ROUND 24: Brisbane Broncos v. Parramatta Eels (Suncorp Stadium, 25/8/22, 6-53)

Adam Reynolds was celebrating his 250th game when he trotted out to Suncorp on Thursday evening. Two years ago, or even a year ago, he might not have expected to hit the milestone this way – as every bit an icon in a Brisbane outfit that he’s commandeered from a bottom four team to a top four contender over the course of a single season. They might have lost 60-12 to Melbourne, and succumbed to the Wests Tigers a couple of weeks ago, but the sheer fact of Reynolds’ celebration might well be a rallying-point tonight, especially at Suncorp.  

Instead, this turned out into one of the dourest, drabbest and most depressing losses of the season – a return of the repressed for Brisbane, who lost Reyno to friendly fire with Jordan Pereira at the twelfth minute, and would lose enough players to leave them with an empty bench by the final ten. Tom Flegler’s fate said it all, as he planted the monster tackle of the game on Reagan Campbell-Gillard, only to cop the big proper’s elbow in his throat, forcing him off the field, symbol of a Broncos outfit that imploded whenever they tried to consolidate.

Reagan Campbell-Gillard took the kickoff right on the dead ball line, Shaun Lane carried it over the ten on tackle two, Junior Paulo added some heft on play three, Marata Niukore followed in his wake to hit the thirty, before RCG bookended this first set by setting up Mitch Moses for a kick halfway up the park. Payne Haas had to skid on his knees to catch a wayward ball two tackles into Brisbane’s first set, but got a better angle on the penultimate play as Reyno, like Moses, booted it from about halfway up, and the Eels got stuck in once again.

They received the first penalty of the night a play later, but only made about twenty metres when Lane flicked an offload out to Tom Opacic, only for Jordan Pereira to (apparently) intercept it – a messy enough sequence for Parra to send it upstairs. The replay showed that Opacic had taken control of the footy with both hands, and kept it secured there until the tackle was complete, and he conceded it back to his opponent, so it was startling when the Bunker deemed it a legitimate strip, as Parra promptly lost their challenge three minutes in.

The Broncos now had the first close-range assault of the game, and Ezra Mam almost capitalised on it by breaking through two lines of defence, only for the Parramatta wall to close up on the right edge, where Maika Sivo and Dylan Brown commandeered a big pack to show Pereira who was boss, bundling the man who had cost them their challenge over the sideline. Now it was the Eels’ turn to make inroads into opposition territory, as Moses nabbed a fifteen-metre run up the right, and Brown dabbed it deep inside the ten on the last.

Kotoni Staggs wasn’t fazed, scooping it up on the bounce, eluding the chase as it tried to bump him into touch, making some metres, and winning a second effort off Paulo to boot. Brisbane were just outside the twenty by tackle four, while Mam followed his near-break up the left with a scintillating grubber in the same part of the park, leaving Parra no option but to send it dead. Clint Gutherson went short with the dropout, Sivo knocked it back, and for the second time Pereira prompted an early challenge, this time from his own team.

The play in question saw Sivo leap up, and roll it down the chest of Pereira, who didn’t manage to pull back his arms quite quickly enough, leaving us with no more challenges over the next 72 minutes of football. The Eels had the scrum, Paulo made fifteen metres after contact, and Kurt Capewell shifted the momentum with an individual strip. After so much to-and-froing in each other’s ends, Brisbane now had the first set inside the ten, so they had to score now, or at least secure another set, so Reyno drilled a long low oblique grubber out to the right edge.

At first, the angle looked too shallow, but Sivo got a touch to it shortly after it left Reynolds’ boot, so the Broncos had another dropout – or almost had a dropout, since Gutho risked going short again, and this time the play paid off. After so many shifts in momentum already, this felt like the critical pivot, especially once Brenko Lee got a touch to the footy, and Mam was called offside, for the most dramatic accumulation of field position so far. In a game that had gone set for ever more precarious set, this kind of consolidation couldn’t be squandered.

Sure enough, the Eels came up with a try that was commensurate to it, thanks to two prodigious plays on the left edge. Lane started by slamming into the line, wrestling through Reynolds to get his left arm free and pop the Steeden out to Gutho, who was even more mercurial, reining it in with his right hand, and somersaulting into the tackle so chaotically that when he popped the offload out it soared completely vertical. Paulo was in place to take it, and responded with a volleyball-like effort out for Sivo to dodge Te Maire Martin and score.

It was rocks and diamonds for the two halfbacks now, as Moses booted his first two through the posts, and Reyno headed up the tunnel for an HIA, bringing Billy Walters on earlier than expected. All this burgeoning Parra energy ended, for now, with a Lane error, but with Walters coughing it up for his first major touch off the bench, the ball was back in blue and gold hands, making it even more frustrating when Will Penisini knocked on inside the Brisbane twenty, as Mam seized the moment, broke the line and made fifty metres before flicking it inside.

None of his men were in place to get it, so Blake tried to pull it in, but instead knocked on, producing the most chaotic sequence of the game as the footy bounced fourteen times, and the Broncos got another chance to parlay Mam’s mammoth run into a try. Instead, Gutho stripped the footy from Jake Turpin on play one, Lane sent out a pretty questionable pass to Sivo on the right edge, where it was immediately eclipsed by the two best plays from Parra so far – the first a pinpoint perfect kick from Sivo at speed, as he danced along the sideline.

Opacic did even better, leaping up to seize the Steeden in both hands, and getting to ground just as quickly, where he somehow managed to withstand the combined grunt of Haas, Martin and Staggs to keep it tucked under his arm, and maintain just enough control to get the tip to ground, as a perfect Bunker angle confirmed. This was one of the gutsier putdowns of the year, sending Parramatta to twelve unanswered points once Moses booted through the two, before Staggs soared the kickoff out on the full to gift them an augmented restart as well.

RCG wasn’t taking any prisoners as he lunged into the defence on the chalk, shattering the Brisbane wall enough for Lane to smash over in his slipstream, but without getting the footy down, as Martin put his whole body on the line to prevent a second prodigious grounding, and Jordan Riki came in for assistance on top. Still, the sheer conviction of this sequence was enough to galvanise Parra into their third try, on the next play, when they swept all the way to the other edge of the park, where Moses sent a pearler to Papali’i to set it all up again.

Papali’i offloaded late, on the ground, so Gutho had to reach out his left arm, secure the ball behind his back, and actually keep it there for the first part of his run, in what felt like a trick play, or a training run, more than a regular game of football. He crossed over a second later, Moses added another conversion, and word came down from the sheds that Reyno wouldn’t be returning for his 250th, as Tom Flegler gathered all that frustration into a monster hit on RCG, shattering the personality prop as an enormous collective shudder went round Suncorp.

Dylan Brown threaded the next one nicely, leaving Pereira no effort but to clean it up on the dead ball line, as the Broncos faced down their first big challenge after hearing their captain wouldn’t return. Paulo poured into the defence on tackle one, Papalii did the same to hit the ten, and Niukore made it a trio of big boppers, before Walters stepped up to save a Lane try on the left edge, and Moses chased the kick deep in goal, got both hands to the footy, and actually put it down, but not without a committed Mam chase bundling him into touch.

Still, Mitch got his own back at the end of the next set, when Mam came up with a slightly over-weighted kick that still might have paid dividends if there had been a Bronco in sight to chase it down as valiantly as he’d charged down Moses. Instead, Moses was able to wait, cool and collected, for the footy to tumble dead, as his men got another tackle to continue their assault on Brisbane territory, and RCG continued to work his way back from the humiliation of that Flegler hit with a pair of tough carries, only for Penisini to knock on a Moses ball.

This was a mere glitch in the Parramatta machine by this point, since without a bump in field position or a big individual play the Broncos didn’t have the rhythm to fight back at the moment. Walters experimented with a soaring bomb, but Gutho read it brilliantly, and this time it all came together for Moses, who got just the closure and consolidation he needed after the last five minutes. Last time he flicked it out to the short side, Penisini knocked it on; this time, Blake read it beautifully, carving up the sideline before returning the assist to him.

Similarly, last time Moses had glimpsed a try, he’d been thwarted by Mam, but now he was able to flex his brilliance, leaning down low to collect the Steeden, before coming down beneath Hass to put his men at 24 unanswered points with a scintillating sideline kick that curled around the left post at the last minute. With 60 points conceded last week, and Reyno off the park, this was starting to look catastrophic for the Broncos if they couldn’t halt the blue and gold flow. Souths were at 130 on the live ladder, but Brisbane had sunk to -3.

They got a letoff when Dylan Brown twisted around from the catch and fed it forward to RCG, gifting them a scrum at the ten, and their most critical close-range attack of the game so far – and to their credit they delivered, wasting no time shifting it out to the right, where Mam ran a straight line to drag in Penisini, clearing up just enough space for Martin to put Lee over in the left corner. This was a courageous hitback, a spirited try, and a crucial rallying-point for the Suncorp crowd as Staggs stepped in for Reynolds to boot through Brisbane’s first two.

Haas led the charge on the restart, but the Broncos couldn’t make much headway, so Zac Hosking opted to kick on the fourth, and got a good strike, trapping Gutho in the corner as a six-man pack arrived to shut down the metres. It had been Brisbane’s best chase so far, keeping Moses at the halfway line as he struck back with a soaring bomb, while the Eels tried to make up for the spectre of that enormous chase with a big pack of their own, but found Corey Oates elastic enough to flick the footy back infield before he tumbled over the left edge.

They were outside the twenty by the final play, and Reynolds’ absence was never so painful as when Gutho cleaned up Mam’s kick, especially once Walters was pinged for marker error, forcing the hosts to defend their end once again. Parra opted for the methodical approach here, adding metre upon metre, and for a moment it looked set to come together when Blake leaped up to tap back the kick, only for Mam to scramble for it, and set up his men for a strong counter-set, which he ended with a wobbly one that Gutho had to take right on the chalk.

Nevertheless, King Gutho made metres off it, and then scored at the other end of the park a minute later. The Eels’ first few tries had been spectacular, but with the Broncos wilting, this only had to be clinical. Brown got it rolling with a dummy and pass to clear space in the line for Lane, who hit the footy at enough speed to bust through Palasia and Walters as they converged on him, and dance over a Hetherington ankle tap before flicking it out to Gutho, who only had to dodge past a last-ditch Martin effort to nab his most ever tries in a season.

It was the kind of economical footy – nothing fancy, just hard running and deft passing – that deflates an opposition even more than freaky putdowns. Parra had claimed genius in the first quarter, but now they claimed competence in an even more profound way, especially once Moses made it five from five with the boot to round out the score to thirty. He did even better at the end of the restart, making it six from six to slot through a one-point field goal, sending his men into the sheds with an imposing 31-6 lead, high on the very best form of his career.

The Broncos were in a precarious position when they returned from the break, sitting at -4 to Canberra’s -25, and without both Reynolds, who was now kitted up in cold-weather gear as he sat out the aftermath of Pereira’s friendly fire, and Flegler, who had ended up succumbing to the incidental elbow contact from RCG during that monster hit-up – a reversal that captured Brisbane’s night in miniature. The second stanza didn’t start well for them either, as Palasia got done for a strip, and Lee was called offside in the ten to bring Parra on their line.

Brown elasticised the set with a harbour bridge ball out to Sivo, who looked certain to score before a Brisbane pack courageously held their ground, but Gutho’s kick did the job for a dropout, and even then Haas only just beat Dylan Brown to the ball. The set was paused two plays in for Hetherington, who came in for a low shot, and found his head ricocheting off at an awkward angle, joining Reyno for the HIA, reducing Brisbane’s bench to one as Hosking came onto the park. If ever the Broncos needed an Opacic knock-on out the left, it was now.

They didn’t do much with it though, meeting a staunch Parra wall that kept Turpin inside the forty for the kick, in stark contrast to Gutho, who brought it back over his own forty on his first carry. This was a team without belief, a club playing on autopilot, and not even the Suncorp cauldron seemed capable of regalvanising them without their little general on the park. Lane made it 16-2 offloads a beat later, and his men looked set to score when Oates, the iconic Brisbane veteran, mercurially scooped up a Moses grubber right on the line.

For a brief moment he fumbled it, but regathered it as subtly as Gutho had wrapped that assist behind his body, and in that brief closure of error lay a glimpse of hope for Brisbane, especially once Mahoney got done for marker error. Admittedly, Parra were a well-oiled machine again on the next set, as Gutho made twenty on the return, Lane sensed a break in the line, Blake did break through the line, and Mahoney nearly crashed over from dummy half, but this window remained open when Moses came in high on Capewell late in the count.

Brisbane now had their best position since the break, although Moses bounced back just as quickly to curtail it, slamming in to Mam to prevent him getting far beyond the thirty, before Walters tried to provide his team with their third offload of the night, but found Parra ready for the intercept. Yet with Blake coughing it up a play later, and the hosts packing the scrum at the thirty, right where Moses had so heroically held up Mam, their hope couldn’t be quite quenched, especially once Staggs woke up from a quiet night with only his third charge.

Nothing much came of it, and by the time Haas found himself at first receiver on the last, the set had come apart, and not even an extemporised Mam chip to the left edge was enough to save this close-range effort, as Oates, the man who had started this last window of opportunity with his brilliant read of Moses’ grubber, knocked the footy on. RCG marked this transition back to full Parra supremacy with tough post-contacts on the first, Ryan Matterson was at halfway three later, and not even another Opacic putdown could dent their stride.

Meanwhile, Paulo was waiting on the sideline, and Gutho held his ground calmly to take a standard Mam kick without even registering the chase. Moses seemed to have sunk back into second-gear too, with no need to flex his kicking game at the end of the next set, when he opted for a low long effort to keep Brisbane trapped down their own end until the fourth, when Mam broke through Penisini to find Moses himself waiting to hold him up. Gutho was staunch as ever beneath the next high ball, Parra drove it upfield, and the cycle repeated.

From what was meant to be one of the big blockbusters of Round 24, this was starting to become a tedious affair. On the cusp of the final quarter, it felt like the most we could hope for was a bit more Parra spectacle, or a consolation effort or two from Brisbane. After five minutes of simply managing Brisbane, the Eels got a bump upfield with a Turpin ruck error, but even they seemed to have succumbed to the Broncos’ torpor and ennui for the moment, exuding the kind of complacency that comes when you know there’s no real competition.

For that reason, this was also a bit of a depressing game given the rousing vision Reynolds has brought to Suncorp this year. As the fourth quarter arrived, and Parra got a pair of restarts right on the Brisbane line, the second a scrum from the ten, we seemed to have been transported back to the cellar-dwelling Broncos of 2020 and 2021. Play paused for Moses to take a breath after his leg bent awkwardly beneath a Brenko Lee tackle, but he was back on his feet in no time, and the blue and gold machine accelerated again with a Walters tip-on.

Whether Moses’ injury would come back to bite Parramatta remained to be seen, but for the moment he was high on footy flow, as was Paulo, who barged into the left edge, and found Riki somehow able to hold him up. Oates reached up to save a right sweep and try a beat later, but conceded a scrum in the process, so the Eels were well and truly camped out on the Brisbane line, frustrating Staggs into a raring high shot on Gutho. All the rage and agony of tonight’s game was condensed into that hit; for Parra, it was just another close-range restart.

In another game, this goal line defence might have been a rallying-point, but tonight all the repeat sets just made Parra’s dominance visible, especially since it all ended with a one-man effort from Papali’i that made good on Paulo’s charge into Riki, and eclipsed Staggs’ impotent mid-field hit on Gutho. Finding himself with the footy on the right edge, off yet another restart, this time from a Capewell touch on a Moses floater, the future Tiger simply barged through Martin and Mam for the toughest, simplest and most decisive Parra try so far.

Ever streaky with the boot, Moses made it six from six to bring his men to 37-6, as Lee became the next man to leave the park, with a leg injury, Hosking shifted to the centres, and Brisbane were left without any reserves. On the other side of the Steeden, the Eels had spent a big chunk of time on the Broncos line before Papali’i got his try, but they made up for it on the restart, when Brown chipped to the right edge, Blake and Capewell both missed it in the air, and Penisini took it on the bounce for a try on the wing, making it 43-6 with the conversion.

Keen to preserve their big playmakers for next week’s clash against Melbourne, and finals footy beyond, the Eels now took Lane and RCG off the park, bringing on Jake Arthur and Makahesi Makatoa to rejuvenate the last ten minutes of the match. Conversely, the Broncos had to prevent this becoming utterly humiliating as the siren loomed, since they were looking more like a bottom four team than the top four reliables they’d been for so much of the 2022 season. In the very short term, it was critical they survive the restart – and survive they did.

They got a boost up field too, with a Niukore strip on Riki, and while nothing came of it, at least it meant that Parramatta had to work it back from their own end on the next set. Riki stayed in the spotlight by backing his way through a hole a play later, and with a Makatoa ruck error it looked like the Broncos might have a consolation shot here, so it was agonising when Riki bookended it all by knocking on a Walters offload two tackles later. Add to that a dangerous tackle from Corey Jensen, and Brisbane’s night was well and truly over.

By this point, it would have been consolation enough for Parra not to score again, but it was not to be. Two minutes out from the break, Gutho snuck a grubber out to the left edge, where Opacic read the bounce beautifully, popping it down to put his men one shy of the half century once Moses struck it through for a perfect night with the boot. Just as they’d had a delayed flow off the back of that last quarter of position, so they made it a double here, ten seconds out from the end, as Gutho and Moses combined for a display of pure footy flow.

Moses got it rolling by lunging an intimidating wide one out to Gutho, who responded with an even faster and broader cut-out to Penisini. This was pure conviction from the spine, playmakers rolling on self-belief, and their centre followed suit, showing it airily in his right hand before busting through Riki to come down beneath Capewell. That kind of passion is unanswerable, and Moses had the last word with the kick. He’s had a few crackers this year, but this was his most rousing – straight through the posts, before he tossed the tee aside.

It wasn’t a flamboyant celebration, but it didn’t have to be, since this was a more powerful message to the troops – total confidence paired with grim determination to bring the same guts and rhythm to next week’s showdown against the Storm. When Moses is on, he’s on, and he’d led his men to carnage tonight, waging psychological as well as physical warfare against a Brisbane outfit that have only just precariously renewed the belief that Parra exuded here – the belief they have to fight for when they rock up against St. George next week.  

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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