THE Broncos notched up their fourth win from five starts, yet you’d have to suspect the post-match celebrations lacked a certain zing. They were untidy in the first half, completing only about half their sets. Early in the second, they enjoyed a burst of fluency that was decisive, but what should have been a comfortable last quarter-hour for coach Ivan Henjak and Brisbane fans became an ordeal as the visitors struggled to hold a fast-finishing Roosters outfit that refused to lie down. Having poured on 18 points in the last 14 minutes, the home side threatened to snatch the result in the dying seconds.
Had they managed to, a Roosters win would not have been a flagrant miscarriage of justice. Brad Fittler’s men came to play. They made more metres in attack and twice as many offloads, kicked more and better and missed fewer tackles. They lost because of Brisbane’s knack for conjuring a try whenever one was needed, often by exploiting the inexperienced pairing of Setaimata Sa and Sisa Waqa on the Roosters’ right side.
Willie Mason’s enraged response to the final siren suggested there’s a hunger at Bondi Junction, even if there’s some fine-tuning to be done.
While the match will be remembered for its cliff-hanger finish, its first half is best forgotten. The nil-all score after half an hour was a reflection less of steely defence than error-riddled attack. Patrons and viewers were entitled to wonder how an assembly of such gifted players could produce so dreary a spectacle. Disappointment was deep until the eight-try second half – featuring the Roosters’ revival inspired by halves Mitchell Pearce and Braith Anasta – provided a welcome antidote.
The Game Swung When… Brisbane put on a two-try burst early in the second stanza to give them a match-winning 18-point buffer. While that margin didn’t reflect the tenor of the tussle, since when has life been fair?
The second of those tries belonged to 20-year-old winger Antonio Winterstein, a member of the Roosters’ Toyota Cup side last year and an early contender for Rookie of the Year. His cattle-prod fend to get rid of Pearce was something we’ll be seeing more of.
Who Was Hot… The Broncos’ Winterstein and Karmichael Hunt both crossed twice, but you’d say they were warm rather than hot (Hunt’s defensive stats were no tackles and four missed.) For the Roosters, Pearce stood out for effort, toughness and, at times, execution, and Anasta had some fine moments, too, such as the clean break to kick-start his team’s charge.
Who Was Not… By his standards, Darren Lockyer. He kicked poorly in the first half and racked up a grand total of two metres from one run in attack. His miserable field-goal attempt on the stroke of halftime was one he’d like to erase. Perhaps a case of a champion playing hurt.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… The sight of Broncos big man Dave Taylor throwing a sweet cut-out ball for Steve Michaels’ try to make the score 18-0; Anasta channelling Alfie Langer to score from one of those miniature, left-foot grubber kicks; Sam Perrett looking eerily like the man he replaced, Anthony Minichiello, in darting over for a four-pointer; Pearce not missing a beat after copping a massive hit from a Broncos forward late in the game.
Bad Boys… The Roosters’ Nate Myles is on report for collecting Corey Parker with his boot while thrashing about having been tackled. The action seemed more clumsy than malicious.
A lot of angry push and shove broke out late in the game as the scores tightened and the Roosters refused to go quietly into the night, but no big deal there.
Ref Watch… Largely inconspicuous performances from Gavin Badger and Matt Cecchin, though there was a greater tendency to check tries upstairs (with Bill Harrigan) than was evident in the competition’s first month.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Steve Michaels (Broncos): One try and his side’s best territory eater with 114 metres from 15 runs; 2 points – Shane Shackleton (Roosters): Toiled away for 137 metres from 14 hit-ups; 1 point – Antonio Winterstein (Broncos): Two tries, including a 40-metre beauty – a nice comeback after copping it from Dell Sailor a week earlier.
Broncos 28 (A Winterstein 2, K Hunt 2, S Michaels tries; C Parker 4 goals) def Roosters 24 (B Anasta, S Perrett, M Pearce, W Mason tries; Anasta 3, C Fitzgibbon 1 goals) at Sydney Football Stadium. Crowd: 18,464.