal area – too far, it turned out, for him to bring the footy back and avoid a dropout.
This had been the first repeat set in ages, so the Dragons had to make the most of it – and they did, opting for a left sweep on the second, as a pair of perfectly timed passes sent Ravalawa over for a double. Dufty skipped on the outside of Paix, putting Kahu under enormous pressure to contain Lomax, by which time Ravalawa had already begun his run down the sideline, crashing to ground too decisively for Coates to have any chance of tumbling him into touch, before Lomax converted from the sideline.
This was the best kick of the night after Staggs’ opening conversion, so the Red V were looking pretty good again, especially since they only had one error so far. They got a big blow, though, when Carrigan accidentally rubbed the back of his left hand against the Steeden as Lawrie was trying to play it. Amazingly, the Bunker ratified Brisbane’s challenge, deeming it a loose carry from the St. George prop, who was incredulous with the decision, as were his captain and Ben Hunt, who’d been closest to the play.
The Broncos couldn’t have asked for a better gift, but they didn’t score their next and last try until the seventy-minute mark, on the back of the last dropout of the game. They couldn’t have asked for a better short-range sequel to Staggs’ effort either, as Dearden received the footy at the ten, dummied right, placed his palm in McInnes’ face, twisted away from Hunt, and sliced between Vaughan and Lawrie for his first career try – and a try that was every bit as tough and deft as Staggs’ spectacular run.
For a moment it looked like Host had scored with five minutes on the clock, but the replay showed that Clune had bobbled the ball slightly in backplay. Still, Lomax got a third penalty kick on the full time siren, and the Dragons came away with the win, albeit not as big a margin as they might have expected. They’ll be looking for a big one against the Titans next week, then, while the Broncos will need to take a deep breath, and stay strong, when they rock up to the Roosters at the SCG next Friday night.