Brisbane Broncos 16 def Melbourne Storm 14
SIX months ago, these two clubs played the match of the season: the pulsating semi-final snatched by the Storm on the stroke of full-time. On Friday night, with less at stake but again before a large and passionate Suncorp Stadium throng, they produced another nail-biter. The scores were identical. But this time the Broncos prevailed, hanging on to notch their first win against Melbourne since the 2006 decider.
While Brisbane looked sharper than the visitors for most of the match, the Storm started and finished the stronger. When, from a standing start, Billy Slater evaded some weak goal-line defence to touch down in the second minute, the Broncos looked vulnerable and the honeymoon of their new coach, Ivan Henjak, finished.
But Brisbane surged via another lively showing by their pack, led for the second consecutive week by Sam Thaiday, and skilful work from halves Peter Wallace and Darren Lockyer. Melbourne never went away, weren’t helped by the referees, and, like last September, had a chance or two to win the match at the death.
But they’ll recognise they’re not playing like the well-oiled machine of recent years. The loss of key personnel mostly accounts for that.
Two (narrow) home wins from two starts for the Broncos had them (briefly) alone on top of the table. Perhaps we’ve seen enough already to say they’ve weathered the loss of Wayne Bennett and look good things to feature yet again in the showdowns of September.
The Game Swung When… Referees Ben Cummins and Tony De Las Heras ignored a blatant knock-on at dummy-half by Broncos hooker Aaron Gorrell, and Steve Michaels took advantage of some dumbfounded Storm players to score on the same ruck early in the second half.
The conversion blew out the Broncos’ lead to eight points and they were never headed. The Storm were aggrieved – and were entitled to be. At the very least, the matter should have been referred to video ref Bill Harrigan. One can muck around with camera angles and hair-splitting, but to the naked eye it was a clear-cut spill… and even some of the Broncos momentarily stopped playing.
Who Was Hot… Peter Wallace, who’s maturing into a strong organiser and would be the early frontrunner for the No. 7 Blues jersey. His soaring cross-kick for Israel Folau’s try in the 12th minute was pinpoint; he backed that up with his own four-pointer in the 44th; and put a try-saving hit on Slater towards the end. Like The Easybeats, the Storm must have had Thaiday on their mind for most of the week. But though they kept him quieter than the Cowboys managed a week earlier, the indefatigable second-rower still led the way in attack and defence.
Slater’s cover defence and general clean-up work at the back were top-notch all night, and he kept the Storm in the game when the Broncos were smoking in the first half.
In the second, his take of a swirling, rain-bringing bomb – with giant Dave Taylor bearing down on him – was pure courage.
Who Was Not… Poor William Isa, a Toyota Cup star for Penrith last year, looked like a boy among men at centre for the Storm. Smashed several times in possession, he made two blunders early in the second half and Craig Bellamy hooked him.
And while Greg Inglis’ match stats were sound – 105 metres from 16 runs – he looked a tad sluggish at times and not quite thoroughbred fit. Which would make sense given his publicised knee and shoulder problems. (Maybe he won’t be there next week?)
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Folau’s soaring mark above Anthony Quinn for the Broncos’ first try was the play local fans had been waiting for.
On the flipside, the Storm’s Adam Blair threw a comically bad forward pass from a penalty restart in the 19th minute. Not that Bellamy would have seen the funny side.
Bad Boys… In the 14th minute Quinn, running with the ball, cleaned up Thaiday with a raised forearm. The transgression was spotted by video ref Harrigan and Quinn was penalised and placed on report.
Despite the apparent incredulity of Storm skipper Cameron Smith, it was the right ruling.
Also, video scrutineers didn’t like the grapple-like forces that Justin Hodges applied to Cameron Smith’s neck and head midway through the second half. Hodges was charged with dangerous contact and will miss a week.
Willie Isa copped a similar charge for an incident in the ninth minute but given his previous good record is free to play this week.
Refs Watch… Not outrageously good performances from Cummins and De Las Heras. Allowing play to continue when Gorrell fumbled was a mistake; not referring the subsequent Michaels try upstairs smelt of pride.
Both whistleblowers were a little too eager to speed up the play-the-balls, and their looks of exasperation directed at slow-rising defenders belong in the silent era. There was also inconsistency in their rulings pertaining to when tackles had been completed.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Peter Wallace (Broncos): Produced the decisive plays and gained 272 metres from nine kicks; 2 points – Sam Thaiday (Broncos): Picked up where he left off in round 1: 17 runs for 121 metres and a count-topping 38 tackles; 1 point – Dallas Johnson (Storm): Bit quiet in attack, but no wonder – 56 tackles, and none missed.
Broncos 16 (I Folau, S Michaels, P Wallace tries; C Parker 2 goals) def Storm 14 (B Slater, K Proctor tries; C Smith 3 goals) at Suncorp Stadium. Crowd: 36,647.