ROUND 9: South Sydney Rabbitohs v. Brisbane Broncos (Accor Stadium, 5/5/22, 32-12)

If it was galvanising to watch the Broncos win their first game of the season against South Sydney, then it was truly inspiring to see Adam Reynolds lead them to a twenty-point victory against his old club after missing the Round 1 game with Covid. Every game with Reyno has felt like a fresh breakthrough for Brisbane, but they felt like contenders in a new way here, shutting down last year’s grand finalists to put themselves on the cusp of the eight. Over the next few seasons, this game may well come be seen as the definitive changing of the guard.

No doubt South Sydney were messy with their ball handling, and failed to capitalise on around eight full sets (cumulatively) in the Brisbane twenty, but the key ingredient here was an absolute masterclass in leadership from Reyno – especially defensive leadership, although the Broncos put a fair few points on the board too. Barking out banter to Jai Arrow before kickoff, Reyno was pumped to prove what the Bunnies had lost, rotating through the full spectrum of his kicking abilities to bang them from every angle, and with every possible inflection.

All that meant Payne Haas’ absence was barely noticed, especially in the second half, when Tevita Tatola had a nightmare pair of errors on the back of a Taane Milne double that momentarily narrowed the deficit to six. The first error led to a Reynolds penalty kick, and the second to a Farnworth try, which in turn led to a full-field run from Selwyn Cobbo that condensed this newfound Brisbane flow into one sublime trajectory. Add to that a try from Reyno himself at the 28th minute and this was footy drama at its finest.

Reyno was heavily involved on the first set, carving out position and putting Blake Taaffe under pressure with the kick, while the Bunnies hit back in kind for their first touch of the night. Cody Walker and Damien Cook took the first two kicks for South Sydney, targeting the Brisbane wingers in turn, and the Bunnies got the first bump upfield when TC Robati fed a late offload out to Herbie Farnworth on the left, and produced an obstruction from Te Maire Martin, who prevented Tevita Tatola offloading when he hit the twenty on play two.

Walker ended with a shimmying grubber down the middle, but Robati brought this sequence full circle by scooping it up fluidly to get Brisbane back on the front foot. Martin glimpsed space up the right on play four, and would have broken through the line if not for a last-ditch Walker tackle, before Reyno booted it beside the left post, where Taane Milne only just brought it back into the field of play. This was real pressure on the South Sydney line, and Reynolds took it to the next level as soon as he had possession again.

After a set that started at the Brisbane forty, Reynolds opted to kick it to the right sideline on tackle three, where Selwyn Cobbo popped it back inside at the death for Reyno himself to dive on, while winning a hand in the ruck from Taaffe. The little general was in place to set up the Broncos’ first right sweep a few plays later, shifting it out to Kotoni Staggs, whose tap-on to Robati on the wing was deemed forward. South Sydney had the first scrum of the night, and then their first penalty, when Billy Walters put pressure on Walker during the kick.

It wasn’t major contact, but Walker resented it, forcing some aggro from Walters, and injecting a new volatility into the game as the Bunnies chose to tap and go. Lachlan Ilias extemporised with an early wide kick to the right, where Corey Oates did well to guard it into touch, and Taaffe got on his bike to bring the Rabbitohs into the ten, in what felt like the start of an accelerated set, only for Kobe Hetherington to deliver the best tackle so far to prevent Cam Murray, whose offload got Taaffe away, from taking a crack at the chalk himself.

Now it was the Broncos’ turn to get the scrum, followed by a penalty for Tatola infringing it, reversing the events that had brought the Bunnies to their line. Farnworth and Walters made space up the left, Reynolds bombed from the same part of the park, and Oates became the beneficiary, parlaying his superb defence on Ilias’ kick into a splendid leap beneath the high ball. Milne and Taaffe were there, but couldn’t compete with his stature, allowing him to catch it clean and twist to ground in a single movement, before Reyno’s kick made it six.

The boos were running out as he lined up the tee, but he slotted it through as well as he ever has, cementing his new era of leadership in front of the South Sydney home crowd. That said, the restart was one of the hardest sets so for for Brisbane, who only got to the forty by the time Reyno got to the kick. It was a deep one, but Martin didn’t nail the chase, while the Bunnies got their next chance soon after, off a Staggs error early in the Brisbane count, and settled into their first right sweep straight out of the subsequent scrum.

Milne was all but unmarked on the wing, so it was a heroic effort for Farnworth to slam in and knock the Steeden free just before he put down the first four for the Rabbitohs. Yet no sooner had Brisbane got out of jail than Martin made it two incomplete sets by flicking the footy into the legs of one of his team mates. Ilias was hungry for a break off the scrum, and nearly muscled his way through a few players, getting a penalty in the process when Walters stripped the footy before the other tacklers had pulled out.

Arrow came closer than any Bunny so far, hitting the Steeden at speed off a dummy half pass from Cook, but losing it into a combined hit from Riki and Hetherington. This was a big enough momentum shift to propel Brisbane into a dominant second quarter if they could just capitalise now, and the first step was to avoid making it three incomplete sets. As a result, they played it relatively safe for the first couple of plays, before elasticising out the right edge, where Cobbo broke into space, bumped off Isaiah Tass, and headed back in field.

He was brought to ground, but only thirty metres out, as the Broncos headed back to the right, where Campell Graham did well to shut down Robati, but not fast enough to prevent Brisbane deflecting all this speed into a Reynolds bomb and a terrific chase, forcing South Sydney to work it off their own try line after Taaffe only just cleaned it up in his ten. They only made about thirty metres, forcing Walker to boot it hard and long to recoup position, although Reyno wasted no time tormenting Taaffe with another left edge bomb.

Oates went for it again, but this time he knocked it on, gifting the Bunnies a let-off when Graham cleaned it up in goal and was slammed into touch a moment later. Yet with Walker knocking on three plays later, the Broncos had a critical opportunity to consolidate their steady escalation over the last five minutes. Martin and Staggs targeted the right edge, Patrick Carrigan shifted it back to the left, where Oates would have broken through the line if not for a terrific Graham trysaver. The visitors were on the verge of taking total control.

Things intensified further in the second half of the set, starting with a huge harbour bridge ball from Reyno out to the left wing. It wasn’t the best timed pass, but its sheer scale and ambition galvanised the last two tackles, as Cobbo beat three or four defenders to almost smash over beside the right post, and Corey Paix ended with a deft grubber to get Brisbane their first dropout of the night. The next set ended as it always had to end – with Reyno slicing over beside the left post, in front of the Burrow, off a round-the-corner offload from Carrigan.

Full credit to Thomas Fleger, to, for the offload that got Carrigan into space, meaning it was third phase play by the time the ex-Rabbitoh crossed over against his former club. This was footy drama at its best, especially once Reyno sliced through another conversion to make it twelve unanswered points. Yet the Bunnies survived the restart, and had a full set in the Brisbane twenty two minutes later, ushering in their longest stint on the Brisbane line so far – and the most heroic batch of defence from Reyno’s new troops.

For a moment, it almost came to nothing, as Ilias showed the dummy, realised there was no space to run, and improvised a chip to the left. No sooner had Cobbo taken it on the full than Oates lost it on play one, before the Bunnies got a pair of restarts off botched strip attempts – first, when Farnworth dove on the Steeden before it was played, getting himself a penalty for not being square, and then when Graham offloaded out to Taaffe, who tucked it under his arm only for Robati to take it on the run, but without managing to sufficiently secure it.

Add to that a Reyno ruck error a play later, along with a restart when Staggs got a touch with a trysaving tackle, and this had been mammoth defence from the Broncos, so it was no stain on their night when Walker eventually fed it it out for Milne to make good on his earlier run up the right. Nevertheless, Brisbane were still six ahead at the break, after Taaffe got the kick, holding their own on the restart despite an offside penalty for Tyson Gamble with thirty seconds on the clock, thanks to a big Carrigan-Flegler hit on Murray on the right edge.

The contact was enough to prevent the Bunnies getting in place to set up a two-point field goal, so Souths were especially hungry when they returned to the park, starting with a strong Liam Knight charge, and ending at the Brisbane forty, where Walker took his kick. Nevertheless, Knight conceded the first penalty early in the next set, crowding in on the play to bump the Broncos back into the red zone by tackle two. Robati dragged three Bunnies over the ten, Riki tried to break up the right, and Reyno bombed back across the park.

It was a perfect strike, landing directly on the try line, where Oates was slightly off his game. Even then, Farnworth got both hands to it, but the South Sydney defence forced a knock-on, before the Bunnies got a penalty of their own when Keenan Palasia applied undue pressure early in the following count. They were inside the red zone again, sweeping left on the last, where Havili obstructed Reynolds to get Brisbane off the hook. Full credit to Reyno, too, for tempting the big no. 14 into the error, in a superb piece of defensive leadership.

Again, we had a period of close-range attack, as Gamble reprised Reynolds’ right-left bomb, galvanising Oates into his highest leap so far – so high, six feet off the turf, that he realised he couldn’t safely ground it, losing possession as he braced himself for the impact. Yet Reynolds delivered another great moment as skipper at the end of the next South Sydney set, when he surged out of the line to bring Cookie to ground with such a dexterous ankle tap that the cult hooker knocked on the footy as he was struggling to return to his feet.

These two defensive plays from Reyno should have been enough to drive more position (or even a try) off the scrum, especially since Carrigan was now dominating the run metres (110) with a very respectacle showing in Payne Haas’ absence. Yet for a second time Oates made painful contact with the turf, launching himself over the sideline to try and recover a bouncing ball, but not without Martin knocking it forward. Just like that the Rabbitohs were back on the Brisbane line, where Walker would have crossed if not for a Flegler trysaver.

Walker isn’t always the best player when he’s frustrated, and he took it out here with some unnecessary contact to give the Broncos their next penalty. They had a moment to recover their breath as Reynolds took a beat to set up the repeat, and were inside the thirty by the final play, where their skipper’s boot paid dividends once again. Taaffe made a courageous effort beneath the high ball, getting both feet off the ground for the highest leap since Oates, but like Oates he wasn’t confident coming down, and spilled the footy forward in the process.

There was a brief question of whether Cobbo had got a touch, but the longest Bunker scrutiny of the night showed that the Steeden had come off his knee, before he scooped it up again after a failed Tass cleanup and banged over the chalk with Alex Johnston on his back. Reynolds added another two with his bendiest conversion so far, and the Broncos had recovered their twelve-point lead with 26 minutes on the clock. Flegler and Palasia got the restart rolling, Carrigan added to his table-topping tally, and Reyno booted it from his forty.

He sailed it all the way to the South Sydney line, barking out pre-emptive orders to his men as Taaffe collected it a metre out. Still, the Bunnies hit back, pushing the footy up field before Walker levelled his most threatening bomb so far. Martin stumbled onto the ground to collect it, and even then the Steeden spilled all the way down his body, forcing him to clutch it between his legs, but not tight enough to save Brisbane’s challenge when they sent it upstairs in a last-ditch effort to deflect another close range South Sydney set.

Two plays later the Bunnies narrowed the margin, sweeping right where Walker garnered his second assist of the night by bouncing off Oates as he jammed in from the wing, and feeding the footy out for Milne to pivot back past Farnworth to make it a double. Taaffe added the extras, we were back to a six point game, and Tatola steeled himself for a big Brisbane defence on the restart, taking so long to size up the opposition that he dropped Walker’s opening pass, giving the Broncos a full set in the ten.

They swept right midway through, where Johnston dragged Cobbo into touch with a terrific one-on-one effort, but at the very moment that Walker was called offside. Reyno took the two to make it an eight point lead on the cusp of the final quarter, and capped off the restart with one of his most polished bombs, utterly devoid of spin as Johnston only just managed to clean up its massive heft inside his ten. Walker ended with a chip, Martin collected it behind the line to bring it back in field, and Brisbane accelerated into their next tryscoring surge

Carrigan steadied them with another massive charge up the middle, Reyno booted it hard and low through the line, and Tatola made his second cough-up to grant Brisbane a midfield scrum. Everything escalated from here, as Reyno shifted it left, Oates broke out of a Graham ankle tap, and then passed the ball a little far back for Farnworth, who managed to take it but had to put in a big left foot step past Koloamatangi, bump off Taaffe, and get to ground with Tatola, the man who started it all, powerless on his back.

Reynolds added the extras, and last year’s grand finalists were sitting at a 12-26 deficit to one of 2021’s bottom four outfits. Even a rare error from Reyno, at the 69th minute, wasn’t enough to produce South Sydney points now, as the Bunnies got a restart off a Walters ruck error, only for Taaffe to send it over the right sideline three tackles later. Similarly, they couldn’t do much with a Rhys Kennedy penalty, as Taaffe lost it for a second time, now on the other side of the park, where Walker tried to secure it, but instead flicked it on for Cobbo to intercept.

In a run that encapsulated this game’s changing of the guard, Cobbo used Johnston as leverage and ran the length of the park, staying comfortably apace of Ilias before slamming down to make it two tries, nine tackles busts, 183 run metres and a 32-12 lead once Reynolds booted through another two. A set later, Trent Peoples broke through the line, but the Bunnies rallied to clean up Walker on the left edge, and while Riki got done for pretty marginal contact, Murray put it down just as quickly.

With only a few minutes left on the clock, the Broncos maintained their twenty-point lead to the death, in what will surely come to be seen as a watershed game in their 2022 rebuild. Then again, Reyno makes every game feel like a watershed event, so it’s exhilarating to think where his flow will take them against Manly next Friday night, while the Bunnies will need to do some soul-searching, and clean up their ball handling, when they prepare to meet New Zealand directly after the Sea Eagles-Broncos clash, for the second match of Magic Round.   

About Billy Stevenson (724 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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