Brisbane Broncos 19 def North Queensland Cowboys 18
BOTH sides approached the match as though they’d been playing for a few months solid. Neither seemed the least interested in easing their way into the season with grinding forward play. Rather than bowing to ring rust, the Broncos and Cowboys tried to blow it away with bold attacking play. The result was a close, entertaining but mistake-riddled affair that would have sent blood pressures soaring in the coaching boxes.
Playing their first match as a club without Wayne Bennett at the helm, the Broncos scored four tries to three and deserved to win. In doing so, they gave new mentor Ivan Henjak a successful, if nerve-wracking, start to big-time coaching.
Both sides showed glimpses of red-hot attacking flair, starting in the fifth minute when the Broncos’ star recruit, Israel Folau, finished a sweet backline play. The Cowboys matched them at times in the wow factor, but didn’t know when to back off, completing 62 per cent of their sets compared with their opponents’ 74 per cent.
The crowd of more than 45,000 will have left more satisfied than the coaches, who’ll know they have a week of intensive screw-tightening ahead of them. Especially Neil Henry.
The Game Swung When… Sam Thaiday put a bone-rattler on Carl Webb with four minutes to go that caused the Cowboys’ enforcer to lose possession. The Broncos used the next set to put Peter Wallace in position to decide the see-sawing match with a neat field goal. In a game full of potentially costly turnovers, this one was the killer.
Who Was Hot… Thaiday, who played the full 80 minutes, packing in 21 runs for a whopping 145 metres. Every one of those hit-ups was laden with vigour and intent. He also topped the Broncos’ tackle count with 35, including his match-winning crunch on Webb.
And what is it about the Broncos and wingers? Since the late 1980s, has any club produced more good ’uns? On Friday night, they unveiled two more: Antonio Winterstein (ex-Roosters under-20s) and Jharal Yow Yeh. Both scored on debut and both looked a handful.
Who Was Not… Plenty. Then again, even the scratchiest performers had their moments. Johnathan Thurston set up two of the Cowboys’ tries, but also crabbed too much in attack, rarely took on the defence and missed five tackles.
Matt Bowen’s handling veered from sublime to clumsy.
And while Willie Tonga scored on debut for the Cowboys and did a fine job blocking Israel Folau’s attempts to field Darren Lockyer’s cross-kicks, he also dropped the ball at a crucial time, allowing the Broncos to lock up the match at 18-all shortly after the hour. Corey Parker struck the ball cleanly enough, but his one-from-four conversions made it a harder night for the Broncos than it needed to be.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Matt Bowen’s silky kick retrieval early in the second half, when he swept up a bobbling ball at pace in his own in-goal, regained his feet in the same motion, dashed into the field of play, then slipped a one-handed pass to Shannon Hegarty… who rather spoiled the moment by allowing himself to be thrown over the sideline.
Later, Thurston’s banana kick for Bowen’s try was a thing of beauty, while Dave Taylor’s tackle-busting charge to set up Corey Parker for a four-pointer was reminiscent of Glenn Lazarus at his best.
Bad Boys… Cowboy Manase Manuokafoa copped a Grade 2 dangerous contact charge and will miss a game. Also, at 17 minutes, Thurston’s reflex high tackle on Peter Wallace looked a little shabby, but replays suggested the punishment – just a penalty – fit the crime. The game was too helter skelter for any great nonsense. And it’s doubtful anyone had the energy to stack something on.
Ref Watch… Solid, unobtrusive performances by Jared Maxwell and Tony De Las Heras. The Cowboys lost the penalties by nearly two to one, so they may disagree.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Sam Thaiday (Broncos): Led from the front with a wholehearted, tireless and punishing display; 2 points – Karmichael Hunt (Broncos): Looked sharp at the back and racked up 103 metres from 11 runs; 1 point – Aaron Payne (Cowboys): When too many of his team-mates were trying the fancy stuff, the Cowboys’ Player of the Year in 2008 knuckled down with 40 tackles.
Broncos 19 (I Folau, C Parker, A Winterstein, J Yow Yeh tries; C Parker 1 goal; P Wallace 1 field goal) def Cowboys 18 (W Tonga, C Webb, M Bowen tries; J Thurston 3 goals) at Suncorp Stadium. Crowd: 45,022.