ROUND 2: Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs v. Brisbane Broncos (Accor Stadium, 20/3/22)

The first two rounds of NRL in 2022 have felt a bit like opposite world. On Friday night, the Roosters and Sea Eagles, both serious grand final contenders last year, met as 15th and 16th, while tonight the wooden spooners of 2021 met the wooden spooners of 2021 for one of the most scintillating games of the season so far, reaching an Origin-like intensity as Adam Reynolds made his first appearance in Brisbane colours after missing last week’s game against the Rabbitohs with Covid, forcing Matt Burton to reach a new peak to contain and equal him.

In that sense, the game was a win for both sides – a literal win for a Brisbane outfit who have consistently struggled to get two victories in a row, let alone at the start of the season, but also a rousing spectacle for a Canterbury stable who haven’t glimpsed this sublime energy in a long time. It’s remarkable how quickly Burton has adapted to his new club, adopting the same signature left boot pivot that made him so damaging at Penrith, and while Josh Ado-Carr wasn’t quite as consistent, his speed and strength are clearly giving the Dogs a new life.

All those factors made it a remarkably fast-paced game, punctuated by rapid shifts in fortune and possession that meant neither team was ever ahead by more than six points. In fact, most of the match was either tied or a four-point difference, with 4-4 the tally at halftime, and 10-10 the tally until a fatal Jake Averillo error paved the way for Herbie Farnworth to put down a double in the back quarter. Add to that the emotional intensity of the Pangai-Haas rivalry, and this was volatile footy at its best, a melodramatic epilogue to the dramas of Round 2.

Reynolds took the kickoff and Paul Vaughan the first carry, before Pangai got an early offload away for Josh Jackson to break the ten. The Canterbury captain took another run on tackle three, ferrying the footy beyond the thirty, and Selwyn Cobbo brought Matt Burton’s kick back at speed to dodge a pummelling Pangai hit but still made serious contact with Corey Waddell. Matt Dufty was safe beneath Reynolds’ first kick and the Dogs got the first penalty when Kurt Capewell followed his match-winning field goal with a swinging arm on the Foxx.

Meanwhile, Pangai was put on report for a late tackle on Reyno during the kick, while Jack Hetherington prevented the hosts from settling into their first bout of goal line attack with the first cough-up of the evening. Haas crunched into Pangai and Waddell midway through the set, Reynolds copped more contact in mid-air, this time from Jeremy Marshall-King, but didn’t get a penalty out of it. In fact, the Dogs got the next burst of position, with Jordan Riki offside in the ten, and accelerated through a deft late offload from Pangai out to JMK.

Burton got them inside the ten with three tackles to play with, thanks to a big left foot step, and they headed right, where the set started to fragment with a bouncing Jake Averillo pass, only for the ex-Panther to clean things up back on the left with a perfectly weighted grubber that Niu had to smother right on the dead ball line. Yet for the second time this afternoon, Hetherington coughed up the footy just as the Dogs looked set to consolidate, thanks to Reynolds’ first really inspired kick – a long low effort with a nightmare bounce on the sideline.

The game accelerated quickly now, as Reyno set up Staggs to surge all the way to the ten, and Ado-Carr responded just as rapidly by summoning a pack to drag him over the sideline as he rose to play the ball. In that context, Brisbane did well to keep the Bulldogs in their own end, but any question of deflation was put to bed when Burton booted through the most towering bomb of the night – not the best strike in terms of the angle, but high and dangerous enough to completely defy Niu, who lost it on the ground to grant Canterbury a scrum at the twenty.

This was their third shot at the line, and luckily they didn’t have to rely on Hetherington, or even rely on a complete set, since their subsequent right sweep was as elegant as the earlier effort through Averillo had been clunky. JMK and Jackson set it up, Dufty ran deep into the line, and Braidon Burns pulled back an offload that was every bit as significant as those that Vaughan and Pangai had actually got away. Reaching back his right hand, he shaped for a flick pass out to Jayden Okunbor on the wing, and in that second defied Oates and Farnworth.

He still had a big charge on his hands to get through the two Brisbane backliners, but they’d given just enough credence to an Okunbor try for him to reach the chalk, putting the Broncos at four after Burton missed the conversion into a swirling breeze. That said, the Dogs didn’t make much headway on the restart, forcing Burton to kick it right on his thirty, and while he aimed to replicate that floating bomb (and came fairly close too), Cobbo wasn’t going to go the way of Niu, and slid to ground to catch the Steeden in the clutchiest take so far.

It was the perfect moment for Reynolds to consolidate at the other end of the set, but instead Farnworth took the grubber in the left corner, and struck it too hard, granting Canterbury a seven tackle set to make up for their sluggish restart. In another of the rapid turnovers that had already punctuated the game, Dufty broke past Hipgrave a few tackles later, only to lose the footy a second after, before a slow peel from Josh Jackson allowed the Broncos to reabsorb all the momentum the Dogs had built on the back of Farnworth’s overlong grubber.

Since these rapid bursts of energy tended to be short-lived, Brisbane needed to score on this set, and they delivered a left edge play that was just as elegant as the Bulldogs’ right sweep. Again, it revolved around Okunbor not getting the footy, as Albert Kelly chipped it straight over his head to Oates, who caught it in the corner, and slammed it down for his 100th try (after only seven tries in his last 29 games) with Burns wrapped around his legs. The Broncos had been caught napping on their left edge before, but the left edge had fought back here.

Reynolds got a flashback to the grand final by missing the conversion from the left corner, levelling the score at four all. Like the Bulldogs before them, the Broncos struggled to make decent metres on the restart, as Reyno opted for a spiral bomb, and Dufty leaned forward awkwardly to eventually collect it. A set later, Averillo came up with the Bulldogs’ second brilliant bomb, and this time Burton was on the receiving end, wrapping himself around Cobbo as he caught it, and holding him tight until Brent Naden came in to force the error.

The Dogs now had a fully set inside the red zone, but it only took Burton one play to come up with one of his trademark left foot pivots over the line. Yet Staggs chose this moment to get his revenge for being bundled over the sideline, putting in a superhuman effort to get his body beneath the ball despite landing at the same time as Burton, who tried in vain to spin the Steeden down. Canterbury responded with a rapid pivot out to the right, where Dufty almost broke through the line, before Burton tapped the footy on to Burns midfield.

That made it two visionary plays from the ex-Panther this set, so when he fed it out to the Foxx on the last, and Ado-Carr sent it back into Waddell, it felt like the Dogs had to score now, or else concede the rhythm back to the Broncos, who summoned a massive pack, and their best defensive moment so far, to prevent Waddell from reaching the Steeden over the line. They’d held up two players on the ground now, Burton and Waddell, and this injected their game with a new confidence, despite a massive run from Waddell up the left on the next set.

One more good Bulldogs run here and Brisbane might have wilted, but instead Ado-Carr let a Burton ball careen into touch, and Burton himself took out his frustration with a penalty for holding down a play later. Two tackles after, the Broncos started to consolidate on their right edge, elasticising and loosening up the sideline, heading back inside, and then shifting back out to the same edge, where a Reyno kick looked set to travel deep into the corner only for Burton to add to an already scintillating highlight reel by getting low and taking it on the full.

In other words, it was quickly becoming the Burton-Reyno show, not because there was any animosity between the two players, but because Burton was clearly trying to both neutralise and match Reynolds’ visionary leadership. He continued with another superb bomb, this time to the right, where the bounce was so damaging, and swirled away from Niu at such a crazy angle, that he was unable to secure it cleanly before Carrigan came in to clean it up. A few plays later, Hetherington lost the ball, and the Dogs got a scrum as Pangai waited to return.

Burton’s next kick was just as good – a chip to the right edge, straight to Burns’ chest, but this time the Broncos had a good chase in position, while the Dogs were slightly depleted by a poorly structured sweep to the left sideline where Waddell had almost been dragged into touch. Reyno now started to really compete with Burton, striking the next one so high that the Foxx had to slide to the ground to take it clean. Pangai came back on three tackles later, right as Luke Thompson put it down, and surged into skittle Carrigan on the very next play.

Pangai made his mark in attack just as quickly, popping out another offload on tackle one of the next set, before the Foxx tempted an escort, and Burton took the safe option by lining up the tee, only to make it 0/2 with the goals. That just ratcheted up the Burton-Reyno rivalry, and the emotional intensity of the game, as Adam wrapped himself around Matt late in the next set, but not without him getting a late offload to JMK, who improvised a compressed left sweep through the Foxx to Naden, who’d have scored if not for a last-ditch hit from Staggs.

Kotoni gave him a rub on the head for good measure, the Broncos packed the scrum, Oates made ten metres after contact, and Hetherington lost the footy forward, as the Dogs got another rapid shift in possession, and Burton’s boot delivered again. This time he chipped it beautifully, ricocheting it off the boot and leaving Niu no chance but to take it into touch, as Reynolds sent through his second dropout. Dufty delivered a beautiful harbour bridge ball to Okunbor, who met a Brisbane pack every bit as determined as the one that stopped Waddell.

Farnworth made the first contact, holding up Okunbor at speed as four or five other Broncos came in to drag him away from the try line and over the sideline. It was an inspiring vision of Brisbane determination, but Jayden was deft enough to pop the footy back inside, where Ryan James copped Riki’s elbow right in the eye and rose from the ground with blood streaming down his face. In the end, the Dogs lost it, giving Brisbane one more chance before half time, only for Burton to save the day again by taking Niu’s grubber on the full.

It was exactly the same play he’d used to defuse Reynolds, and was enough to keep the game at 4-4 as both teams headed to the sheds. Brisbane had a strong first set back, while the Bulldogs struggled to build momentum. A good catch from Ado-Carr under a soaring Reynolds bomb was an important consolidation step, as was a Max King offload to set up Averillo for the kick, but the grubber itself was underwhelming, and easy for Oates to clean up on the bounce. Meanwhile, Reyno continued to target the right, and this time Dufty collected it.

King couldn’t get the offload away midway through the next set, but overall the Dogs had started to escalate again now, since they were already halfway up the park, and got a restart to boot, when they got six again. Burns made a mad dash into the left corner off some mercurial JMK footwork, and Ado-Carr was just as good on the other edge, where he collected a short ball from Naden and ricocheted the footy off Cobbo’s boot to get his men another set. Just like that, Canterbury had reversed the rhythm of this third quarter in a couple of plays.

Given how quickly momentum had shifted, though, they had to execute something special for this full set inside the ten. Burton delivered another left foot pivot, played the footy fast, and JMK moved faster, burrowing low through a Brisbane pack before it could quite steady itself, and reaching out the Steeden to put the Bulldogs back in front once again. It was a superb sequel to the footwork that had set up Burns on the other side of the park, bringing Canterbury to a six-point lead once Burton capped it off with the game’s first conversion.

The game reached a new level of volatility on the restart, as Pangai bumped off a couple of defenders on play two, desperate to break through the line, and Burton ended with a kick so big the bounce felt like a bomb, almost forcing the Broncos’ back three to go the way of the Roosters in Round 1, when Dane Gagai stole the ball from Teddy on the bounce and put down one of the best tries of his career. Lucky for the away crowd, Niu came good, wrapping around the Steeden as the Foxx stormed in, but it was a close thing, and the Broncs had to hit back.

That’s just what they did a set later, stripping the Steeden from Burns as Haas pulled away from the tackle, beat Okunbor, tucked the footy under his right arm and accelerated past Hetherington to the line. It was the perfect riposte to Burton’s soaring bomb, especially once Reynolds booted through the second conversion of the game – and the first really impressive conversion, since had basically had to strike it from the sideline. Once again, the match was locked up at 10-10, as Haas followed Pangai by almost breaking through early in the restart.

He took another carry on tackle three, as if trying to inject his massive energy reserve into the team as a whole, while Reynold booted it like clockwork to the right corner, but made a rare error with the weighting, allowing Ado-Carr to take it on the full in goal for seven tackles. Waddell made terrific metres after contact, Dufty hit the thirty, and Burton bombed to the right, where Oates and Okunbor collided in the air. Kelly came up with it and glimpsed a long-range try, but the Bulldogs finally rallied to keep Brisbane to a standard start to the next set.

Haas was still raring up the middle, Hetheringon was staunch with the metres as well, and Staggs had his first involvement in an age when the Bulldogs didn’t secure the kick, only to follow Reyno with an overlong strike to grant the hosts another seven tackles. Waddell added to his massive tallies of 160 metres for 18 carries at the start of the next set, and Burton opted for a long, low kick on the last – too deep for Ado-Carr to contain, but enough to trap Brisbane in their ten, at least until Thommo was pinged for a flop, in one of the biggest letoffs so far.

The Broncos looked elastic on the left edge, where Farnworth made good metres and shifted it back inside for Oates to make more, before a short ball from Reynolds brought Riki half a metre shy of the line all the way out on the right. As it turned out, however, this was just the precursor to Reynold’s most prodigious play of the night, an NFL-like move in which he flicked the footy back through his own legs to Staggs, who finally got into full gear by taking it on the full and slamming over the line, only to lose control at the very last minute to keep it at ten.

Put that down to an enormous defensive effort from Waddell, who never gave up on the play, but you still couldn’t deny the vision and power of Reynolds’ almost-assist. It was a play that seemed to split the difference between passing and kicking, a super-halfback effort, since Reyno tapped the footy as deftly and dextrously as if he were guiding it with his boot. If the Dogs could score now, they stood a good chance of dominating the final quarter, which had just arrived, but the Broncos survived, thanks to a surprisingly gentle kick from Okunbor.

Again, Farnworth drove it up the left edge, although this time he only got halfway along the park before he was stopped in his tracks by Averillo and Okunbor. It all came down to an end-over-end kick from Reyno that Riki caught on the full, only to be sandwiched by Ado-Carr and Burton, before Carrigan surged in to prevent Jackson making a single metre on tackle one. Everything was converging, and adrenalin was flowing across the field, as Bailey Biondi-Odo marked his first appearance with a near break and Kelly batted down an Averillo chip.

Kelly was deemed to have knocked on the process, so the Dogs sent it upstairs, and got the goods, the replay clearly showing that he’d sent the Steeden backwards. They didn’t do much with the field position, making Pangai even more restless to return to the park for his third stint of the night. Stalking the sideline, he watched as Averillo put down a Biondi-Odo passwhile trying to set up a trick shot, granting the Broncos a full set down the Canterbury end of the park, where Farnworth came up with an even faster try than his earlier putdown.

It came straight off the scrum base, as Kelly sent it out to Herbie, who tucked it under his arm, and simply accelerated so fast that Okumbor decelerated at the last minute, realising he was never going to rein him in. Reyno added the extras, the Broncos were 10-16, and Averillo had made one of the most damaging mistakes of the game – perhaps the most damaging mistake, depending on how the next fourteen minutes played out. By this stage, Farnworth was well and truly outshining Staggs with 14 carries, 202 run metres, 4 tackles busts and two tries.

This was a minor milestone moment for Reyno as well, who hit 1900 points when he added the two. Billy Walters broke through the line on the restart, but a second effort from Teui Robati made for yet another shift in the dance of the game, as the Dogs found themselves with a full set in the ten, which Vaughan started by taking a flat ball and almost smashing over beside the posts. Pangai surged over in his place, but was as unable to capitalise on this mad dash at the line as Staggs had been unable to build on Reynolds and Riki’s vision earlier on.

Niu now came up with arguably the best take of the game, sliding across the try line to take a Dufty grubber on the chest and curving himself around the footy with enough strength to preclude any question of a dropout. The Dogs tried to smash Staggs into touch a play later, and came dangerously close to a penalty, eventually executing one of their best defensive sets to force Walters to boot it deep within the thirty. It was a strong kick, and almost defied Dufty on the ground, before Canterbury got stuck in into a heavily fatigued Brisbane middle.

Two offloads later, Burton arrived at the red zone, where the second phase play only intensified, drawing Reynolds into a last-ditch trysaver before it all came apart with a forward pass from Burton, under pressure from Staggs. Everything had been escalating on this set, so a stellar play from Burto was the logical apotheosis of it all. Instead, the most under-performing Bronco on the park had prevented Ado-Carr from getting the footy on the wing, a dramatic enough shift in fortune to galvanise Brisbane into one last nail in the coffin.

Oates leaned into Farnworth’s momentum up the left with a strong run, Haas came up with a deft offload, Riki goose-stepped along the right sideline, and yet the Foxx had the last laugh of this whole sequence by slamming him into touch like he was the biggest prop on the park. A minute later, the Broncos sent up Captain’s Challenge to see whether Carrigan had in fact contacted Averillo early, and the replay clearly showed that the on-field call had been correct, even as it begged the question of whether a penalty was too harsh for this tackle.

On the face of it, you could say it was a pretty standard hit, but in either case the Dogs now had a full set in the Brisbane ten, in what might well be their last sustained short-range stint of the game. Averillo ended with a chip to the right corner, where in a heart-in-mouth moment, Oates leaped to collect it, lost it into an Okunbor jump, toed it towards the goal line, and relied on Capewell to save the day by smashing it into touch. With three and a half minutes, the Dogs had a dropout, as Reyno came up with a second superb trysaving play.

It happened on the left edge, where Naden would have found the Foxx if the little general hadn’t stormed in to shut it down – a play that decelerated the set, forcing Pangai and the Foxx to build up speed again on tackle four, before Hetherington tried in vain to break through the line. Biondi-Odo grubbered on the last, Niu came up with it, in a second stellar take right on the line, and Brisbane now just had to play error-free footy, and defend their line, to come away with their second win of the season on the back of last week’s match against Souths.

Reynolds shaped for a 40/20 on the last, and came agonisingly close, as the last minute arrived, and the Dogs threw everything at the park in a desperate attempt to reach golden point. In a moment that encapsulated the exhilarating energy of the game, Ado-Carr broke into space up the left, realised he wasn’t going to make it, and booted it at speed back inside, only for Kelly to come all the way back from the other side of the park to clean it up and garner Brisbane two straight wins – a brilliant motivator for next week’s game against Manly.  

About Billy Stevenson (722 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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