The NRL season kicked off on Thursday night, with an emphatic win for the Dragons 34-12 over the Broncos at Jubilee Oval in Kogarah.
The Dragons were slight favourites coming into the game, but taking history into account the Broncos had the edge from a mental standpoint. Both sides were sloppy early on, only managing a penalty goal each by the 12 minute mark. But as the new halves pairing of Ben Hunt and Gareth Widdop got comfortable, their kicking game took control and field position was in favour of the Red V. The Dragons had 60 percent possession for the game which was helped by 14 errors committed by the Broncos.
A try for James Roberts, Brisbane’s first attacking play on the right flank in the second half brought the scores to 10-6, and created a building block for the Broncos to relax and control the game. But the Dragons, through a Ben Hunt interception completely changed the course of the game and took a 16-6 lead with half an hour left. The Broncos continued to struggle in their attacking play and their spine remained quiet, while the Dragons were comfortable in running in three more tries and a penalty goal to take a convincing 34-12 win at home. Overall some of the position choices for the Broncos backfired, highlighted by Sam Thaiday at dummy half.
Two different halves pairings showed up
Ben Hunt’s addition to the Dragons not only gives them an upgrade from Josh McCrone, but a guy with a great all round game to take the pressure of Gareth Widdop. That was on full display as the Dragons controlled field position well, and both guys were potent with their boots on the attacking end. For the Broncos it was a completely different story, as a pairing given plenty of praise last season of Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima failed to fire. Both men’s heralded ability to attack the defensive line was inexistent, and without their influence the team as a whole looked lost at the end of sets.
A lack of discipline was Brisbane’s biggest enemy
Wayne Bennett sides tend to be the best at ball control and not giving away penalties, but for the Broncos that was the complete opposite on Thursday night. Brisbane gave away three penalties in the opening 10 minutes, giving the Dragons plenty of early ball to create momentum for themselves. They drop easy balls as well and became their own worst enemy in almost every fact of the game. The Broncos had a 64 percent completion percentage, seven percent worse than the Dragons and committed 35 missed tackles compared to only 16 for the Dragons. Such numbers will need to be reduced of Brisbane are to be a finals contender again in 2018.
Tough outing for Matt Lodge
To have received criticism from the Dragons crowd should be no surprise for Matt Lodge, but aside from a few strong runs his first performance for the Broncos was not the best. Lodge was hit hard early on with a shoulder charge, showing the target he was on the field. A dropped ball from a relatively simple pass, and then an intercepted pass by Ben Hunt leading to a try showed the rust around the big man, playing his first game in nearly three years in first grade. A silver lining was his ball running, where he racked up the most metres for his side.
Outside backs exceed expectations for the Dragons
As much as there is a great mix of experience and potential in their backline, the Dragons still lack firepower compared to other competition heavy weights. But backs were able to keep Brisbane on their toes for most of the game. The right edge duo of Aitken and Nightingale, as well as Dufty out the back all combined for 407 running metres. Fortunately for the Dragons, Brisbane missed far too many tackles and struggled to keep hold of the ball, giving the Dragons better opportunities to attack.
WHAT THEY ARE SAYING
Paul McGregor said that the first game is like going into the unknown, hoping your side’s preseason work was good enough. McGregor was very pleased with his team’s performance, and heaped praise on the new halves combo.
“Yeah these two are gonna work well together, their cohesion is gonna be better as they play more footy.”
Wayne Bennett criticised his side’s first half performance, which gave the Dragons’ the control and momentum in the game, and added that his halves failed to get involved. Captain Darius Boyd described his side’s performance as clunky, but maintained he is not losing confidence in the team’s potential going forward.
Tries: Frizell (28m), Hunt (50m), Aitken (59m), de Belin (72m), Nightingale (77m)
Goals: Widdop 7/8
Drop Goals: N/A
Tries: Roberts (2) (45m, 64m)
Goals: Kahu 2/3
Drop Goals: N/A
Dragons team: 18 Matthew Dufty, 2 Nene Macdonald, 3 Euan Aitken, 4 Tim Lafai, 5 Jason Nightingale, 6 Gareth Widdop (c), 7 Ben Hunt, 8 James Graham, 9 Cameron McInnes, 10 Paul Vaughan, 11 Tyson Frizell, 12 Tariq Sims, 13 Jack De Belin. Interchange: 14 Luciano Leilua, 15 Kurt Mann, 16 Leeson Ah Mau, 19 Jeremy Latimore
Broncos team: 1 Darius Boyd (c), 2 Corey Oates, 3 James Roberts, 4 Jordan Kahu, 5 Jamayne Isaako, 6 Anthony Milford, 7 Kodi Nikorima, 8 Matthew Lodge, 10 Samuel Thaiday, 14 Tevita Pangai Jnr, 11 Alex Glenn, 12 Matt Gillett, 13 Josh McGuire. Interchange: 9 Andrew McCullough, 15 Joe Ofahengaue, 16 Korbin Sims, 17 Jaydn Su’a