In a repeat of the 2015 Grand Final, Brisbane Broncos are back at the home of Rugby League, Suncorp Stadium, this Friday night when they host the North Queensland Cowboys. If history repeats itself, then the game will be a torrid blockbuster with only a few points separating the two NRL power houses.
The round one clash against Cronulla Sharks presented a sluggish start for the Broncos with the 2016 Premiers seemingly dominating the run of play early. However, Brisbane’s attack clicked into gear for the opening try and Wayne Bennett’s men sparked into life. If the Broncos are slow out of the blocks on Friday night, the likes of Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan will look to no doubt capitalize on this and put points on the board early.
There was a lot to like about Brisbane’s performance once the team got going against the Sharks. A player that was highlighted last week, Korbin Sims served well in the engine room, running for 111 metres through 12 hit ups and with a defensive workload of 23 tackles. Sims was constantly straightening the attack, providing go forward for the likes of Darius Boyd and Anthony Milford. The Broncs starting pack ran for over 100 metres each showing the power they possess through the middle of the field.
Boyd was brilliant from the back and showed why, not only did Wayne Bennett appoint him as captain, but why his standing in the game is now that of the best number one. He delivered the final pass for several of Brisbane’s tries early on, and was vocal all night. An honorable mention must go to Tautau Moga who carried for 112 metres and picked up the Player’s Player Award, looking to be a great buy for the Broncos this season.
The standout moment come was in the 69th minute, when Brisbane needed to put the game to bed with Anthony Milford putting up his hand to lead the push. A set play on the last tackle with Brisbane switching play to Milford’s side of the field had the Cronulla defence at sixes and sevens. Fleet of foot, Milford dazzled as he stepped between tiring forwards and beat another three on the way to the line. It was a deserved victory in the end as Brisbane proved many critics wrong who had tipped them to be outside the top eight before a ball had even been kicked.
This coming week’s opponents, the Cowboys, were also involved in possibly the game of the round with a thrilling golden point win over Canberra at 1300 SMILES Stadium this past Saturday night. Johnathon Thurston endeavored to seal the game with a drop goal that ricocheted off the cross bar in spectacular fashion, sitting up nicely for Gavin Cooper to dive on the ball to seal the win. The kick was reminiscent of the Wally Lewis/Greg Dowling effort in that classic 84’ State of Origin game at the SCG.
The Cowboys forwards certainly had their work cut out for them against a giant and willing Canberra forward pack. This did not stop juggernaut Jason Taumalolo, who put in a performance that earned him the tag as the best player in the NRL last year via the Dally M count. More performances like this and Taumalolo may set a course for retaining that title in 2017. Taumalolo was ably supported by test front rower Matt Scott with some powerhouse runs, one leading to the first try for Lachlan Coote.
Brisbane will really need to prepare well for this week’s game and will need to be on the front foot from the opening whistle. While their forwards stood up when needed against the Sharks, there is no doubt that the Cowboys pack will certainly be asking questions of the Broncos halves and they will be looking to dominate the battle of the ruck to allow maestro Thurston to play his natural attacking game. The battle for field position is squarely falling on the halves shoulders with Bennett’s side still struggling with their kicking game.
Players to Watch
Anthony Milford: Sending an ominous warning to the other teams in the NRL through the media this week that he is yet to reach his best, Anthony Milford is the man to watch this week. Straightening the attack, the nuggety half was damaging and with a mixture of finesse and strength, Milf will need to be at his best to help the Broncos take the two points at home.
Johnathon Thurston: Need I say more. History shows that when the game is on the line and the special play is needed, Thurston seems to have a bottomless bag of magic tricks that only he can produce. Coming so close last year to becoming the first team to go back to back since 1993, only to fall at the last hurdle seems to have stoked the fire in the belly of JT. Expect to see another tireless display from the little general.
Prediction: This one is set to go down to the wire. The edge of the seat games that these two teams have delivered over the past few seasons will be remembered for a long time to come with possibly the 2015 Grand Final one of our greatest games ever. The Broncos will be determined to show critics that they are behind Bennett 100 percent and that he is still the master coach after the recent media battering. I think that this one will go the way of Brisbane at home in a tight affair. There would be no surprises if this also ended in a golden point thriller.