ROUND 15: Brisbane Broncos v. South Sydney Rabbitohs (Suncorp Stadium, 17/6/21, 0-46)

Wayne Bennett’s Bunnies celebrated his 200th game at Suncorp in style on Thursday night by coming away with 46 unanswered points and breaking several records in the process. This was the first time Brisbane had ever been kept to zero by Souths in NRL history, and the most points the Rabbitohs had ever scored against the Broncos (their former record was 44) while South Sydney had also kept two teams scoreless, in a single season, for the first time since 1939.

Yet this was more a methodical than torrential accumulation of points for the Bunnies, who scored pretty sparsely in the first half, given their field position, and would have been disappointed not to crack fifty, given they spent most of the game with about 62% of possession. Conversely, it was a shocker for Brisbane on the injury front, as Cobbo and Arthars both failed HIAs in the first quarter, before Asiata was stretchered from the field in the last. Souths had their share of head clashes too, including Reynolds, but they fared much better.

Tevita Tatola took the first run, and Adam Reynolds took the first kick, in his first game against Brisbane since signing for them from 2022 onwards. Matt Lodge got the Broncos rolling by barging into Damien Cook up the middle, before Alex Johnston collected the ball. Brisbane got early field position on the next set, when Reynolds mistimed a midfield pass to Keon Koloamatangi, and the first dropout when a Tyson Gamble grubber trapped Johnston in goal.

Lodge reprised his first tackle-run from the previous set, and Payne Haas followed suit, only for Jake Turpin to cough it up a play later, while trying to contend with Koloamatangi lying behind him on the ground. The Broncos had won 21/22 games against the Bunnies at Suncorp when they scored the first try, but the visitors had the scrum now, and moved through a strong set that ended with Cody Walker’s first kick, almost scoring next time they had the ball.

They were already on the halfway line on play two, before Reynolds and Walker started a left sweep that would have put Johnston over in the corner if not for a terrific trysaver from Tesi Niu. Reynolds shaped to kick on the last play, but opted to continue this same drive to the wing on the opposite side of the park, shifting it out through Campbell Graham to Taane Milne, who was certain he’d scored. Yet the replay showed that Selwyn Cobbo had been just as effective as Niu, pummelling Milne off balance and forcing his right boot onto the sideline.  

The Bunnies got the first restart on their next set, off a ruck error from TC Robati, and while Turpin made a David-on-Goliath tackle on Mark Nicholls, they still moved fluidly up the park, receiving a second restart on the fourth play off another ruck infringement from Haas. Reynolds repeated the right-side sweep that almost sent Milne across, and this time Graham tried to go it alone, withstanding a Brisbane pack effort desperate to drag him into touch with a late offload back to Reyno, before Haas was put on report for a high shot on Cam Murray.

This was the biggest bout of field position so far, and the Bunnies responded with a magical try on the left edge, where Reynolds dummied before popping it out to Walker, and Walker responded with an even more subliminal deception play. Not only did he shape as if to pass it out to Johnston, but, upon seeing that the Broncos had his winger covered, he completely changed the direction of play, flicking the footy back for Latrell Mitchell to hit it at speed – and at such an unexpected angle that Niu had no chance of stopping him as he tumbled over.

Reynolds might have missed the conversion, but this was still a dominant start from South Sydney – a flex in the face of a Brisbane outfit that hadn’t done anything really special with the footy so far. Dane Gagai jumped out of a Jesse Arthars tackle on play four of the restart, and Niu only just avoided a dropout on the last, but not without the Bunnies commanding the biggest pack effort so far to force him to succumb to his first tackle right on the Brisbane line.

Lodge tried to steady the ship with another big run early in the tackle count, and this time Reynolds and Nicholls were casualties, with Nicholls copping a nasty gash that poured down over his bald head, and Reyno leaving the park for an early HIA a minute later, as Jacob Host came off the bench. That didn’t stop the Bunnies bending the line on the next South Sydney set, or challenging both edges of the park, although Reyno’s head issues might have got the better of him here, as he booted the ball too far on the last before heading off for his test.

The Broncos risked spreading it wide two tackles into their next set, but any momentum was quashed when play was paused for a second head clash, this time some friendly fire between Gagai and Jai Arrow, in the midst of a tackle that also caused head injuries for Arthars when he copped Arrow’s knee in the face. Only Arthars left the park, replaced by Thomas Flegler, for an HIA that he ended up failing, while the two Rabbitohs were cleared to stay on the field. The contact was clearly accidental, so the refs made the sensible decision with no penalty.

If anything, the tackle seemed to galvanise Gagai, who continued to elasticise on the left edge next time he had ball in hand, before Murray and Tatola injected some more adrenalin into the Bunnies’ defence with a punishing tackle on Niu on play one. Still, the Broncos got their first restart when Nicholls was inside the ten, while Lodge responded with his most enterprising pass so far – a harbour bridge ball out to Cobbo midway through the tackle count.

Conversely, the Bunnies had to really scramble for the first time when Latrell copped an awkward bounce on the line. The footy ricocheted over his right shoulder, and as he leaped up for a second shot at it, Niu came in to contest it in the air. Neither of them secured it, and Niu reached his right hand onto the tip of the Steeden for an elegant putdown once it hit the ground, but the try was denied due to a Niu knock-on, despite the fact that his hand seemed to have played Latrell’s hand, which was on the footy, rather than actually losing it into him.

The next South Sydney set was pretty lacklustre, as Koloamatangi took an age to return to his feet on the third tackle, although this worked well to defuse the speed that Brisbane had built up over their last bout of field position. Even so, Xavier Coates spread it left on the first tackle, and Farnsworth accelerated up the left edge, effecting a strong pass to Cobbo. Again, this was adventurous play from the Broncos, so the Bunnies needed to shut it down clinically – and that’s just what they did, as Milne led a pack to drag Cobbo into touch from eight metres in.

South Sydney had now shut down two enterprising sets from the Broncos, and absorbed their brief glimpse of momentum, so they felt set for a try here. It took four Brisbane players to contain Latrell on the line, but his play-the-ball suffered as a result, albeit not enough for the Bunnies to accept the penalty when Cook was pinged for knocking on as he tried to collect it. They sent it upstairs for a Captain’s Challenge, but the call went against them, since the replay showed Cookie knocking on a moment later, into Haas, the biggest let-off for Brisbane so far.

The game now hung in the balance – the Bunnies were only four ahead, with a quarter of the night gone, the Broncos had precariously recovered some momentum, and Reynolds was preparing to return on the sideline. You sensed that the next big play would determine the next twenty minutes, and the Rabbitohs provided it by driving Tevita Pangai ten metres back in goal on the first play, just after news came down that he’d be leaving Brisbane next year.

To his credit, Pangai managed to offload to Lodge in goal, but Lodge flicked it forward. The Bunnies got stuck in for another set, and Graham had it at the line by tackle two. All it took was a left sweep, two plays later, for Gagai to cross over, starting a steady stream of tries that lasted the rest of the game, after a surprisingly slow opening quarter. Walker provided the assist, bending the defensive line just long enough to open up space for Gagai between Coates and Glenn, before Latrell added a deft sideline conversion to make it ten unanswered points.  

Meanwhile, Cobbo was off the park, replaced by Corey Paix, further depleting the Brisbane backline now Arthars had failed his HIA, while Murray got the Bunnies rolling with a neat offload to Tom Burgess early in the restart, with Reynolds back on the field and barking out orders to his men. The Broncos desperately needed to contain this energy, but instead Pangai tackled high on the last, and Reynolds reasserted his leadership with a penalty kick, even if this was a mini let-off for Brisbane, who likely wouldn’t have survived another defensive set.

Waiting for the penalty kick gave them some breathing-space, and Niu did well to contain Reynolds’ bomb, leaping high above the South Sydney chase to get both hands to the footy. Brisbane moved quickly through their next set, keen to accumulate as much field position as possible, concluding with possibly Turpin’s best kick of the night – a low, driving grubber that Mitchell had to collect right in the corner. By contrast, the Bunnies were methodical on their next set, but defied by an equally fast Brisbane defence that forced an early Johnston error.

Koloamatangi skittled Hunt on the first tackle out of the scrum, Turpin recovered the footy after Lodge lost it sideways, and Niu ploughed straight into Arrow on the right, as the Broncos glimpsed a try for the first time since Latrell and Niu’s contest on the line. Yet the Rabbitohs stayed strong under Gamble’s kick – a chip to the left that Graham leaped up to tap back to Reynolds. Milne responded with an offload on the first carry, only for Cook to knock on for the second time, giving Brisbane their most consistent period of field position since kickoff.

The game now shifted up a gear, five minutes out from the break, with the two biggest plays of the night so far. First, just when the Broncos seemed on the verge of their first try, Gagai intercepted a Niu pass and ran ninety metres, noting Johnston storming up in support but confident enough to go it alone. Second, just as Gagai seemed destined to score, a centimetre out for the chalk, Coates reached him, bumped him over the sideline, and got himself in the way of the try line just for good measure – easily one of the very best trysavers of the season.

All of a sudden, with only a twelve-point difference, it felt like we might be in for one of the spirited Brisbane performances – the grit of a team with nothing left to lose – that got them the win over the Roosters in Round 12. The Bunnies had easily been dominant, but the Broncos had been more daring, in their own way, so it was paramount that South Sydney score again to translate their dominant possession onto the board before the siren sounded.

It was an almost an anticlimax then, at least in terms of the excitement factor, when Reynolds effected a fairly standard right sweep two minutes out from the sheds. His timing was perfect, setting up Latrell for a catch-and-pass that put Graham over the line for another four points. Reyno added the extras, the Bunnies were eighteen ahead, and any question of a flamboyant two-point field goal was put to bed when a Brisbane pack dragged Johnston into touch on the restart. Even so, the Broncos had three converted tries to contend with when they came back.

Lodge took another big hit-up to start the second half, and Haas followed with a strong carry on the third. Both teams went set for set and the Bunnies got the the first short-range attack about four minutes in, settling into Brisbane’s twenty, where Latrell trapped Haas with a grubber beside the posts. Niu went long with the dropout, Murray got a second deft offload away to Burgess, and then assisted Hame Sele for his first try in the NRL on the third tackle.

This was an indictment on the Brisbane middle forwards, as Sele put in a big left-foot step to force Haas to go low, before slamming into Lodge three metres out, pivoting through the tackle, and stretching out his hands, to ground the footy right on the chalk, right beneath the crossbar, while Flegler came in as last line of defence. Reynolds was always going to convert from this angle, so the Bunnies had 24 points, and looked set to score on the restart, accelerating up the park until Coates saved the day a second time with an intercept on Host.

The Rabbits returned to the left edge again on their next set, as if keen to cancel out Coates’ play, but instead Coates was in place to take on Host again, this time by tempting the big no. 17 into a mid-air tackle as they contested a fairly standard Reynolds bomb. Brisbane seemed energised by this play, but they didn’t do anything productive with it, as Gamble popped a harbour bridge ball out to Hunt, who sent it back inside for a messy sequence that ended with a knock-on from Niu. Still, Gagai followed Cook by fumbling the play-the-ball a tackle later.

By this point, South Sydney had 62% of possession, but only four converted tries on the board, so there was still time for the Broncos to (at least) mount a decent comeback, and narrow the scoreline, if they could just capitalise on these shifts back in their favour – especially since these were becoming pretty frequent, with the Rabbits now sitting on nine errors. Lodge almost sent Kobe Hetherington across on their next set, forcing South Sydney to really scramble, and yet once again the Bunnies lost the ball, the mistake now coming from Walker.

Brisbane got further field position off a ruck error from Arrow, but Latrell steadied the ship with a massive strip on Paix, as the Broncos responded with a pack effort to drag Milne three metres back, three tackles later. Finally, after capitulating twice to Coates, Host got some joy on the left wing, receiving the footy from Walker, who did well to hold up the line, and then assisting Johnston on the left wing with a wide ball that was always going to send him across untouched. Niu was close, but didn’t even grasp him, so Souths were thirty after Reyno’s kick.

The Bunnies had now surpassed Parramatta on the live ladder, joining Melbourne and Penrith at 24 points, even if they were light years behind both teams at differentials of 294, 285 and 89 respectively. Walker followed his linebreak assist with a dropout on the restart, chipping at speed, and depending on Latrell to spearhead a terrific chase, to trap Niu behind the line. Four plays later, Johnston got a double, crossing over untouched again off a terrific run from Reynolds, who ran deep into the line, clearing space for a catch-and-pass assist from Walker.

This was by no means a sure thing for Johnston, who had to reach out his right hand to collect Walker’s ball, which sailed half a metre behind his head. For the briefest of moments it looked like he might bobble it, and yet managed to regather and cross over without Niu getting a hand to him, bringing the Bunnies to 34 when Reynolds missed his second conversion. South Sydney felt primed for a third try on the restart, but play paused for another head clash –  the nastiest so far – between Nicholls and John Asiata, who was now stretchered from the park.

Nicolls also left for an HIA – his second of the evening – but following the pattern of this particular game he passed, while Asiata became the third Bronco to remain concussed on the sideline. Even worse for Brisbane, Haas was put on report for the later part of the play, a crusher tackle on Nicholls, as both sides got some significant breathing-space before the final quarter continued. Despite that lull, however, the Rabbitohs continued right where they left off, moving through a methodical set as Reynolds experimented with both sides of the park.

Only on the last play did the Bunnies really get flamboyant, with a pair of extremely wide balls, from Cook and then Reynolds, that set up Graham for a mad dash up the right edge, where he shrugged off three lines of defence. First he got on the outside of Hunt, and pivoted back inside as the ex-Waratah tumbled behind him, then he palmed off Turpin, before finally colliding into Farnsworth, and using the young centre as leverage to stretch his six feet five over the line. Between the width of the passes and Graham’s height, this was great spectacle.

Reynolds’ kick was spectacular in a different way, since it was so uncharacteristic – a weird boot that initially seemed set to sail in front of the posts, only to curve around at the last minute and ricochet off the left upright to put South Sydney at forty, four points behind their biggest ever tally against Brisbane. They never got to the end of their restart either, as Coates came up with yet another enterprising play on the wing, leaping up to intercept a high ball from Johnston, tapping it back to Robati for a Brisbane set that ended in much the same way.

At first, the Broncos looked good here, making rapid headway down the left edge, only for Milne to trap Farnworth right on the sideline, forcing him into a desperate offload back in field that was designed to find Hunt, but ended up being intercepted by South Sydney. Milne scored the final try a set later, while Koloamatangi helped the Bunnies to accelerate again now, poking his nose through the line and offloading for Taaffe. Gagai did the same on the other side, fumbling and regathering the footy for Walker to boot it at speed for Johnston.

While Niu did well to get the ball back here, the Bunnies were able to continue this acceleration into their next scrum, which came when Hetherington put down an early Lodge offload. Walker and Gagai resumed their left edge combination immediately, and the Bunnies quickly worked it back across the field, parlaying this speed into the other wing, where Reynolds fed it through Taaffe for Milne’s first try of the season. The Bunnies were now equal their best ever score against Brisbane – and exceeded it when Reynolds added the conversion.

South Sydney had a shot at being the third team to score a half century against Brisbane this season, since they’d maintained 63% of posession. Yet they fragmented over the last ten minutes, starting with a Farnworth intercept on Koloamatangi late in the restart. Two errors from Walker and a ruck infringement from Host stopped the Bunnies scoring any more here, but this was still a dominant enough win to motivate them for a big one against the Tigers in two weeks – and a big enough loss for Brisbane to need to regather before taking on Cronulla.  

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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