ROUND 19: Parramatta Eels v. Brisbane Broncos (CommBank Stadium, 21/7/22, 14-36)

CommBank looked resplendent from the drone cam as the Broncos rocked up to play Parra on Thursday night for the first of two late season fixtures. The blue and gold may have been galvanised by putting 28 on the Wests Tigers and Warriors, and raring to make it three in a row for the second time this year, and Maika Sivo may have made it 31/32 on home turf, but the night belonged to Adam Reynolds, who was finally back on song after his rib injury, and led the troops with such vision and composure it was hard to believe he was ever away.

One of the great stories of the 2022 season has been how quickly Reyno has acclimatised to Suncorp. Against all the odds, he’s already become as much of an icon in Brisbane as he was in South Sydney, turning virtually every game into an instant classic, another touchstone in the Broncos’ return to their glory days. It felt poetically appropriate, then, that he capped off tonight’s barnstorming performance with his sixteenth try in Suncorp colours, making 2022 his most prolific season since he guided the Bunnies to their first premiership in 51 years. 

Tom Flegler took the opening carry, and the Broncos charged up field before the smoke had dissipated, giving this first set a primal quality, even though Reyno didn’t get beyond the thirty for his first clearing kick of the game. Waqa Blake was back in Parramatta territory by tackle three, and Reynolds only just got back onside in the wake of a big Reagan Campbell-Gillard run, before Ryan Matterson gave his ribs a test by barging into a solid Jake Turpin hit, and Corey Oates surged forward to hit the high ball at speed and break the red zone.

Brisbane started to rack up the metres now, and yet Payne Haas was called back the moment he hit Eels territory due to a forward pass from Flegler, the first error of the game. Mitch Moses put Isaiah Papali’i into the ten a few plays later, and then slotted through his first grubber, as Flegler narrowly avoided a second error, with the refs deciding he hadn’t played to advantage despite sticking out his boot to greet it. No sooner were the Broncos let off the hook, however, than Pat Carrigan lost the footy in a Moses-led four-man Parra pack.

Twice Brisbane had failed to work it out of their own end, but even then sending up an early challenge was a desperation play, especially since they got no joy here. Parra had the first scrum of the night, and all the momentum, as the rain started to drive down over CommBank and RCG tumbled it into the ten, laying a platform for the first left sweep of the evening. Dylan Brown got it rolling, Shaun Lane barged into a Kotoni Staggs ankle tap, and Maika Sivo took the offload to make it 31/32 tries at Commbank without Jordan Pereira touching him.

Moses was kicking into a maelstrom of windy water, and couldn’t nail the extras here, while RCG began the restart by launching his full force into the Brisbane wall, and Reed Mahoney ended by kicking early from dummy half. Tesi Niu took it pretty easily, and finally, eight minutes into the match, the Broncos crossed into enemy territory, and received a fresh set immediately, off an error from Staggs. With another repeat set here, they could steal the rhythm back from Parra, as a Reyno chip led to the most volatile kick contest so far.

Pereira touched it first, but could only tap it back towards his own try line, as Dylan Brown sent it on for Waqa Blake to burn up the left edge for what could have been a catastrophic moment for Brisbane if Flegler hadn’t got on his bike to down him at the twenty. The Broncos defence felt reinvigorated on the tackles that followed, putting Moses under enough pressure to dishevel the last passage of play, as Blake tapped it back, RCG toed it further back, and Mitch scooped it up for Dylan Brown to extemporise a chip on the other side of the park.

By that stage, Niu was in place for another clinical take, while the Broncos gave Parra a masterclass in precarious last tackle options at the end of the very next set – a trio of kicks that set the scene for the visitors’ dominance over the next thirty minutes. Brenko Lee started with the riskiest play, taking a cut-out from Ezra Mam, and chipping it directly past Will Penisini, who stuck out his right boot to deflect it, as Lee eluded Moses and brought his own right boot to bear by toeing it a second time, in the softest touch of the game so far.

Corey Oates was the last piece of the puzzle, adding his own dexterity with a third kick that he himself chased down and grounded clean with Bailey Simonsson on his back. This was superb wet-weather footy, putting Brisbane ahead for the first time after Reynolds slotted through the two, and placing the onus on Parra to deliver something special on their next carry. All they could summon, however, was a Matto dummy and near-break up the middle, and some staunch post-contacts from Papali’i, who was eventually cleaned up on the right.

For the second time, the Eels failed to capitalise on a tap-back – this time from Lane, who did well to reach Moses’ bomb first, but found nobody in support, and only Flegler waiting to collect it. RCG might have taken Reyno’s next chip just as easily, but Brisbane were piling on the defence now, driving big Reagan back beyond the ten, before Carrigan targeted Sivo and Turpin targeted Penisini to ensure that Moses had barely broken his thirty by the time he took the kick – and even then had to contend with some big pressure from Kurt Capewell.

Carrigan was on fire now, taking two big carries, the second of which put him into Parramatta territory, where he almost sent Flegler through the line, so the Eels needed some captain’s vision to restore their flow – and got it, when Gutho sneakily stuck a boot over the sideline while Reyno’s chip was still moving to prevent Brisbane having any chance of a second kick. It was the first last tackle option in a while when the Eels had come off the victors, and Matto built on it with a flick out the back to Gutho, who won six again off Riki on the next run.

In their best attacking opportunity since their try, Parra tried to burrow through a couple of times on the right edge, before shifting it rapidly back to the left, where Reynolds upstaged Gutho’s vision from captain with an individual strip on Blake. With a restart of their own off a Mahoney error, Brisbane had already eclipsed the Eels’ brief burst of position, and completed the comeback a few plays later, as Mahoney remained in the spotlight, missing two of the biggest men in the Broncos’ pack to concede the next try.

To be fair, this was a David-on-Goliaths effort, as Carrigan charged into the young hooker, absorbed the low contact, and flicked a beautiful no-looker out the back to Hass, who trampled over Mahoney in turn, before slicing past Papali’i and brushing off a low shot from Lane to put down the key consolidation try of the first stanza. Between Reyno’s strip, Carrigan and Hass’ charge, and the little general’s second conversion, Brisbane had achieved peak footy flow, receiving six again on the restart off a wayward touch from Simonsson.

A minute later, they consolidated the consolidator, as Carrigan and Hass conjured up the image of that last combo by hitting the twenty and ten on tackles two and three respectively. Sensing his men were peaking, Reyno grubbered on the very next play, as Riki, the Bronco who had gifted Parra that last burst of position, chased it down and received a brilliant bounce to make it an 18-4 lead once his captain booted another two through the posts. After a couple of rough weeks, Reynolds was back on song, and his new-look Brisbane were soaring.

In fact, the transition from a slightly sloppy opening to this newfound flow felt like a microcosm of the Broncos’ steady comeback over the last few weeks, as Reyno has put his rib injuries behind him and rediscovered his vision at halfback and captain. No surprise, then, that the restart quickly accelerated into the most dramatic accumulation of position for either side so far, as Carrigan tumbled into the defence, Mam followed with a left-right pivot, and then flicked it back inside for Niu to break the line and boot it straight into Gutho.

The ball ricocheted back to Turpin for a fresh set, which became a second set in the ten when Kaufusi was caught offside, and then a scrum from the ten when Staggs popped a right-handed offload out to Reyno that was knocked on both ways. Yet the Broncos now wilted slightly on either edge of the park, as Reynolds opted to send it out to Oates, instead of popping it out the back for an unmarked Lee on the left wing, and Staggs misfired a pass on the other edge, shooting it past Pereira and into touch, but not without Sivo touching it.

Parra responded with a challenge that was every bit as desperate as Brisbane’s opening decision to send it upstairs, and while the call came down as inconclusive, one angle seemed pretty definite in proving Maika’s contact, so it felt right that the Broncos got another crack at the line now. Carrigan couldn’t reprise his earlier offload to Hass, and Niu couldn’t repeat Reyno’s sublime grubber for Riki, but the flow was still with Brisbane, who received one more restart, thanks to a Dylan Brown error, and had to make good on all this position.

Instead, Mam mistimed what should have been a cut-out assist for Oates on the left, making this two missed opportunities on that wing after Brisbane failed to find Lee out of the scrum that started it all. This was a big enough let-off to swing the game back towards Parra, who had defended their line staunchly for six minutes, if they could build some rapid position here. They received a penalty almost immediately, when Hass failed to get square at marker, and got a further boon when Lee took his eyes off the high ball at the very worst moment.

Penisini was able to secure it, and tapped it back to Kaufusi, forcing the Broncos to scramble on their line for the first time in ages to clean him up. Yet this turned out to be as transitory as Parra’s last foray into Brisbane territory, as the visitors restored their dominance with a sublime play that fused big men and spine into one scintillating sequence. Hass started with a very late low offload to Turpin, who popped it on for Carrigan to send it inside to Niu, who in turn broke through the line and shifted it across for Mam to continue his flow.

Not only did the little five-eighth make it to the brink of the twenty, where he was finally downed by Gutho, but he tempted Penisini into a professional foul that left Parra with a twelve-man team as they prepared to weather the next Brisbane onslaught. Carrigan was immense now, anchoring the play as it shifted from the right, to the middle, to the left, where he lobed it out for Mam to translate all that brute force into the delicacy needed to reach past a swinging Moses arm and loft it across for Capewell to sail over the line untouched.

It was hard to believe the Broncos were leading at the break for only the sixth time this season, as Moses slotted through another conversion to make it a 24-4 lead – eight ahead of their previous 2022 record of sixteen at half time, which they’d achieved in three separate games. They had an incredible tally of run metres too, capped by Haas and Flegler with 130 and 93 apiece, and didn’t show any signs of slowing down either, as Reyno curved around the back to almost put Mam through the line two plays into yet another scintillating restart.

Add Kobe Hetherington off the bench, and it felt inevitable that the Broncos would cross over again before the break. Yet the Eels found some late flow off two Brisbane errors beneath the high ball – first when Oates tapped it back to Papali’i, then when Pereira took it on the sideline and stuck a boot into touch after the fact. That was enough to get Parra back in the groove, as Dylan Brown lobbed a harbour bridge ball out to Sivo, who popped it back inside to Gutho just in time as Reynolds tumbled him over the sideline.

They nailed the sweep on their next trip out to the left wing, thanks to a runaround play from Mahoney, who marked retro round with a dummy half drift to pass and then receive the footy from Junior Paulo. It created a ripple effect that allowed Moses to act as pivot for Gutho and Lane, who elasticised the line more and more until Sivo had space cross over and mirror his hooker’s curving trajectory by bringing it back around towards the crossbar, setting up Moses to make it a fourteen-point game, a critical hitback on the cusp of half time.

By this stage, Parra had leapfrogged the Storm to hit fourth on the live ladder, making for a big back forty when they returned from the sheds. They got position right away when Blake knocked on Reynolds’ kickoff, forcing the Eels to defend their line from a twenty-metre scrum with Penisini in the bin for another three minutes. Mam missed some poor service from Reynolds at the base, but the Broncos got six again on the very next play, thanks to a Papali’i offside. The little general bounced back a play after that, with his first assist tonight.

His kickoff had been a towering beauty, and this chip was just as good, as he gathered all the impetus of a burgeoning left sweep to boot the ball the rest of the way, putting it on a string for Oates, who took it in both hands and came to earth to cement his position as second most prolific tryscorer of the 2022 season (16) between Sione Katoa (14) and Alex Johnston (19). Parra had reclaimed the narrative before the break, and the Broncos had wrested it back before the Eels even touched the footy, as Reyno made it thirty with the conversion.

Just as important, they’d capitalised on Penisini’s absence from the park, while Oates, who had now scored doubles in three straight games, was in forward mode on the restart, taking a tough charge on the second to establish a passage up the middle that eventually got his skipper in place to launch another massive bomb on the last. Once again, the Eels couldn’t come up with a clean catch, as Gutho reached out his right hand and spilled it, but this time he lost it backwards, and scrambled onto it as Penisini finally returned from the bin.

Parramatta now had their first set, almost five minutes in, and did well to hit Brisbane territory, although Moses couldn’t hold a candle to Reyno with the kick, coming up with a middling low-hanging affair that just gave Oates another platform to lean into his newfound early-tackle flow. Hass was over halfway by tackle four, although the advance in position ended up hurting the Brisbane captain, who struck it just as hard at the end, but delivered a rare misfire to permit Sivo to stick a boot back over the dead ball line for a seven tackle set.

There was only half a metre in it, and yet this was Parra’s first chance since the break, so it was pretty deflating when Sivo himself spilled into touch a few plays later, while trying to handle a Lane ball at the end of a disintegrating left edge sweep. Brisbane responded with a conservative set, buying space to set up Reynolds for a better-weighted kick this time that ended up favouring Gutho, albeit not without the Broncos mounting a good enough chase to keep the Eels in their end for the entire count, as Dylan Brown now took on kicking duties.

On the other side of the Steeden, Reynolds wasn’t slowing down with the boot – he’d taken every kick since the break, and got the worst result now, as Kaufusi charged it down and beat the Brisbane captain in a twenty-metre run back downfield. This had to be the turning point for Parra, as the game hit the fifty-minute mark, and they settled into their first full set in Broncos territory. For a moment they looked set to elasticise, as Moses sent it out through Gutho to Penisini, who offloaded back for Clint to weave all the way back up to the left.

If Lane hadn’t overrun his line, Gutho would have put him through, so the next play had to channel the potential of this double sweep. Instead, Staggs mirrored and condensed Kaufusi’s chargedown with a trap-and-scrap on Moses’ grubber, and yet the Eels somehow managed to avoid imploding after this disappointment, partly because RCG and Matto finally left the bench on the following set, which ended with Dylan Brown delivering their best kick since the break – a chip to the right that Moses was unable to even touch amidst a sea of Broncos.

That worked out well, though, leaving the footy live for Capewell to touch it and concede six again right on the line as Gutho dove on it, and flicked it across for Dylan Brown to bookend his team’s best set since the break too. For the first few tackles they went for brute strength, as Papali’i and RCG tried to twist-and-spin on either side of the posts, exhausting Brisbane just enough for Dylan Brown to make it a hat trick of heads-up plays with a pitch-perfect cut-out to Sivo, who matched Luke Burt for the most Parra tries ever scored (32) against Brisbane.

The Eels still had a big job on their hands though, especially since Moses missed the kick to keep it a fourteen-point game. In the end these would be their last points of the night, although you wouldn’t have guessed it from the conviction with which Matto, Kaufusi and RCG charged into the restart, winning an offside from Oates, and giving Papali’i space to break a four-man tackle to hit the ten a couple of plays later. Moses and Dylan Brown swept left soon after, almost putting Blake through a hole that Jordan Pereira only just plugged up.

Brisbane had barely survived here, while the Parra halves had drawn on the conviction from the big men earlier in the restart, and combined again on the last, when Dylan Brown booted it up the right for his halfback, who would have got it down easily, since he was light years ahead of the Brisbane chase, if the ball had been weighted a little more gently. Instead, he stumbled to ground as the Steeden skidded over the chalk, granting the Broncos seven tackles that dissolved almost immediately due to a forward ball from Mam to Capewell.

As the final quarter loomed, the Eels were close to taking control of the game, and with a couple more tries they would easily be contenders again, with a lot of football to regain the lead they’d glimpsed in those elusive opening minutes. They got yet another penalty on the next set, thanks to some dangerous contact from Lee, turning this into one of the best accumulations of position all night, as they heaved out to the left once again, where Sivo hung over the line for an agonising instant before knocking it on into a massive Niu-led pack.

In that moment hung the future of Parra’s night, since while the blue and gold took advantage of some poor Brisbane line speed to put Blake over on their very next set, and while the try was confirmed on field, the Bunker ended up reversing it in the name of a Makatoa-Reynolds obstruction. This should have been the consolidation play of the game for Parra, both by correcting Sivo’s previous frustration on the left wing and by putting them within a converted try of the Broncos, so having it denied effectively killed their newfound momentum now.

Put that down in part to Reynolds, who fell to the ground to dramatise Makatoa’s mistake, although he hadn’t quite recovered the vision of his third quarter kicks, fumbling the next grubber, and giving Parramatta a chance to come up with it, which they did, despite a pair of massive defensive hits from Flegler that seriously limited their position until RCG came up with a fifteen-metre charge on the penultimate play, and Moses chose to run it on the last, clearing space for a Gutho kick that Niu responded to with the best dropout save so far.

Curving around the left post, he bumped off Gutho, and was almost out of his red zone by the time Moses got to him. This was the critical play for Brisbane in the back quarter, galvanising Lee into a near-break, and getting Reyno back on song too with a tough boot from right to left, as the away defence steeled themselves to keep the Eels in their own end for the rest of the set. Carrigan got a bit too enuthusiastic on the second play, however, peeling slow to bump Parra back over halfway, before the CommBank hosts got their dropout after all.

It came off a deft Gutho grubber, and an even better Matto charge, ensuring that Mam couldn’t quite replicate Niu’s last trajectory, curving around the left post like his fullback, but skittled before he had a chance of returning to the field of play. Parramatta now had 15-4 tackles in the opposition twenty since half time, and 59% of possession, but they couldn’t break through here, thanks in part to a Moses bouncer, and in part to a four-man pack that got some revenge for Mam by holding up Matterson a few centimetres from the chalk.

Nevertheless, Mahoney did well with the grubber, getting his men another set to elasticise into some of their best close-range play up the middle – a Lane offload to Brown, a rapid short ball from RCG to Mahoney – before Brisbane regathered on the right, where Oates slammed in for a brilliant individual effort on Penisini, and then on the left, where Pereira hit Blake hard enough to turn his final pass of the sweep over the sideline. The Eels had glimpsed one last chance of consolidation, and the Broncos had stolen it right back.

It felt right, then, that Brisbane came up with their own sublime consolidation play a minute later, and that Reynolds was the man to deliver it. He started by returning to the barnstorming kicking he’d displayed after the break, striking the Steeden as hard as he ever has, and forcing Gutho to take an extra breath as he leaped to catch it downfield, which was perhaps why he found himself vulnerable to a bone-shattering hit from Staggs a beat later. Staggered by the brunt of Kotoni’s weight, he lost the footy backwards, and Reynolds set his eyes on it.

Not only did the little general charge thirty metres downfield to toe it a second time, but he showed Mahoney he could come up with a retro play to celebrate retro round as well, making it a chip-and-chase as he continued his inspiring run to plant the footy down behind the line. The Broncos of last year would never have been able to orchestrate a try like this after so much time on their own line, so this was a terrific tribute to Reyno’s vision, to what he has managed to do at Brisbane this year, and a confirmation he is indeed back in full flight.

Although there were eight minutes left in the game, this was the final note, and easily eclipsed the penalties for Carrigan and Staggs, and the successful Parra challenge, that followed. The Broncos are back in the top four, and will be looking to make the most of a ten day break before they prepare to pummel the Tigers at Suncorp again next Sunday afternoon, while this was a very sobering game for Parramatta, who’ll need to regroup and restore some self-belief as they get ready for the imposing task of hosting Penrith at CommBank on Friday night. 

About Billy Stevenson (739 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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