Broncos v Panthers: Five key points
Brisbane dominated the first half but Penrith came to life in the second, briefly creating hopes of an unlikely comeback but ultimately coming up short at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night.
Broncos make it four straight
Some 'experts' tipped Brisbane to miss the top eight but these predictions seem to be way off as Wayne Bennett's men continue their charge towards the top of the competition. The Broncos now sit in the top four after having won four games in a row. Their 6-3 record includes wins over the highly fancied Sydney Roosters and Cronulla Sharks, with Brisbane now in a great position heading into the State of Origin period. With a week off for the Representative Round now upon them, the Broncos are primed for a huge run with winnable games against the Manly Sea Eagles and Wests Tigers to come.
Panthers rue disastrous defence and costly errors
Penrith came into Thursday night with the fourth-worst tackling record in the competition and they lived up to their reputation. The Panthers went into the Round 9 clash averaging 33 missed tackles per match and they almost reached that mark by half-time. Penrith had 29 missed tackles in the first 40 minutes, one more than they had during the full 80 minutes against the Parramatta Eels the week before.
To make things worse, when they did have the ball they couldn't hold onto it, making 17 errors in a dreadful display. Penrith lead the NRL for errors this season, with 96 going into Thursday's clash. It means the Panthers now average close to 13 errors per game and that is the definition of a 'coach killer'.
Penrith's poor first-half record continues
The Panthers' slow starts are crippling their season. In what is a damning statistic, Penrith have only led after the first 40 minutes in two of their past 12 matches. It hit a new low on Thursday night when they trailed 22-0 at half-time, completing just 53 per cent of their sets.
Panthers coach Anthony Griffin must have been pulling his hair out in the coach's box and it didn't matter how well he spoke to his team at half-time, a 22-point deficit is almost impossible to overcome in rugby league. Another loss means Penrith now slip to a 2-7 record with their season on life support.
Merrin shows heart
Trent Merrin's selection for the Australian Kangaroos has come under a lot of scrutiny because of his below-average start to the season statistically, but he produced his best performance of the season on Thursday night. Merrin was the first try-scorer for the Panthers, beating three Broncos to reach over the line. The commentators described it as a 'nothing play', and it could be said that nothing would have come of it if the ball was in another player's hands. Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga knows Merrin will always turn up for his team and that's why he will be wearing the green and gold next weekend. His final statistics of 131 metres and 34 tackles is commendable in a losing side.
Roberts bolts into Origin contention
James Roberts may have left the field early with an ankle injury, but if fit he should be picked for the Blues in State of Origin. If New South Wales coach Laurie Daley wants someone in his backline that can change a game in the blink of an eye then James Roberts is his man.
The Brisbane flyer's first 20 minutes were simply incredible. His impact on the game went to another level in the 11th minute when he received the ball on the halfway line, splitting Peta Hiku and Isaah Yeo before stepping Matt Moylan. He then passed to Jordan Kahu who found Kodi Nikorima to give the Broncos their first try of the match. Just minutes later, Yeo knocked on inside Brisbane's 20-metre line and Nikorima regathered. The Broncos halfback then passed to Roberts who showed his speed and agility to run 80 metres, beating a number of Panthers to score in the corner. Roberts is confident and loving his football, and this is something that's been missing over the past few years. The 24-year-old would not look out of place in a Blues jersey.