Proud Brisbane Broncos coach Wayne Bennett has praised his side's courageous performance against the Penrith Panthers, saying that their defensive effort was evidence that they are prepared to pay the price in pursuit of grand final glory.
The Broncos coach could only watch on as his side clung desperately to their 13-6 lead late in Friday's elimination final at Suncorp Stadium, refusing to concede despite a barrage of pressure from the Panthers.
At this stage Brisbane's Herman Ese'ese was the only fit man left on the bench after several teammates had succumb to head knocks throughout the match.
First it was winger Corey Oates who went down in the 21st minute when he suffered a sickening clash with teammate Anthony Milford.
Oates was stretchered motionless from the field, with Bennett's masterstroke to have winger David Mead on the bench paying dividends as he slotted seamlessly on the left wing.
Next it was reliable bench forward Jai Arrow who stumbled around the paddock, pulled from the field by trainer Allan Langer – his night done in the 55th minute due to concussion.
Prop Sam Thaiday was the third Bronco to go down - knocked unconscious while trying to make a tackle on Panthers winger Josh Mansour in the 68th minute.
It meant Brisbane played the last 12 minutes of the game with just one reserve, forcing the likes of bench forward Joe Ofahengaue to play 51 minutes – 18 more than his usual workload of 33 minutes per game.
Ofahengaue's effort was just one of many that had Bennett smiling, with the master coaching pleased at how his team had put their bodies on the line.
"I was really proud of their effort. That's what the club has been built on," Bennett said.
"They paid the price on Friday night. There are three guys knocked out. They were committed all night and they threw their bodies at everything they possibly could.
"There were two or three times that Penrith could have scored but we turned up out of nowhere and stopped that moment, that's paying the price. There are a lot of exhausted players in the change room."
Stand-in captain Adam Blair echoed Bennett's sentiments, saying those efforts are what typify his experiences at the club over the past three seasons.
"I've played in a few tough games. We worked hard and we kept turning up for each other," Blair said.
"We defended our line great. You get a lot of energy when you can keep turning them backwards or force an error.
"We've built ourselves on our defence over the past three years, and that's what the club has always been built on. We've just kept turning up."
The Broncos will now face minor premiers the Melbourne Storm at AAMI Park next Friday night for a place in the NRL Telstra Grand Final.