A season-ending Achilles injury to Maroons enforcer Josh McGuire has soured Brisbane's 44-22 win over the Newcastle Knights at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.
McGuire's injury looked innocuous at first glance with the 25-year-old hitting the turf after turning around in defence to face another Newcastle hit-up.
The Knights had injury dramas of their own when they lost back rowers Beau Scott (shoulder) and Robbie Rochow (broken arm) during the first half, while Brisbane also lost Dale Copley midway through the second half when he copped a head knock and had to be stretchered off after a collision with Dane Gagai.
Brisbane's 22-point win sees them extend their lead at the top of the Telstra Premiership, but face the prospect of playing the rest of the season without their leading front rower.
Fullback Darius Boyd came off early with a groin strain, but is expected to be fit for Origin III.
Broncos skipper Justin Hodges, who has come back twice from Achilles injuries, backed his Origin teammate to return fitter and stronger in 2016.
"It's devastating for him – it's a big injury," Hodges said.
"He's a guy who works hard and takes no shortcuts so he'll get back. If he works hard [in recovery] and do the little things right he'll be back before you know it."
Galloping out to a 20-0 after 30 minutes, the Broncos looked like winning in a canter until the Knights stuck back with two quick tries before half-time to narrow the deficit to 10 points.
An intercept to Akuila Uate had the Broncos on the back foot and their defensive line cracked when Danny Levi took advantage of some loose marker defence to score from dummy half.
Now only trailing by four points, the Knights had wind in their sails but shot themselves in the foot when Levi made a mistake from Newcastle's next set.
Brisbane made them pay when Lachlan Maranta batted a Ben Hunt cross-field kick into the path of Justin Hodges, who sent Matt Gillett over the line.
Hunt made no mistake with the conversion to hand the Broncos back their 10-point buffer at 26-16 in the 49th minute.
McGuire's 60th-minute injury opened up space in Brisbane's defensive line which resulted in a try to Korbin Sims.
The Knights appeared to be back into the contest until consecutive tries to the Broncos took the score out to 38-22.
The Broncos iced their 12th win of the season in front of a crowd of 27,246 when Lachlan Maranta crossed for his second try six minutes from fulltime.
Brisbane survived an early scare during the first half when the Knights butchered a golden chance to open the scoring after Uate found space down the right flank.
The flying winger only had Darius Boyd to beat but couldn't find a way past his former teammate who positioned himself perfectly to halt the Fijian's run.
Newcastle's missed opportunity proved costly as the Broncos crossed two minutes later when makeshift winger Corey Oates dashed over out wide after clever lead-up work by Boyd.
The Broncos doubled their lead in the 21st minute when inexperienced fullback Jake Mamo spilt a high ball close to his line which resulted in a try to Andrew McCullough in the next set.
A simple blindside shift resulted in Brisbane's third try when Hodges sent Maranta over the line for a 16-0 lead after 27 minutes.
The ladder leaders turned on the style again from the restart when Anthony Milford broke through the Knights' line and weaved his way through six defenders to score a scintillating 65-metre try.
The Knights struck back in the 36th minute when Queensland Origin hopeful Dane Gagai powered his way over the line and Kurt Gidley converted to take the score to 20-6.
Another try to Newcastle right before the break gave the Broncos something to think about heading into the sheds, having seen their 20-point lead halved within the space of six minutes.
Brisbane Broncos 44 (Matt Gillett 2, Lachlan Maranta 2, Corey Oates, Andrew McCullough, Anthony Milford, Darius Boyd tries; Corey Parker 5, Ben Hunt goals) def. Newcastle Knights 22 (Dane Gagai, Akuila Uate, Danny Levi, Korbin Sims tries; Kurt Gidley 3, Gagai goals) at Suncorp Stadium. Crowd: 27,246. Half-time: Broncos 20-10.