Broncos v Panthers: Five key points
Hunt makes most of Suncorp farewell, Panthers fail to fire in attack, Nikorima rises high to save the day and Brisbane defence readies for ultimate test in Melbourne.
Hunt a man possessed in Suncorp farewell
In his last game as a Bronco at Suncorp Stadium Ben Hunt was absolutely determined to ensure he would get to wear the jersey at least one more time with an inspired performance against the Panthers on Friday night.
He has had more brilliant nights at Brisbane's home ground wearing the No.7 jersey but rarely has he looked more committed to the cause.
Defending in the middle of the field for 80 minutes, Hunt made a mammoth 44 tackles – the most in his career – and regularly led the team's line speed as they pressured the Panthers' attack.
He jumped out of dummy-half, kicked on occasion and laid on the first try of the night with an absolutely superb pass to put Corey Oates in space.
Panthers fail to find spark in attack
One of the most electrifying young teams in the competition showed a distinct lack of spark against a brave Brisbane team that refused to yield.
For the first 60 minutes it appeared the default setting when they were in Brisbane's half was a Nathan Cleary bomb into the night sky and while it brought about one error from Broncos fullback Kodi Nikorima it never looked like leading to points.
Sweeping shifts to Penrith's right side were met by stern Tautau Moga defence time after time and it wasn't until two forwards in Bryce Cartwright and Reagan Campbell-Gillard performed a pair of matching pirouettes that they were able to register points.
Even before the loss of Tyrone May late in the first half with a knee injury the Penrith attack lacked variety and penetration and it wasn't until they went berserk on offloads in desperation late that they even looked like scoring a second.
The Brisbane defence deserves plenty of praise but the Penrith attack was impotent when it mattered most.
Sickening collision leaves Broncos one short
He had given his team the early lead with a brilliant 55-metre burst but Corey Oates' involvement in the semi-final lasted just 21 minutes after he suffered a sickening collision with Brisbane teammate Anthony Milford.
Coming back on an inside run as Milford drifted to the left, Oates's head made direct contact with the point of Milford's left shoulder as Panthers half Nathan Cleary made the tackle on Milford to change the direction in which he was moving.
The giant winger was concussed before he hit the ground and had to be taken from the field in the medicab to play no further role in the match, David Mead coming on and filling in superbly on the left wing.
Nikorima rises high to save the day
A week ago Wayne Bennett shielded Kodi Nikorima from the opening 20 minutes against the Roosters but his decision to allow the diminutive No.1 a starting role against the Panthers was vindicated at the best possible time.
A safe – if somewhat unconvincing – first take of a Nathan Cleary kick was followed by a spilt bomb in front of his posts in the 23rd minute but as Penrith launched a customary late raid it was Nikorima who soared high into the Brisbane night sky to save the day.
A Cleary chip kick back across the ruck as Penrith trailed by six points looked certain to fall into the arms of fullback Dylan Edwards until Nikorima timed his jump to perfection and pinched possession at the absolute perfect time.
It is highly likely that captain Darius Boyd will return from his hamstring injury to face the Storm next Friday night but if not for Nikorima's intervention he may not have been given that opportunity.
Brave Broncos defend to the bitter end
By the end of 80 minutes they had just one fit man on the bench but a determined Brisbane defensive display provided the cornerstone for their 13-6 win.
They lost Oates after just 20 minutes and saw Jai Arrow and Sam Thaiday also suffer head knocks that ended their contributions prematurely but time and again the Broncos defence swarmed as the Panthers desperately searched for a way to break through.
Moga's defence early on rampant second-rower Corey Harawira-Naera troubled the Panthers big man while Anthony Milford also put his body on the line as Penrith continued to attack Brisbane's left edge.
Penrith set up camp deep in Brisbane territory for the final 20 minutes of the match but could only find a way through when Cartwright and Campbell-Gillard combined mid-field.
The next assignment for Brisbane is a daunting one but they rediscovered the attitude in defence needed to keep a team such as Melbourne in check.