Broncos v Panthers: Five key points
The Panthers welcomed back Jamie Soward and his kicking game almost led them to victory, but in the end it wasn't enough as the Broncos snatched a dramatic last minute victory, here are five things we learnt from their Round 9 clash at Suncorp Stadium.
Low-scoring games are still an entertaining affair
For 79 minutes the scoreboard could have easily resembled a game of soccer, but unlike the round-ball game this contest had the Suncorp Stadium crowd glued to their seats for the entire duration.
Only two tries were scored during Brisbane's epic 8-5 victory with the game decided when Corey Oates stormed over the chalk inside the final 60 seconds.
In an end-to-end battle of attrition, both sides shared similar statistics throughout the 80 minutes. The Broncos trumped the possession stakes 53 to 47 percent and also the completion rate by 82 percent compared to Penrith's 80 percent.
There were only five metres separating both sides at fulltime with the Panthers making 1,751 metres as opposed to Brisbane's 1,746 metres, while the Broncos made more errors with 11 compared to eight.
The main difference between the sides – and the catalyst for the entertaining match – came in the form of missed tackles. Penrith made a whopping 39 missed tackles while Brisbane made only 10, which forced the Panthers into making an extra 61 tackles by fulltime.
Broncos' spine needs time to shine
Brisbane has used five different 'spine' combinations this season but finally had their first choice combination on display against the Panthers.
Five-eighth Anthony Milford, halfback Ben Hunt and hooker Andrew McCullough have played every game this season for the Broncos with the fullback position unsettled until Darius Boyd's return.
Jordan Kahu, Lachlan Maranta, Justin Hodges, Kodi Nikorima and Boyd have been used at the back this year with the latter clearly needing time and handful of games to develop continuity with his fellow 'spine' members.
Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett knows his key playmakers will need time to gel after only 80 minutes of playing time.
"I have no doubt at all that it will all come together for them," Bennett said.
"We just need to start the process and [Darius] is eight weeks behind because he's been injured. In eight weeks' time we'll be looking at a whole different player and we'll be different as a team the way we play at the back."
Soward's welcome return
Jamie Soward almost made an instant impact upon his return from a back injury five minutes into Friday's clash.
Soward's vision and explosive acceleration was on show prior to his disallowed try with the 190-game veteran unfortunate to lose control of the ball over the line under the attention of Brisbane winger Jordan Kahu.
Soward's astute kicking game was also a welcomed addition to the Panthers' performance with the left-footer putting boot to ball on 16 occasions for a total of 440 kicking metres demonstrating what his side had missed since Round 2.
Second phase play troubles Broncos
The Panthers had little trouble generating second-phase play in the early stages against the Broncos with the visitors making five offloads to one inside the opening 10 minutes.
Penrith are ranked first in the competition for offloads averaging 16.4 per game while ladder-leaders Brisbane sit 14th averaging only 7.3 per match.
At fulltime the visitors made 16 offloads compared to Brisbane's 10 with Penrith back-rower Lewis Brown making a game-high three offloads.
Despite Penrith's opening period of razzle-dazzle football, Bennett could sense from an early stage that the Panthers came to play a subdued game.
"They came here just to hang in and make life very difficult for us – they played at the pace they wanted to play at to hopefully get the two points and they nearly pulled it off," Bennett said.
Having the week off representative duty allowed a rejuvenated Justin Hodges a chance to terrorise an inexperienced Panthers' three-quarter line and he made no mistake in doing so.
Hodges made 199 metres, six tackles, five tackle busts and two offloads and lined up opposite fledging centre Waqa Blake, who was playing in only his fifth NRL match.
The 32-year-old earned a penalty against the 20-year-old Fijian which led Brisbane's opening try in the 36th minute through Jordan Kahu.
The only blemish for Hodges was a handling error six minutes from fulltime which eventually led to Matt Moylan's 75th minute field goal.