Brisbane forward Tevita Pangai jnr.

Pangai surge evokes Vautin memory for Bennett

One powerhouse run by Paul Vautin in the SCG slush in 1987 helped save Wayne Bennett’s Queensland Maroons coaching career.

One dominant and defiant Tevita Pangai jnr surge at Suncorp Stadium against South Sydney, when the scores were locked at 18-18, inspired Brisbane to a crucial 38-18 victory that may well save their season and kick-start a premiership tilt.

God only knows what it will ultimately do for Bennett’s coaching future at Brisbane.

When the dust settled on Thursday night’s win by the Broncos, which has them in seventh position on the Telstra Premiership ladder and still a chance of hosting a home semi-final, Bennett reflected on defining moments in rugby league contests that can change the course of history.

After losing four games in a row as coach of Queensland from game one of the 1986 series to game one of 1987, Bennett knew full well that another loss would end his stint as Maroons coach.

At a sodden SCG in game two the Maroons trailed the Blues 6-4 at half-time. Bennett has long believed that Vautin’s run in the second half inspired Queensland’s ultimate 12-6 victory. The Maroons went on to win the series and the next two 3-nil.

"It was in the mud at the Sydney Cricket Ground and we were behind when Paul Vautin picked the ball up near the halfway line,” a nostalgic Bennett told NRL.com

Wally Lewis gives Paul Vautin a drink at the SCG in 1987.
Wally Lewis gives Paul Vautin a drink at the SCG in 1987. ©NRL Photos/v

"He didn’t have any great footwork, Paul. He wasn’t a big guy and he had no great speed but he just lined a guy up and ran over the top of him. A couple more came at him, but he just went for 15 or 20 metres and left bodies behind him.

"Those moments inspire other players. They think 'geez, he did that, so can I'. Paul’s run gave us the momentum to win."

It was then that Bennett reflected on Pangai's run against Souths when the Rabbitohs had come back from 18-nil to level the scores.

The Tongan international got the ball and steamrolled defenders in a 30 metre surge. Anthony Milford secured a repeat set and minutes later Corey Oates leapt high to score from a Milford bomb, and Brisbane did not look back.

"It gave us the momentum. That's what I felt Tevita's run, like Paul's, also did tonight," Bennett said.

"Milford's kick [for a repeat set] came off the back of that and then we got a try. All of a sudden we got on a roll and it was our game.

"That's what Tevita brings. He's a lot bigger and more powerful that what Paul Vautin was but he ran with the same intent.

"It looked like he was tackled but then he ran over a couple of blokes, came out of more tackles and ran over another guy and bumped him off.

"He is just very powerful, with footwork and speed. He has a lot of qualities only the good ones have."

If the Broncos go on a winning run this year mark that Pangai run down as the catalyst. Brisbane dominated from that moment forward, as they often do against top eight sides.

It was Pangai's fire and brimstone that inspired the Broncos to their first win of the season against the Cowboys and his big final minute play that deflected Scott Bolton into the goal post pad.

If Broncos fans are looking for omens, 1987 ended with Vautin lifting the Winfield Cup.

So long as Pangai is on the field Brisbane will entertain hopes of putting a seventh premiership on the vacant stand in the foyer of Broncos HQ.