2006 grand final rewind: Bennett hails Broncos 'finest hour'

Each of the Broncos' six premierships is special to Wayne Bennett but the 15-8 grand final win over the Melbourne Storm in 2006 is the one he hails as "probably our finest hour".

By grand final day, Bennett had elevated unheralded halfback Shane Perry from Redcliffe, switched Shaun Berrigan from centre to hooker and Justin Hodges from centre to fullback in positional moves that proved masterstrokes.

The Broncos had failed to beat the minor premiership-winning Storm all year and reached the decider the hard way, after a 20-4 loss to St George Illawarra, a comprehensive 50-6 win over the Knights and a stunning comeback 37-20 victory over the Bulldogs.

They then prepared to enter the figurative perfect storm, but the coach was confident his side had more to give.

"All grand final wins are special in their own way but 2006 was probably our finest hour, in the sense of a complete team effort and the quality of the team we played," Bennett told NRL.com.

"No-one had challenged us in the past like the Storm had. They had dominated the competition.

"I just knew as a coach that if we could get to the grand final that we had the players that could beat the Storm, but we could only beat them once. We wouldn't have beaten them the next week…and that's why that St George loss was good for us in that sense because it put us on a different side of the draw."

Defensive coach Peter Ryan got the players to buy into his systems and Bennett instituted a game plan that captain Darren Lockyer executed to the letter.

After Storm five-eighth Scott Hill set up winger Steve Turner with a brilliant one-hander in the 15th minute the Broncos first try, after an inside ball from Lockyer to Hodges four minutes later, went perfectly to plan.

"That first try was a thing we'd practised because I thought the Storm were vulnerable in that area to an inside ball," Bennett said.

"Sure enough we got in the right field position and [Hodges] scored.

"We knew we were only going to get a couple of tries against them so we took every penalty shot we could get. We defended great ... just outstanding."

After half an hour, Channel Nine commentator Peter Sterling said the Storm had only scored once but had been denied by eight try-saving tackles. Brisbane's scrambling was enormous.

The Broncos led 8-4 at half-time but a classic Hill short-ball to Matt King levelled the scores in the 49th minute.

Broncos utility back Karmichael Hunt in 2006.
Broncos utility back Karmichael Hunt in 2006. ©NRL Photos

Twelve years later, the Storm are still stewing over the two Broncos penalty goals in the game. The first, in the ninth minute, when Berrigan was ruled to have been stripped by Billy Slater when commentator Phil Gould said he "deadset lost it".

The second penalty came in the 58th minute when Berrigan broke clear and Slater was again penalised - this time for a high tackle. Gould was adamant the Storm deserved a penalty for a shepherd.

Four minutes later Berrigan ran down the middle on the last and Brent Tate completed a superb team try.

The screws were turning and the Broncos plan was working a treat.

"After we had lost five on the trot earlier in the year we changed things up a bit. Part of that was about playing through teams straight down the middle," Lockyer told NRL.com.

"One of our other real focusses was to minimise Billy Slater's influence at the back so we bombed to the corners a lot to try and box him in, and we executed that well.

All grand final wins are special in their own way but 2006 was probably our finest hour

Wayne Bennett

"Even though the Storm were the benchmark we had more experience in bigger games with the likes of myself, Webcke, Thorn and Carroll."

That big game experience then came to the fore.

The play of the day  

The Storm, trailing 14-8, had gone close to scoring on several occasions when in the 73rd minute Webcke, in his last game for Brisbane, made two surges in a set of six. His second, where he carried Storm defenders on his back, got the Broncos to within range. Lockyer, standing 10m behind the play the ball, calmly potted a 35m field goal to give Brisbane an unassailable 15-8 lead.

The quote

Gould, in commentary, was in fine form on that Webcke run: "Shane Webcke was never going to kick the field goal to win but he came up with the run to get them in position. The run from Webcke was outstanding ... the second effort, the third effort, the fighting and straining for every inch and carrying players on his back to get them in position. All of a sudden Lockyer says 'now baby' and slots it through."

Best player

Hooker and Clive Churchill Medal winner Shaun Berrigan tackled like a lock forward and scooted out of dummy-half all night with his pace, as an outside back, a constant thorn in the Storm's side.

After round five Michael Ennis had suffered a season-ending injury and Bennett had toyed with other number nines before settling on Berrigan from round 22.

Shaun Berrigan in action for Brisbane in 2006.
Shaun Berrigan in action for Brisbane in 2006. ©NRL Photos

In a remarkable piece of planning, Bennett has revealed that he always intended to switch Berrigan from the centres but was determined not to play his hand too soon.

"The key decision in 2006 was Shaun Berrigan going to hooker, but I had held that up my sleeve until late in the year," Bennett said.

"I realised that the opposition would have worked him out if they'd seen too much of him so that was a plan I'd hatched in advance."

Lockyer explained how vital Berrigan's move was to unlocking the best in the Broncos.

"Berrigan going into hooker in attack, but defending in the centres, was crucial to our success because he was a guy that was very explosive off the mark," Lockyer said.

"He gave us that spark down the middle and that allowed us more freedom out wide and then having Hodges at the back enabled him to get more involved."

Unsung hero

 He may have been unfashionable but Perry at halfback did exactly what Bennett and Lockyer wanted him to do. In and out of the side for the first half of the season, Perry was a permanent fixture, apart from injury, from round 12 onwards and had one of his best games of the year in the game that counted the most.

"We didn't have a halfback and Perry came out of Redcliffe and we started to win with him," Bennett said.

"All he did was boss the forwards. He was wonderful with the forwards and he gave Darren Lockyer the ball when he wanted it."

Perry was no Allan Langer but Lockyer said he didn't need to be. The Broncos captain had the ultimate faith that his halves partner could, and would, do the job.

"He was very respectful, Shane, and a good guy," Lockyer said.

"He knew what his role was and he was very good at it. He read the game well. He probably wasn't the quickest halfback going around but he had a good kicking game. It wasn't always a long kicking game but he could find space. Shane understood the opportunity he had and didn't overplay his hand.

"I don't think it ever worried him or that he even thought he was being compared to Alf. He was a different type of player. He'd been playing for Redcliffe and winning games for them, and managing games, and he just brought that same style of play into our game, and that was exactly what we needed."

What-if moment

 In a game where both sides scored two tries the lack of goals for the Storm proved crucial. Cameron Smith did have a tough sideline conversion in the first half but the Storm had the chance to hit the lead in the second half when fill-in kicker Matt Geyer missed a sitter after Smith had sustained a leg injury.

"Smithy got that cork and Matty Geyer took the kick after Matt King scored and you don’t want to miss those goals 10 or 15m to the left of the posts," Storm five-eighth Hill said.

Broncos star Darren Lockyer.
Broncos star Darren Lockyer. ©NRL Photos

Recollections of a champion

Darren Lockyer (Brisbane Broncos captain)

 "I understand why Wayne says it was our finest hour because it was the only grand final we've won where we were the underdogs going in and you tend to appreciate that a touch more, because it was one you weren't meant to win," Lockyer said.

"That 2006 win was for me personally the most satisfying. As a captain, you want to win a premiership, and also because of the circumstances that we won. Everyone wrote us off. The first game of the year we came out and got done 36-6 by the Cowboys at Suncorp. The media was into us. We turned it around, but the same thing happened later after we lost five in a row. I was the captain and the media was into us again.

"It was a year where I learned a lot about myself personally and as a Broncos team we had to rely on each other more than ever."

Recollections of a runner-up

Scott Hill (Melbourne Storm)

Hill was playing his 200th and last game in the NRL and had missed the 1999 premiership at Melbourne with injury. He set up both Melbourne tries but to this day has still not watched the game. His memory is still raw.

"We had a few individuals that were probably a bit over-awed and they had a lot of players in their team who were very experienced in that occasion," he said.

Scott Hill playing for the Storm in 2006.
Scott Hill playing for the Storm in 2006. ©NRL Photos

"I've never been a person to comment on referees and decisions but in that grand final we had a tough run. It is hard to take. When they got their first penalty Berrigan lost it cold, and Billy had picked it up and was gone. For the other Broncos penalty, Berrigan ran a heavy shepherd before Billy [Slater] took him high. Those decisions were key and changed the momentum, but credit to them.

"I have never watched the game and I never will. People say it was one of my better games, but that doesn't help."