ROUND 7: Brisbane Broncos v. Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (Suncorp Stadium, 22/4/22, 34-14)

Tonight’s game at Suncorp was a sublime testament to what Adam Reynolds can bring to Brisbane, both in terms of skill and leadership. For the first stanza, the Broncos struggled to contend with a Canterbury side who were 10-0 by the half hour mark, but by the end of the game they’d only allowed the Dogs to score four more points, while they’d put down 34 of their own to come away with a whopping twenty-point win, breaking their four-game drought in what may come to be seen as the tipping-point in the first half of their season.

The critical moment came fifty-five minutes in, when the Broncos got a trio of chances – a JMK offside, a terrific save from Farnworth, and a ricochet off Schoupp – and made good on them with a trio of back-to-back-to-back tries, before scoring two more over the last quarter, including a double from Selwyn Cobbo, who added the assist for Rhys Kennedy’s match-closer for good measure. Just to add to the fairytale finish, Tesi Niu’s injury had cleared space for Te Maire Martin to play his first NRL football since 2019, his brain bleeding a distant memory.

Throughout that journey, Reyno was immense, clocking up four try assists for the first time since 2017 while nabbing his first Brisbane try at Suncorp, and outstripping Mick Cronin for most every points scored against the Doggies. His vision was all the more critical in that Tyson Gamble was slotting into the five-eighth role with Billy Walters on the bench. The Broncs only played Canterbury last time in Round 2, but a lot had changed in four weeks, and the spectre of that six-point win was unable to steer the blue and white to a comeback victory here.

Put that down, in part, to a Covid scare at Belmore that saw Jake Averillo, Ava Seumanufagi, Reece Hoffman and Brent Naden all returning positive PCR tests earlier in the week, when the Bulldogs briefly considered drawing on the Warriors for backup if the virus made its way further around the sheds. Yet that also gave Jacob Kiraz and Billy Tskikikras their NRL debuts, with both young guns making an impact, but Kiraz, in particular, putting in a valiant effort across two stints as he dug into the Dogs’ hunger for their second win of the season.

Payne Haas wasted no time cementing his return by taking the opening carry, reaching gingerly to his left shoulder as he rose tentatively from the turf, but apparently fine as the set got going. Likewise, Tyson Gamble did well in his first run in this current five-eighth stint, winning a Josh Jackson offside to get the Broncos a set within the thirty, where Haas took the opening run once again. He almost reached the red zone, and even then required three Bulldogs to shut him down, before Gamble shone again with a strong run down the short side.

Reynolds did the job on the right wing, booting through a clinical grubber to make it three straight sets in a row for Brisbane when Aaron Schoupp bumped it into touch. Matt Burton soared the dropout sixty-one metres on the full, and Jeremy Marshall-King delivered a tough front-on tackle to halt Kobe Hetherington on tackle one, but a rapid play-the-ball got metres for Billy Walters, while the Broncs received a restart on tackle five, off a Burton offside, giving them a fourth set and their first right on the Canterbury line.

Burton, Schoupp and Corey Waddell combined to drag Kotoni Staggs back ten metres four tackles in, and that statement of purpose was enough for the Dogs to get their first touch of the footy five minutes after kickoff. Luke Thompson and Paul Vaughan drove it straight and hard up the middle, and Kyle Flanagan got to the Brisbane forty by the time he took the kick, which Martin collected on the full for the first time in three years. Three plays later, Haas had another run, but he was starting to look seriously uncomfortable now.

On the other side of the Steeden, the Dogs got their first penalty, off a hand in the ruck from Walters, as Haas made his way to the bench, not even ten minutes into the match. They were inside the ten on the first play, exploring the middle for a few tackles before Burton drifted left, where he shaped to kick only to lob a cut-out to Josh Ado-Carr, who took a beat to return to his feet but without getting any joy from the ref. Burton ended by booting it end-over-end back to the right edge, where Herbie Farnworth kocked it dead to give the Dogs a dropout.

Reyno only got it to the halfway line, and then conceded the ruck midway through the set, while three plays after that Pangai tried to barge over from close-range, eventually popping out an offload that Kiraz scooped up and shot across for Vaughan, who would have slammed it down if not for a David-on-Goliath tackle from Martin. Burton notched up his second dropout off a kick, again with a dummy, but a more subliminal one this time, subtle enough to split the difference before Reyno and Riki, and so leaving Selwyn Cobbo to take it to touch.

This was a harder effort than the last two saves behind the try line, and the best Cobbo could do was roll it along the ground, and rely on Ado-Carr not quite getting there in time as he tripped over the Brisbane defence along the way. Jeremy Marshall-King had glimpsed the chalk a few sets before, and actually crossed over now, albeit without being able to get the Steeden to ground, while this Bulldogs bash ended with a whimper when Waddell appeared to mistake the final tackle, allowing Riki and Keenan Palasia to sandwich him to ground.

Both outfits had ended sustained bursts of field position with disappointing last-tackle plays, so it felt like the game had restarted when Reyno booted through his next bomb. That said, Reyno wasn’t peaking just yet, since he followed his restart with an illegal strip two tackles into the subsequent set, giving Burton space to boot it beyond halfway, before the Dogs settled into their first left sweep, which was abruptly shut down by a Staggs-Schoupp tackle as Haas, who had left the park started jogging up the sideline, a promising sign for Brisbane.

For the second time, Martin shut down Vaughan in the middle of the park, this time with a desperate legs tackle, and the Broncs got the ball back when Jayden Okunbor knocked on an aerial contest with Corey Oates. As if aware that he had to make up for his two errors, Reynolds took a run early in the set, but the Bulldogs got the ball back soon enough, giving Kiraz a platform to showcase his post-contact ability up the left, only for Pangai to make it a second premature end to a Canterbury set by slotting through a kick on the third.

To be fair, Pangai hadn’t mistaken the count – he was just trying to enterprise – but the result was the same as Waddell’s brainsnap, since Farnworth came up with it, and the Dogs had to contend with 19 tackles in Brisbane’s twenty with no points to show for it. That didn’t last long, though, since they made good on their left edge at the end of the next set, when Burton drifted into the line and shot out a short one for Schoupp to celebrate his first game since Round 3 with one of the best assists in weeks.

Plunging deep into Riki, he waited for Cobbo to come in to finish the tackle, and used the impact to cantilever an underarm offload to an unmarked Foxx on the wing. Flanno added the extras, the Bulldogs built to a rousing restart, Vaughan took a massive fifth-tackle hit-up, and Burton shaped for what felt certain to be a challenging bomb – until he dropped ball onto boot for the biggest Brisbane let-off so far. Three plays later Farnworth broke away from Kiraz on the left, but Flanno was there to clean up the tackle.

Dufty ended with the best collect under the high ball, taking it on the full on the try line, and dodging around both Oates and Farnworth to not only elude the dropout but make twenty metres up the right edge. Play was paused to examine a Canterbury penalty, but the call went the other way, as some mild holding back from Farnworth set up the visitors for what looked like another dropout set when Burton dropped a no-looker on the boot for a stealth grubber, but ended up a seven tackle stint when the Steeden bounced just a little too far.

Walters took a crack at the line five tackles in, and Reyno tried to parlay that energy into a run up the right, where the Canterbury defence swallowed him up and spat him out, thanks in large part to a terrific legs tackle from Flanagan. King and Jackson poured up the middle, Burton had his first bomb in a while, Martin caught it a metre out and made ten more, before Oates brought it back over the twenty. Back on the park, Haas couldn’t do too much on the penultimate play, leaving Walters to take the kick on the right.

It turned into the most volatile passage of play so far, as the Steeden ricocheted off Pangai and found Ado-Carr, who got both hands to it, bobbled it a couple of times, and eventually lost it into a big Staggs hit. Walters was next in place, managing to scoop it up and flip it out to Riki, whose ball handling was as mercurial as the Foxx, as he failed to catch it, tried to kick it, and then dove on it. The Broncos didn’t get the try, but with Ado-Carr’s knock-on they did have a scrum from the forty, as Billy Tsikrikas trotted on for his NRL debut.

The Broncos didn’t do much with the following set, partly because Haas was unable to get the offload away midway through, and with Thompson and Dufty holding up Walters on the last, the Dogs were back on the front foot, especially once they got a restart from Billy on the next set. Seconds later, the Foxx got his 29th career double, off another terrific sweep to the left, starting with some deft handling from Flanno, who saved a poor pass from Jackson by scooping it off his toes and shifting it out for Burton to do his magic.

This time around Burto saved the assist for himself, shooting a bullet ball across the chest of Schoupp for the Foxx to get the chocolates. Ado-Carr only had to run five metres, but his sublime speed was critical here, bringing the Dogs to 10-0, their highest winning margin of the year. They stayed there when Flanno sent the Steeden spinning away from the post, while for a second time they had a frustrated restart, although it came earlier in the count now, when Okunbor fumbled the footy as he was playing it for JMK.

Okumbor’s night got worse towards the end of the next set, when he reached up to intercept a Gamble ball to the left wing and lost it just as quickly, giving Brisbane the platform for their first six points. Finally, Reyno settled into his trademark command of the park, taking a Staggs pass and reading the line beautifully to give Oates just enough space come from the other side, hit the ball hard and dance over a Burton legs tackle to slam down the Steeden. It was a tried and tested Brisbane play, and rallied the crowd as Reyno booted through an easy two.

Reynolds continued this flow with a superb torpedo at the end of the restart, and while the Dogs pulled back from the bounce, the Broncos again failed to scoop it up. That was just the letoff Canterbury needed to accelerate again, as the Foxx made twenty metres, Corey Paix infringed the ruck, and Dufty grubbered mid-set, forcing Martin to gather a tricky bounce into his chest and take it over the line. There were just under two minutes on the clock, and the Bulldogs had one last chance to restore some of their lead before the sheds.

Tsikrikas took his fifth run midway through, Flanno offloaded for Waddell to hit the ten, and Kiraz continued the young gun show by bringing the footy back from the right edge and almost breaking through to score beneath the posts. King plunged over in the same place a play later, and lost the ball backwards for the Foxx to drive it up the left, before Brisbane finally survived with thirty seconds on the clock. In one last flourish, Kiraz reached up to attempt an intercept, the final word before the half time siren rang out.

The Dogs had the first run back and flowed up the park, with Tsikrikas making five post-contacts on the fourth and Burton booting it long and high from just over halfway, before Martin eluded Ado-Carr to avoid any chance of a dropout, then bumped off JMK to make it twenty-five metres up the park. Add to that fifteen more and a quick play-the-ball from Haas and Gamble was well inside the thirty by the time he took the kick, which Cobbo caught on the full, but without making a single metre off it when Burton and Ado-Carr wrapped him up.

King may have got an offload away midway through the next set, but Cobbo made it two great kick returns for the Broncos by collecting Burton’s bomb and gaining thirty metres. Yet the tide turned quickly when Haas was contained up the middle, and Pangai caught Gamble’s kick on the chest, making a fair few metres on top to ensure that he was at the twenty, four tackles later, where he encountered Gamble once again, this time with a legs tackle that he countered by tumbling onto one arm and offloading five inches off the turf with the other.

Dufty made the most of the second phase play, shaping sufficiently for a kick to dishevel both Farnworth and Oates when he opted to run the footy, leaving only Martin to tumble off his back as he slammed down his first try in Canterbury colours. Burton had one of the worst conversion attempts of his career, sending the Steeden almost parallel to the crossbar, but this was still a roaring start to the second stanza, and an especially frustrating moment for Gamble at both ends of the park, making Reyno’s input even more critical now.

The Broncos also had to up their second phase play, since they were sitting at 2-13 offloads, although that clearly had a bit to do with Haas’ more muted moments up the middle. Before that, though, they had to survive the restart, which became a fresh set from halfway when Kurt Capewell got done for not being square at marker. Burton did well to maintain possession into a rushing tackle from Gamble, and Kiraz didn’t blink when Oates slammed in for a legs tackle up the right, suggesting that Canterbury might have real momentum here.

That just made it all the more powerful when Staggs took an average Burton boot on the full and avoided the dropout, while Haas followed with a strong charge and Reyno with a long low one from behind the forty. Nevertheless, Brisbane were dropping off tackles at an alarming rate as Ado-Carr ferried the footy across the field, dancing from defender to defender and eventually offloading for Dufty to do the same. It was a big letoff, then, when Burton proved less capable beneath the kick than behind it, with a fumble on the left.

Haas continued to accelerate on play four of the subsequent set, and again Dufty took Reynolds’ kick, although this time Brisbane mustered a better chase to prevent him breaking the twenty. For the second time, Kiraz broke away from a defender, but it now came with a significant leg cramp that prevented him rising to his feet before the trainer arrived to massage it back into shape. The pause gave Brisbane time to regather, although Kiraz himself didn’t look too flash either as he continued to limp gingerly in backplay.

Martin failed to find Oates barking for the footy on tackle one of the next set, and while Cobbo compensated somewhat with the metres, a Schoupp shot on Martin devolved what little rhythm the set had, so Reyno had to content himself with a chip up the right, where the Dogs settled into what promised to be another completed set until JMK got pinged for an offside attack. This was as the unexpected turnaround the Broncos needed, so it was agonising when Waddell forced the footy free for Farnworth on their first left sweep.

Even worse, it came on the first play, so Brisbane sent it upstairs, and got lucky when the replay showed Waddell swinging an arm into Herbie’s face, and even luckier when the second part of the footage proved that the Broncos backliner had somehow maintained control of the tip of the Steeden all the way to the ground. Between the unexpected JMK penalty and the spectacle of Farnworth’s ball security, the hosts had some of their best energy all game, channelling it into a massive right sweep that ended with a poor Cobbo kick on the sideline.

It drifted into touch, but Brisbane got a third letoff when the footy ricocheted off Schoupp on its way there. With this trilogy of boosts, they had to score on this third straight set on the Canterbury line, especially once Jackson gave away six again on play three. A tackle later, Vaughan and Flanno slammed in to prevent Capewell crossing over on the left, and a tackle after that Paix barged over in his big second-rower’s slipstream, scooping up the Steeden from dummy half and squeezing past Vaughan and Dufty for the toughest putdown tonight.

The sheer strength of this try, and the precarity of the grounding (it initially looked like no try) was both the pefect conclusion to the last Brisbane surge and the perfect motivator for the last quarter of the game. Reyno booted through the two to become the equal highest tryscorer with Mick Cronin against the Dogs, on 175 points to Eric Simms at 157, Michael Gordon at 148 and Ryan Girdler at 145. After a real struggle, the Broncos had narrowed it to a two point game and came close to taking the lead at the end of the restart.

Following a Flanagan error, they swept it out to their right wing, where Martin flew a floater that ended up being just a little too high for Cobbo, who got fingertips to it but eventually lost it over the sideline with Ado-Carr coming in hard in defence. Meanwhile, Haas was clocking up the run metres, now sitting at 156 with four Bulldogs beneath him – the Foxx at 116, Waddell at 113, Dufty at 111 and Vaughan at a surprisingly low 104 – and his propulsion spread to the entire team when they got the last tackle absolutely right a set later.

All evening, Reynolds had been searching for a play to break the game and he got it here, in a sequence that split the difference between sublime playmaking and the Broncos making their own luck. He chipped up the right on the last for Cobbo, but Selwyn didn’t get to it when Ado-Carr chased him down. Riki was the next man in place, and in the most serendipitous moment of the match his clean collect set up Reynolds to take the footy back and slam over for his second try in Brisbane colours, and his first at Suncorp.

No wonder that he rose from the ground slapping the Bronco logo on his jersey before an ebullient home crowd, before slotting through the two to bring his men to a four point lead.  True to the spirit of this to-and-fro game, however, an offside downtown for Hetherington got the Bulldogs back on the front foot pretty quickly, while a very late Pangai-JMK offload gave them a further boost up the field, so it was another plosive pivot in momentum when Kiraz offloaded on the right edge only for Okunbor to boot it over the back line.  

The Broncos now had seven tackles to play with and looked vulnerable for the first part of the set, as Martin lost the footy up the left, where only a superb pickup from Farnworth prevented a turnover then and there, before Haas twisted to ground at a contorted angle. Yet from there Brisbane transcended all the pain of the middle part of the game, starting with a deft break from Haix, who would have put Kennedy over the line if Pangai hadn’t slammed in for a bone-rattling trysaver, by which point the Broncos were already sweeping right.

Cometh the hour cometh the man, as Reynolds followed his try with a beautiful assist – the best pass of the whole game – floating an enormous wide ball out for Cobbo to smash across on the right wing. He missed the kick, but the Broncos were still beyond a six point lead, although they went back on the defence when a slow peel from Capewell and a Cobbo ruck error kickstarted the next Bulldogs set. The game reached a new intensity with some Dufty-Gamble head-on-head attitude on the right, before Ado-Carr lost it on the left.

With only eight minutes on the clock, Canterbury sent the knock-on upstairs and lost the challenge, giving the Broncos the scrum feed at their ten metre line. Brisbane had scored a trio of tries off a trio of chances – JMK’s offside, Farnworth’s clean landing, Schoupp’s ricochet on the wing – so they just had to play methodically and defend well to land the points tonight. Four tackles into the next set Dufty tried to take a Burton ball one-handed as he glimpsed a gap opening before him, but put it down instead, and the Broncs accelerated once again.

Reyno now capped off a superb second half with a sneaky grubber from the ten that saw Cobbo and Ado-Carr competing once again up the right edge. Despite both players tumbling onto the footy, Cobbo somehow managed to keep his hands off the play, allowing it to ricochet off the Foxx’s chest before he got both hands on the tip and got it down a millisecond before somersaulting into touch and rising up to cheer at the crowd, all in one heroic gesture. For the first time since 2017, Reynolds had four try assists, and added the extras for 28-14.

Cobbo was in peak footy flow to begin the restart, while Staggs supercharged the set with a smashing run up the right, where he flicked it out for Cobbo to execute a Latrell-like moment of vision with a kick at speed, off the tip of the boot, back inside for Kennedy to catch it and twist through Dufty in the same moment, leaving only Bailey Biondi-Oto to bump off at the death. Pangai had held him up before Reyno’s wide assist, but Kennedy had his try after all, while Cobbo had gone back-to-back with the try and assist to cap off his splendid night.

Again, Reyno added the extras to bring the Broncos back from an 0-10 deficit at the 29th minute to a twenty-point lead. The Dogs got two more sets to close out their night, but they couldn’t put down any more points, so they’ll need to do some soul-searching before they take on the Roosters next Saturday. On the other side of the footy, this was a superb tribute to Brisbane’s ability to self-correct under Reynolds’ leadership, and they’ll be looking for an even stronger eighty minutes when they take on the Sharks to kick off Round 8.

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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