After a stunning turn around to beat the Manly Sea Eagles, just one week after being flogged by them, the Panthers would have been filled with confidence ahead of this clash. But a resurgent Broncos side, stinging from an embarrassing performance against the Roosters, had a point to prove in front of their 38,000 fans at Suncorp Stadium.
1. Brutal First Half Claims Two Key Victims
Semi-final football is alive and well in Brisbane; with plenty of feeling in this do or die clash between the Broncos and the Panthers. The Broncos started better, clearly with a point to prove after their terrible performance against the Roosters last week. Once the Panthers got used to the pace of the match, the hits started to really sting.
But it would be friendly fire that would claim two victims in the first half. A sickening collision between Anthony Milford and Corey Oates in the 22nd minute saw the latter taken from the field. Oates was one of Brisbane’s best for that first quarter, scoring their only try with wonderful speed. As he was stretchered from the field, there was great concern for the Queensland representative. Here’s hoping the injury is not as serious as it appeared. Pictures of him walking gingerly around the dressing room suggested that it might have been concussion, which bodes well for a possible return next week.
The Panthers would also have an injury concern, with five-eighth Tyrone May pulling up lame after falling awkwardly on his right knee during a tackle in the 38th minute. Luckily, the injury doesn’t look serious, with May able to walk off the field with minimal assistance, but it was not the way he would have liked to finish the year.
2. If At First You Don’t Succeed, Try and Try and Try and Try Again (and fail).
Reports have surfaced that Milford requires shoulder surgery at the end of the season and won’t be available for the World Cup. Naturally, opposition sides have aimed a lot of their attack to the Broncos left-edge. Coupled with the often-dubious decision-making of Tautau Moga at left centre, this was always going to be a target for the Panthers.
But it wasn’t working. It seemed like most times the Panthers went to the right, Nathan Cleary would hit the lead runner on an outside-in line, with Dylan Edwards sweeping around the back. They would often strip the Broncos for numbers but it was irrelevant because they hit Corey Harawira-Naera. Moga was always jamming in hard while Milford was also bravely putting his body directly in front of the bigger man.
With repeated drop balls or ineffective plays, the best plan was to try something different and yet they persisted with this game plan, which raises the question about Cleary and Peter Wallace; do they have the ability to play what is in front of them? Their predictable plays were simply not good enough to break this game open. Their only try came from consecutive offloads from James Tamou and Wallace, with some brilliant footwork from Dean Whare and an assist from Bryce Cartwright also helping. But they were already playing catch up; it was too little, too late.
3. Broncos Defence Is Back
The stats do not look fantastic as the Broncos defence missed a whopping 41 tackles with Matt Gillett providing eight of those by himself. But this stat is misleading, with many of those 41 efforts supremely important in shutting down the Panthers. Be it rushing out of the line to make first contact, or making a pivotal scrambling half-tackle close to the line, the Broncos worked brilliantly as a unit to repel the repeated Panthers attacks.
Defensively, the aforementioned Gillett, along with Ben Hunt, Josh McGuire and Joe Ofahengaue made over 30 tackles each to secure the win and Wayne Bennett would be most pleased by only conceding one try. The confidence gained from this match will be essential for the Broncos if they are to prevail over Melbourne.
4. Darius Boyd is a Big Loss
The incumbent Australian fullback is one of the best players in his position and, while the Broncos managed to cover his loss in defence this week, their attack still lacked the polish that a player of his class provides.
Credit where it is due, Kodi Nikorima did a good job at the back, not making any key mistakes and also laying on a lovely pass for the James Roberts try in the 46th minute. But considering that Darius Boyd had a chance of playing in this game before ruling himself out on Thursday, you’d have to assume that he will be fit and ready to face the Storm next week. Boyd’s ability to read the game in attack and defence will give the Broncos a chance of lifting their game the 20% they require to beat the Storm.
5. Broncos Still Need To Improve
At times, the Broncos had the absolute ascendency but they lacked the professionalism to truly put the Panthers to the sword. A completion rate of 69%, a mostly ordinary kicking game from Benji Marshall and a couple of poor options from Milford on the 6th tackle are proof that the Broncos lack control in the key moments. Yes, having a halves combination of Marshall and Milford means that the Broncos are a serious threat against a retreating or fractured defensive line on any tackle in any part of the field, but when the time comes, the halves need to control their opponents. They got away with it against an out-of-sorts Panthers side, but the Storm will surely be less forgiving.
The return of Boyd will add some experience and calm to the side with Nikorima returning to the halves. Nikorima is actually not a dominant half either and the Broncos look at their best when Hunt drifts across field, looking for straight runners or creating over-laps. Milford, Nikorima and Marshall will probably not be able to ‘out-flash’ the Storm; so it will be important that they fine-tune their defensive kicking games before the preliminary Final.
6. Panthers’ Great Comeback Comes To An End
After entering the Origin period languishing near the bottom of the table, the Panthers were already being written off as one of the great disappointments of 2017. Of course, with their roster, they would have hoped for an improvement on last year’s semi-final finish instead of equalling it. However, making the finals at all was a monumental achievement, particularly with some of the off-field dramas that have followed the club at different times throughout the year.
But alas, the disappointment of this loss will still sting the men from the foot of the mountain. For many of their players, they will look forward to a potential call-up for national honours, including the impressive Josh Mansour and Reagan Campbell-Gillard, who both never gave up tonight. For the rest it will be a long off-season, thinking back on moments that may have set their season on a different course, with dreams of a successful 2018.
What were your highlights and lowlights from the Broncos 13-6 win over the Panthers at Suncorp Stadium? Let us know in the comments below.
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