Shannon Meyer reviews Penrith’s hard fought win over a brave Broncos side on Thursday night.
Player of the Year PointsEmbed from Getty Images
Thursday night rugby league returned to its traditional home of the Broncos: the pre-match news centred around the demotion of Anthony Milford to the reserves, the third Broncos half blamed for their poor run this season. Penrith came into this game full of confidence (arrogance if you ask their detractors) after a good win over Canberra the week before, and perhaps the shortest ever odds for a visitor to Lang Park in years.
The opening minutes saw a Broncos side with more commitment to attack and defense than most of their back catalog of 2020 and 2021 albums, and were rewarded after three minutes when Penrith were penalised for interference of the Broncos’ kick chase. An easy two points were offered and taken by Jamayne Isaako.
Penrith showed a bit of life and Nathan Cleary a bit of class with a last play chip-and-chase that Isaako just managed to cover. But Cleary looked on form.
Corey Oates, playing in his first NRL game of the season after promotion from the Souths Logan Magpies, underwhelmed in his first major play of the night, dropping a cross-field kick and handing the Panthers another set of six close to their line. It required just a few plays as Penrith went right to Cleary who found a charging Kurt Capewell who made easy work of the Broncos’ defence to score the first try of the match. A convenient piece of timing from Capewell given the rumours during the week that he was being courted by the Broncos for 2022. Cleary missed the conversion and the score remained 4-2 after 12 minutes.Embed from Getty Images
Brisbane started spending more time in the Panthers’ territory as the halfway mark of the first half approached and continued to attack with purpose, and they opened their scoring for the night in the 17th minute. Brodie Croft supplied the perfect cross-field bomb which was batted back by Richie Kennar as he competed with Brian To’o for the grab; hanging around the pack, in the right place at the right time, was the unlikely candidate of Tevita Pangai Jr who dived over in the corner. The missed conversion left the score 6-4 in favour of Brisbane.Embed from Getty Images
A Matt Burton 40 metre run sparked a length-of-the-field Penrith attack. Burton’s run was followed by another charge down the left which was ended just short of the line by Oates in a try-saving tackle. The set fizzled when Cleary kicked the ball dead.
Penrith received some gifts from the home side, as a Broncos error was followed by a set restart and then a penalty. On the fourth tackle Penrith went right to Cleary who threw behind a dummy-running Viliame Kikau to Jarome Luai who quickly passed before a charging defender got to him which opened up space a-plenty for Burton to stroll to the line and score the Panthers’ second of the night. Cleary nailed the conversion for a 10-6 lead with just under 15 minutes left in the first half.Embed from Getty Images
Penrith probably should have extended their lead not long after, but a try-saving steal on Brian To’o by Pangai Jnr near the line ensure the score remained 10-6.
That try saver was worth double the next set as Broncos interchange forward Ethan Bullemor scored his first ever NRL try after a fine try assist from Brodie Croft, who seemed to be enjoying some regular game time. Bullemor was in support of Croft up the middle, but still had a lot of work to do to score, powering through the last 20 metres and a few Panthers tackle attempts. The conversion in front gave the lead back to the Broncos (12-10).
A 50 metre Xavier Coates kick return lit up the crowd but not the scoreboard the next set, and they were offered another chance just before the break on the back of a Panthers error, but it also came to nothing.
This 40 minutes had to be the Broncos’ best half of football this season, and although it is not a big menu to choose from, you need only look to the scoreboard and they were leading a side which hadn’t lost a regular season game for around a year.
HALF-TIME: Brisbane Broncos 12 Penrith Panthers 10
The Broncos picked up where they left off the first half with their enthusiastic attack and defense leading to a Penrith error and a full set of six on their line. But even a repeat set wasn’t enough to extend the lead. This all started with a cheeky Pangai one-on-one strip. The Broncos were on top, and had enough ball and territory to extend their lead.
A 40-20 kick from Cleary gave Penrith an attacking set on the Broncos’ line, and Penrith walked away with two points after receiving a penalty close the tryline. The easy kick was converted and the scores were all tied up at 12-12.
The game intensity started to pick up from both sides, and it did lead to a few errors, but also some great end-to-end attack. But with 20 minutes remaining the score hadn’t changed. Penrith came close with about 17 minutes left but another great Corey Oates covering tackle saved the day for the Broncos. Brisbane came close a few minutes later only for the final attacking kick not finding its mark. One could argue they were the better side during this stage of the match.
Isaako attempted a field goal with seven minutes remaining but was well short in length. And by the very next set Cleary had showed him how it is done with a 40 metre field goal – good enough for two points instead of one. The Panthers were back in front 14-12 with just over five minutes to play.
Not long after, Luai stepped, jinked, and sliced his way through the Broncos’ defence inside their 20 metre zone, and as ever Cleary was in support and sealed the game with a try just beside the posts. That extended the lead to eight, sealed the game, and gave Cleary a reward he thoroughly deserved.Embed from Getty Images
The Broncos offered plenty, and unlike most games since the COVID-19 lockdown, they were in the game from start to finish, giving probably their best 80 minutes of rugby league. They certainly matched the Panthers’ forwards throughout and were arguably slightly better. In the end it came down to a few quality moments from the Panthers’ halves, a combination that has guided them to win after win in the past two seasons. There were promising signs from the Broncos’ halves tonight, so perhaps if the current duo are given an extended run they may reap the same rewards as the consistent Panthers halves.
Penrith marched on for another regular season win, and can feel satisfied at a decent result in a good contest. As long as they don’t get too arrogant about it.
FULL-TIME: Brisbane Broncos 12 Penrith Panthers 20
Match Review Committee
Paul Momirovski (Panthers) – Grade 2 Dangerous Contact Neck/Head – Early Guilty Plea 2 match ban, Guilty at Judiciary 3 match ban.