THE Broncos rode with the Bulldogs for 55 minutes before the visitors exposed the home side’s fatigue and limited game preparation, exploding away to double their score in the remaining quarter of the clash and run out comfortable winners.
The loss ended an emotional week for the Broncos. They took the field only after persuading officials on Thursday not to forfeit on the back of their swine flu isolation which saw them hit the training paddock just once all week – on the morning of the game.
From there the side defied health authorities to attend the funeral of club legend and recruitment manager Cyril Connell, before heading to Suncorp Stadium to ready themselves.
Wearing black armbands their mood was anything but uplifting as the Bulldogs raced to a 10-nil lead after just 13 minutes courtesy of a Josh Morris try double.
But then the Broncos dug in; they clawed it back to 10-6 after Karmichael Hunt grubbered for the flying Jharal Yow Yeh on the left flank in the 17th minute and when Lagi Setu crossed adjacent to the posts after Hunt put on two glorious right-foot sidesteps close to the line, they held an improbable 12-10 lead.
From there the scoring entered tit-for-tat mode, with the Broncos heading to the sheds up 18-16.
The trend continued in the second half, with Bulldogs five-eighth Ben Roberts catching Brisbane’s outside backs off-guard early in the tackle count, grubbering behind the line for Bryson Goodwin to score without a hand laid on him. Hazem El Masri’s conversion made it advantage ’Dogs at 22-18 after 45 minutes.
But sustained pressure saw the Broncos strike back, with a rapid-fire passing movement ending with Yow Yeh crossing for his second of the night to tie it up at 22-all after 50 minutes.
The Brisbane faithful were hopeful – but you got the feeling it was just a matter of time before the you-score, we-score sequence was broken in the opposition’s favour. Five minutes, in fact: a Ben Roberts solo effort saw the visitors out to 28-22 and when Goodwin bagged his second courtesy of a Benefit Of The Doubt grounding, they extended to 32-22 and it was game over with 16 minutes left on the clock.
Late tries to Bulldogs prop Michael Hodgson and evergreen winger El Masri rubbed salt into the wounds.
The Game Swung When… Ben Roberts shrugged off Darren Lockyer’s tired, grasping attempts to tackle him 20 metres out from the Broncos’ line. The New Zealand representative sprinted clear to score (28-22) and the Bulldogs sniffed blood in the water with 25 minutes to go.
Who Was Hot… Every touch from Roberts was full of quality. He got his side off to a dream start with a lovely deception with the ball in hand before putting Josh Morris over for the first of his two tries. His left-foot grubber for Goodwin to score was pinpoint perfect. And his individual run to score turned the game.
All the Bulldogs ran with power and purpose, especially the four former Broncos Michael Ennis, Ben Hannant, David Stagg (13 hit-ups, 47 tackles) and Greg Eastwood (12 hit-ups, two tackle breaks).
Ennis’ scheming at the ruck ensured his side made huge inroads by taking on the retreating Broncos’ markers, who had no clue as to how to stop the marauding runs.
At halfback, Brett Kimmorley outplayed his opposite Peter Wallace while out wide centre Jamal Idris was solid.
Luke Patten played like Luke Patten: a bouncy pinball that racked up 160 metres, creating breaks from nothing.
For the Broncos, prop Joel Clinton – recalled at the 11th hour after serving just one of his two-game suspension for breaking club rules – ran harder and straighter than any other Brisbane forward (84 metres, 26 tackles in just 44 minutes).
Yow Yeh will remember his try double.
Corey Parker was busy, creative and productive (35 tackles, four tackle breaks).
Who Was Not… Both sides’ defences weren’t up to scratch – the Broncos missed 44 tackles, the Bulldogs 27. In the end fatigue got the better of the Broncos. The Bulldogs always looked like the longer the game went, the better their chances. They had a lap-full of horse left at the full-time siren.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Hazem El Masri’s first conversion attempt barely made it into the air, wobbling like a low-flying Exocet missile under the crossbar. Weird.
Ashton Sims kissed his armband and pointed to the sky after scoring the try that took the Broncos to their 18-16 halftime lead – turns out he taped his newborn daughter’s hospital wristband to his wrist before taking to the field.
Karmichael Hunt had a clean shot at bringing down a runaway Kimmorley in the 31st minute but chose instead to knock his opponent senseless with a shoulder charge – it misfired, Kimmorley offloaded and the Dogs scored. Not real special, ‘K’.
Refs Watch… Not much more Tony Archer and Shayne Hayne could do but suck in the deep breaths and watch the ball travel from end to end.
There were a few suss decisions – like a blatant forward pass from Michael Ennis at the ruck in the lead-up to Goodwin’s second try that saw them out to 32-22. But no Broncos’ fan would quibble that the better team didn’t win the game.
NRL.com best & fairest… 3 points – Ben Roberts (Bulldogs): Everything he did turned to gold. Roberts scored a try, contributed four try assists, five line-break assists, made 16 tackles and six tackle breaks. In the form of his career; 2 points – Josh Morris (Bulldogs): Pressed his claims for the second Origin game with a blinder. Scored twice, made two line breaks and four tackles breaks; 1 point – Ben Hannant (Bulldogs): Ran for 169 metres, made 14 hit-ups and made 34 tackles – all in just 57 minutes. Not bad for a bloke with swine flu!
Bulldogs 44 (H El Masri 2, J Morris 2, B Goodwin 2, M Hodgson, B Roberts tries; H El Masri 6 goals) def Broncos 22 (J Yow Yeh 2, L Setu, A Sims tries; C Parker 3 goals) at Suncorp Stadium. Crowd: 26,353.