Brisbane were hot and St George Illawarra were not at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night, the home side playing high-quality rugby league to dismember the disappointing minor premiers.
The Dragons looked bereft of ideas. In attack their options were limited to kick it to the wings or cart it up the middle, trying not to drop it. But drop it they did, along with falling off tackles and giving away dumb penalties. They shut up shop. Better to have thrown it about and have a crack. An insipid performance from a side that a month ago looked premiership morals.
The Broncos played as if they had nothing to lose. And in that mindset and this form, they can beat anyone in the competition. Their defence was stonewall and they played for each other, and will gain a big fillip looking ahead to Melbourne.
That said, they've lost their halfback and will need to produce one of their club's greatest ever performances to overcome the Storm in Melbourne.
The Game Swung When… Brutal defence by the Broncos in the first 10 minutes eventually told on the Dragons. The visitors coughed up so much ball and looked so rattled in the first 10 minutes that it sapped their confidence as the game wore on. When they needed to produce something special in the second half – or even something with modest attacking potential – they could not. And it was because of the battering they received in the opening stanza.
On the back of his forwards’ rugged ‘D’, “Special K” Karmichael Hunt ran over for two typically blockbusting tries within the first 20 minutes.
The Dragons hit back with a try to slippery wing Brett Morris to get within six points. But when Jharal Yow Yeh (48th minute) and Lagi Setu (52nd minute) ran over for four-pointers and impressive lock Cory Parker continued his perfect kicking record for the evening the Dragons were down 24-6 and chasing like greyhounds.
They kept on trying, and if Jeremy Smith had been able to place the ball after a bumping run to the line in the 61st minute, maybe (though it's a big maybe) the Dragons could have scrambled back into this game. But they lacked the weapons to get the job done. Well, they have attacking players – many of them. But they lacked the ability to utilise them. Just a very ordinary performance. Extraordinary, even.
Who Was Hot… Hunt (22 runs, 150 metres, six tackle breaks) showed what a good rugby league player the Gold Coast AFL team have purchased with a barnstorming game at fullback.
Peter Wallace – tragically injured in the 74th minute – showed what a good rugby league player the Brisbane Broncos will be missing with a fine game at playmaker. He kept the Dragons pinned down, landed an excellent 40/20 and came up with two try assists.
And big prop Dave Taylor ran like a centre in the centres, his hard charges assisting team-mates to two tries.
Elsewhere Sam Thaiday had a big game (19 runs, 133 metres, four tackle breaks, 29 tackles) while gun centres Justin Hodges (15 runs, 124 metres) and Israel Folau (14 runs, 89 metres) were equally busy and effective.
And hooker Andrew McCullough had a fine game in attack and defence; he's an under-rated no.9 this bloke, and a pretty fair player.
Brett Morris scored two tries and broke 13 tackles to be best on field for the Dragons.
Jamie Soward tried.
Who Was Not... The Dragons, or their fans at the very least, will still be moping about their inglorious exit from the finals well into 2010. This was one of their worst two performances for the season – the other was last week.
When they needed a “hot” game most, they came up with lukewarm water. Sure, the Broncos’ defence was brutal and effective. But the minor premiers’ lack of skill and creativity at the gain line has seen them again fall from grace, the first team to go win-less in an NRL finals series after being minor premiers.
We won’t pick out any one of them; collectively the team made 12 errors. The forwards were very well beaten at the gain line, which flowed into the lack of penetration garnered by the backs. In fact the backs ran the ball harder and more often than the forwards.
All in all a rather sad effort from a team that had promised so much.
Had To Be Seen To Be Believed… Hunt’s first try was a cracker. Brisbane prop Nick Kenny crashed into the Dragons and managed to pop a miracle ball to Darren Lockyer who popped a miracle ball to Hunt, who ran hard and scored.
Four minutes later Taylor popped an equally brilliant ball to the rampaging Hunt and the Broncos were in again.
Bad Boys… Hunt was placed on report for tripping Soward but will play against Melbourne next week after an early plea.
Dragon Beau Scott was hit with a dangerous throw charge and will miss a pre-season trial game (they count) in February with an early plea.
Refs Watch… Couple of dodgy ones that could've gone either way, perhaps, from referees Ben Cummins and Tony Archer, but overall the pair refereed with authority.
NRL.com Best & Fairest… 3 points – Karmichael Hunt (Broncos): Giant stepping from the human pinball – in this form Hunt is a match-winner; 2 points – Peter Wallace (Broncos): Tormented the Dragons with pinpoint execution; 1 point – Andrew McCullough (Broncos): A game-high 39 tackles, 80 minutes and 100 receives from the tough Broncos rake.
Broncos 24 (K Hunt 2, J Yow Yeh, L Setu tries; C Parker 4 goals) def Dragons 10 (B Morris 2 tries; J Soward goal) at Suncorp Stadium. Crowd: 50,225.