Anthony Milford rediscovers his mojo, a mixed bag for hat-trick hero Corey Oates, Bevan French begins fullback education and Jonus Pearson caps NRL debut with a try-scoring double in Brisbane's big win.
Milford rediscovers his mojo
As Manu Ma'u picked out his target in the defensive line with the excitement of a lion spotting a wounded antelope, Anthony Milford must have been dreading what was to come in the ensuing 80 minutes. The withdrawal of Brad Takairangi prior to kick-off saw Eels coach Brad Arthur shift Ma'u to the centres again and he terrorised the Broncos left side defence early, running for 102 metres in the first half alone and laying on the first try for Bevan French. But despite giving up 15 kilograms Milford soon started throwing his 90-kilogram frame around, coming up with three tackle busts and a clean line-break – his first since Round 13 – to lay on a try for Corey Oates just prior to half-time. The spark that lit up the NRL in the opening rounds returned in a blaze of glory five minutes after the break with a blistering solo try, beating three Eels defenders in the blink of an eye. If the Broncos' fortunes floundered without Milford's weekly brilliance, its sudden return also signalled Brisbane as a premiership threat once again.
Corey Oates on way to redemption
His hands may have let him down in recent weeks with 11 errors in his past four games but Corey Oates showed plenty of signs that he is nearing the form that made him one of the NRL's most devastating wingers. Trademark charges from deep inside Brisbane's half got his team on the front foot and midway through the first half he soared above all Eels to take a Ben Hunt bomb before being brought down just short of the line. A 20-metre charge through the Eels defence put the Broncos on the attack and when they shifted left later in the set he clawed back a pass slightly behind him before acrobatically diving over in the corner. He had an 'Oatesy' moment that led directly to David Gower's 36th-minute try but made up for it by getting down low to pick up an Anthony Milford grubber kick and score a second try seconds before half-time. He spilt a bomb, scored a third and came up with an important tackle on Bevan French that earned his team a repeat set midway through the second half in a performance that may have even brought a smirk to Wayne Bennett's face.
French begins fullback education
He displayed his try-scoring brilliance with the opening four-pointer after just four minutes but it is clear with the way he is being used in attack by coach Brad Arthur that he is in line to wear the No.1 jersey in 2017. Still just 20 years of age and with 12 tries in 10 first grade games, French interchanged with fullback Michael Gordon throughout the game in attack, using his blistering speed to get on the outside of Broncos defenders with sweeping plays out the back and although raw, showed footy smarts possessed by very few. There was a pass that failed to find a man whilst attacking the Brisbane line but it's clear that with Michael Gordon headed to the Roosters at season's end it's an education worth persisting with.
Sloppy Broncos find energy but not execution
If the Broncos hand possession over as cheaply as they did in the first half against one of the competition front-runners they'll have to come from a long way back but thankfully for Brisbane fans the Eels were similarly sloppy. The Broncos made six errors to the Eels' four in the first 40 minutes and two more shortly after the break but two Eels errors inside their own half gifted the home team enough territory and possession to extend their half-time lead. The upside for Brisbane was the intent with which they played, looking much more like the team that had premiership favouritism early in the season. The challenge next week against the Bulldogs will be to ensure their execution matches their energy.
Pearson joins list of try-scoring debutants
More than a dozen NRL rookies have scored a try on debut this season and Jonus Pearson added his name to an impressive list with a double that oozed class. Brought in to the team to replace the injured Lachlan Maranta, Pearson had an early touch from dummy half and then in the 11th minute flashed on to a superb cut-out pass from fullback Darius Boyd to score wide out. As Brisbane piled on the points in the second half he reined in another pass from Boyd with his left arm, stepped back inside and pushed past three Eels defenders to snare his second. A prolific try-scorer in the Holden Cup and Intrust Super Cup the past two seasons, Pearson showed enough to indicate that he could join the ranks of the great wingers to have lined up for the Broncos.