There's just something about these clashes; the mutual respect, the effort, the skill, the guts. The Broncos have prevailed in front of their home crowd, but the Cowboys didn't go down without a fight.
1. The Broncos defence of old is back
You don't win competitions in March and Round 1 performances are rarely a reliable indicator of how the rest of the season will go, but even when considering those cliches, the change in defensive attitude from last week to this week has been astounding. A key reason was the 80-minute performance from McCullough at hooker, making 46 tackles, after being relegated to start off the bench in Round 1. Coach Bennett admitted that was a mistake and McCullough went about proving just how wrong he was. But it surely wasn't the only difference. You can bet that the primary focus at training was defence, defence and defence. The Cowboys rarely could find an overlap and the Broncos line speed was impressive from the early stages and through most of the match. The Broncos look like a Top 8 team again.
2. The Cowboys are too reliant on their 'Middle 3'.
It was interesting to note that while Matt Scott, Jordan McLean and Jason Taumalolo were on the field the Cowboys were always in the arm wrestle (if not winning it). Bolton, Jensen, Asiata and Hess, serviceable as they all are couldn't replicate the momentum created by the starting middles as the Broncos won the moments that mattered and converted their opportunities into points. The Cowboys were down and out of the game until the middle 3 returned to the field, then they almost stole it. All 4 bench players played out of their skin in 2017 and the Cowboys will need them to do that again if they are to push for the premiership in 2018.
3. The Broncos out-enthused the Cowboys.
Beware the embarrassed Broncos. After their humiliating capitulation in Round 1, the Broncos would always bounce back to take on their Queensland rivals. What would be most concerning for Paul Green is that the Cowboys were out-enthused for most of the key moments of the match. Whether it's Ben Hampton letting a McCullough bomb bounce and there only being Broncos chasers to score the try or the fact that Joe Ofahengaue out-paced Ethan Lowe to scramble on a loose grubber (only for a Thaiday shove on the fullback to disallow the try). For a ten-minute period in the first half every 50/50 ball was bouncing for the Broncos because they were there to capitalise, often running past lazy Cowboys to get to it. That 18 point burst was the difference in this game, and the lack of effort in one of the Cowboys' key fixtures will have Coach Green worried.
4. Cowboys too predictable without Morgan and Coote.
No savvy Rugby League viewer would deny that Thurston is one of the greatest playmakers ever, but even he can't do everything alone. With no Michael Morgan and Lachlan Coote, the Cowboys forever turned to their maestro for the magic play. Thurston did his best and produced plenty of silky moments (and almost conjured a victory) but their poor fifth tackle options were a product of Te Maire Martin not taking charge at key moments to provide Granville with a viable alternative. The Cowboys often found themselves in odd field position and without their trademark go-forward, the Cowboys were under-siege from the Broncos impressive line speed. Those two men can't come back fast enough for the liking of Cowboys fans.
5. Broncos with 14 defenders on the field to save that last try...
Broncos lead 24-20 with less than 2 minutes left on the clock. Thurston receives the ball 15 metres out in front of the posts. He has options to his right, with the defence sliding. He props on his right foot to square up a tired prop and sees Scott Bolton running a beautiful line and delivers the inch-perfect pass. Pangai Jr can't quite make up the ground; it's a try for all money! The Cowboys have done it again! NO! The upright comes out of nowhere and lays Bolton out with the biggest hit of the night! So earth-shattering was the hit it dislodged the ball, giving the victory to the Broncos. Some might argue that the upright didn't appear on the team sheet for the Broncos at the start of the game (and they'd be correct) but the officials didn't pick it up and the Broncos won a hard-fought victory. Oh well; frankly they were the better team on the night and deserved it, anyway.
What were your highlights from a shock Broncos win? Let us know in the comments below.