ROUND 12: Brisbane Broncos v. Melbourne Storm (Suncorp Stadium, 28/5/21, 12-40)
Brisbane hadn’t beaten the Storm at Suncorp since 2009 when they hosted them on Thursday night for the first match of Indigenous Round – and that record remained, as the purple army made it 22 straight wins in Queensland, and 23/27 wins at the Brisbane home ground, while also becoming the first team in premiership history to win eight straight by thirteen or more.
Even so, you could see the impact of Brisbane’s shock win over the Roosters last week. While it didn’t quite propel them into their first back-to-back victories since Rounds 1 and 2 last year, and while they conceded sixteen unanswered points in the first stanza, they weren’t quite as thoroughly decimated as you might have expected, managing to keep Melbourne from scoring during most of the final quarter.
In part, that was due to the impact of Albert Kelly, who didn’t match his incredible comeback game last week, but still provided considerable support from the halves. Kevin Walters had shifted him to halfback, and given Anthony Milford a third crack at five-eighth with Tyson Gamble suspended – a combo that worked pretty well, and came close to setting up Brisbane for a tighter finish at key moments. John Asiata was also starting at prop with Rhys Kennedy nursing a leg infection, and Teui Robati debuting off the bench with Matt Lodge suspended.
Still, the star of the show was undoubtedly Nicho Hynes, who regathered the Storm as seamlessly around Ryan Papenhuyzen’s absence as Papi regathered them around Billy Slater’s departure. This was a watershed match for Hynes, cementing this understudy period as a critical juncture in his fullback show reel, with Papi off the park for another month or so. Jahrome Hughes was also back in the no. 7 jersey, pairing Cooper Johns, who scored his first NRL try in the second half to cement this as a game driven by the Melbourne young guns.
Albert Kelly took the kickoff, as if determined to repeat his barnstorming performance against the Roosters last week, but he came up with the first error instead, losing the footy into an enormous pack tackle spearheaded by Felise Kaufusi. Nelson Asofa-Solomona made exceptional post-contact metres on the first Storm carry, managed a late offload to Brandon Smith, and charged again on the third, before the Melbourne momentum came apart with an aborted right sweep at the end of the tackle count.
A Kaufusi obstruction now piggy-backed the Broncos up the field for their first full set, as Jesse Arthars mirrored NAS with the metres after contact, brushing off a couple of tackles to get his men in the purple half of the park. They got a restart off a Smith ruck infringement a moment later, and Milford ended with a superb chip to the right edge, where Xavier Coates leaped a foot over Josh Ado-Carr to make contact, only to knock on. Still, Brisbane had started with a stronger set than Melbourne – a good sign after last week’s shellacking of Sydney.
Cooper Johns set his men back with a mistimed pass that bounced twenty metres behind him, but Thomas Flegler came in high as Hughes scrambled to collect it. Hynes accelerated up the left edge two plays later, and George Jennings flicked the footy back in field just before he was dragged into touch on the other side of the park. With Herbie Farnworth and Kelly committed to the pack tackle, only Payne Haas was in place to clean up Hughes’ subsequent grubber in goal for the first dropout of the match.
Jamayne Isaako went fifty-five metres with the kick, but the Storm were five metres out by midway through the tackle count. Hynes ran across the breadth of the field, and Justin Olam had a tough run up the right that very nearly broke the Brisbane defence, so it was a big turnaround when Arthars forced the mistake, and Olam lost the footy right on the chalk. Tevita Pangai Junior and Flegler followed with a deft pair of offloads on tackle two, but Milford’s last kick was awkward, only travelling fifteen before Hughes took it on the full.
Hynes had been raring to break through the line since kickoff, and had another good run on the left edge, and yet the rhythm of the game shifted abruptly when Hughes had his kick charged down, and Farnworth stormed up to the halfway line. Jennings and Dale Finucane conceded a pair of ruck errors, the Broncos shifted from side to side, Mead glimpsed some space on the left wing, and Milford ended with a well-weighted kick that the Fox was forced to bump into touch with one hand as the Brisbane chase converged behind him.
The dropout was awkward, but Kelly handled it well, while the Broncos got yet another restart, this time off a ruck error from Smith. The other Smith compensated brilliantly, rushing out of the line to bump the Steeden out of Kelly’s grasp, and so bringing this brief period of Brisbane acceleration, so redolent of last week’s game against the Roosters, to an abrupt end. Hynes responded with his most fluid kick at speed so far, and for a moment it looked like it might sit up perfectly on the line, but Isaako was correct to wait for it to eventually go dead.
Hughes now followed Reimis Smith by rushing out of the line for an ankle tap on Flegler, who mistimed the offload, inducing Kelly to lose it down his legs instead of barging into a one-on-one contest with Hynes. Finally, seventeen minutes into the match, Melbourne bagged their first try, off another deft passage of footwork from Hynes, who dishevelled the defence and fed the footy across to Smith. The Cheese swivelled around, surveilled every angle, and then simply busted through two pairs of tackles to make his way to the line from twenty out.
First, he slammed past Flegler and Keenen Palasia, setting his sights on the upright as Isaako came in for a last-ditch tackle and Kelly tumbled over on top. Hynes bookended it by adding the extras, but Smith (and the Storm) didn’t get a chance to complete the restart, coming to ground beneath a huge tackle from Tui Kamikamica and slamming head-first into the sternum of Jake Turpin, while spilling the Steeden in the process. It was deemed incidental contact – fairly – as Aaron Booth came on, in what should have been a Brisbane turning-point.
Instead, Pangai coughed up the footy a play later, and Flegler was pinged for a genuine high hit a tackle after that, as Melbourne effectively returned to their restart. Kelly saved the day by collecting a Hughes grubber right on the line – an impressive response to arguably the best attacking set of the match so far – before garnering his men some more field position with a big kick to Ado-Carr on the last. Hughes got the kick right next time though, with a third-tackle option that Isaako had no choice but to clean up in goal with Jennings coming in behind him.
This was arguably the best kick of the game so far, and the Storm seemed to consolidate from this point on. Sure, Hynes’ next pass went astray, but the Fox collected it and regathered with a wide ball back to the middle of the park, where Jesse Bromwich set up a compressed right sweep that ended with Hynes making five metres after contact. Hughes’ next kick was just as good, and while Mead got it on the full in goal, he missed a stellar opportunity to pop it out for Kelly to break through the line, dummying it in his direction but taking the tackle instead.
Kelly now mirrored Hughes with a deep kick in goal, almost finding Coates, but still securing a dropout from the Fox. Teui Robati, who’d just come on for his debut NRL match, took the first carry, and the Broncos got six again after a failed intercept attempt from Olam, so it was frustrating when Milford mistimed his next pass, leading to an Isaako knock-on. Meanwhile, the Storm seemed especially galvanised by this missed opportunity, from a big Smith run up the wing to a big kick from Johns on the last that Coates nevertheless caught on the full.
The game paused for some friendly fire between Tom Eisenhuth and Aaron Pene – a dramatic head clash that saw Eisenhuth sent off for an HIA as Chris Lewis trotted on earlier than expected. Despite this shift, however, the Storm still had the flow of their previous set, and sure enough they scored now, off a further consolidation period that started on tackle four, when the footy seemed to move through the entire team as they shifted it from the left wing to the right wing, and then back again to the middle of the park.
In spirit, then, Kamikamica’s try on the next tackle was a team try, building on all this purple momentum as he chased down a Johns grubber and discarded Isaako to score beside the posts – a great moment for Tui after being off the park with a back injury for most of last year. Full credit to Smith, too, for the vision out of dummy half that set up Johns for the grubber in the first place. Hynes was also safe with the kick, bringing the purple army to twelve unanswered points with six minutes left on the clock.
This wasn’t the worst scoreline for the home side, given Melbourne’s position at no. 2 on the ladder and Brisbane’s form until relatively recently – close enough that the Broncos might still conceivably rally as they did against the Roosters last week. They took a big hit, though, next time they had ball in hand, only just surviving an especially aggressive Melbourne restart before Arthars was forced to contend with arguably the worst pass of the game from Milford – low and short enough that he slipped to ground in a desperate attempt to rein it in.
As it turned out, this was yet another catalyst for the ongoing Melbourne consolidation, as Hynes finally channelled all his silky movement into the sinuous try assist he’d been searching for all night. Building off a pair of short passes from Johns and Hughes, he careened a spiralling harbour bridge ball across for the Fox to score in Indigenous Round – or what would have been a harbour bridge ball if there had been any Brisbane defenders in sight for it to sail over – before missing his first sideline conversion to keep it a sixteen-point game.
The speed of this try, the superb simplicity of Hynes’ assist and the subsequent putdown were classic Melbourne – and a stark reminder of just how far the gap has widened between Melbourne and Sydney City at this mid-point in the season. Even worse, Isaako sent the kickoff out on the full, and Hynes broke through the line off an inside ball from Hughes a tackle later. In an earlier era, the Storm would certainly have scored here, but a knock-on from Reimis Smith let Brisbane off the hook as they headed into the sheds to regroup and regather.
Sixteen unanswered points was a surprisingly narrow margin for the Storm at this stage, but they accelerated the tryscoring when they returned from the break. Isaako had a good run against a staggered line off Hughes’ first kick, and Pangai managed an offload out the back, but Mead was unable to secure it, knocking on out of a low tackle from Smith to send the Steeden sliding across to the sideline. Jennings promptly scooped it up and ran thirty metres untouched to put down the next four points before Brisbane had completed a single set back.
Hynes added the extras, and set up the next try on the restart, dancing around three players on the right edge before breaking into space and shifting the footy across to Johns for his first try in the NRL. He converted for the second time in as many minutes, guiding the team expertly in Papenhuyzen’s absence – a pretty dire spectacle for a Brisbane outfit that had apparently been blasted in the sheds about upping their game during the second stanza.
Pene almost broke through the line on tackle one of the restart, but lost it a moment later to Farnworth, as the Broncos finally got a chance for a complete set, six minutes into this half. Pangai’s offload found its man this time in Farnworth, and then again in Mead, who made up for his loose carry by receiving the footy just as Pangai was dragged over the sideline, and executing a quick play-the-ball for Turpin to send Kobe Hetherington across beside the posts for his own first try in the NRL
Hetherington came up with a face full of blood, having copped Turpin’s boot in the face, and left the park a moment later for an HIA, but this was still a resounding riposte to the Johns try. Not only had the Broncos set up a debut try, but the main casualties had been the two key players in the last Melbourne sequence – Hynes, who tried and failed to secure Hetherington as he stormed past, and Johns, who wrapped his body around him in a last-ditch effort to prevent the four points.
Isaako was always going to convert from right in front, and the Broncos were steeled by finally having points on the board, shutting down Hynes when he tried to repeat his right edge raid a set later, before opting for a sweeping play on the very first tackle of their own next set. Sure, they were trapped on their own line now, but Melbourne failed to pressure a mistake, while Milford came up with a fairly decent kick to restore the balance of field position.
Still, it didn’t take the Storm long to regather, as they came up with their simplest and deftest try of the whole night – a mockery of the Broncos’ defence that cemented this as one of Hynes’ very best games. Running deep into the line, Smith sent out an unusual pass – halfway between a cut-out and harbour bridge ball – that Hynes read beautifully. Leaping up to catch it in both hands, he took advantage of an enormous Brisbane hole, decelerating to a light jog as he took it over beneath the posts to set up his easiest conversion of the game.
To regain any composure the Broncos had to target Hynes specifically, and Farnworth started by gathering a pack to drag him over the sideline in the midst of another attempted right edge run. Flegler busted through a few tackles and glimpsed a linebreak three plays later, laying the platform for a strong Isaako run and good footwork from Kelly, who nevertheless failed to get an offload away. Even so, Milford was able to channel all this momentum with a grubber that became an assist when Johns was unable to clean it up right on the line.
Seizing the moment, Arthars slid in, caught it on the third or fourth bounce, and ground it for a second try, bringing the Broncos to twelve points once Isaako booted it through the posts. Meanwhile, news came back from the sheds that Haas was off the park for the rest of the night with a knee complaint, calling his Origin contention into question. Back on the field, Arthars lost the footy early in the tackle count, but the call went Brisbane’s way, as Olam was put on report for tumbling him onto the ground at a dangerous angle.
This was crunch time for Brisbane – a repeat restart on the back of a stealth try – and they looked good on the second play, spreading the Steeden out to the left before Bullemor took a hard run on the third and Pangai got another offload away on the fourth, this time to Flegler. It was frustrating, then, to see it all come apart on the final play, when Kelly bombed too far and too wide, sending the footy onto the sideline as the Storm didn’t even bother to contest it.
Even worse, Bullemor was pinged for a crusher on Hynes at the start of the next Melbourne set, providing the purple army with a burst of field position that concluded with their final try. Smith had been superb in assisting Hynes, and crossed over himself now, collecting the footy from Bromwich out of dummy half, and dodging around Palasia to slam over the chalk with three Broncos piling on top of him for his second career double. Hynes converted again, bringing us to the final scoreline of 12-40 with sixteen minutes on the clock.
It was a small victory for Brisbane that Melbourne didn’t score again – especially since they had a fair few chances, with a linebreak from Hughes, a failed Brisbane challenge and then a dropout in the last five minutes. Call the game a testament to the Storm’s supremacy and to the Broncos’ courage in the wake of their win over the Roosters, setting both teams up for a tantalising sequel when they play the first and third matches of the bye round next week.
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