Brisbane fashioned two stirring comebacks to halt the Vodafone Warriors’ winning run with a 28-22 victory in an astonishing 19th-round NRL battle at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday night.
The result reversed the Vodafone Warriors’ 19-10 home win over the Broncos in Auckland four weeks ago enabling them to jump to sixth on the table and push the Vodafone Warriors down a spot to seventh.
In front of a crowd of close to 38,000, the Broncos first recovered from a 0-12 deficit to lead 16-12 at halftime and then repeated the feat when they came back from 18-22 to take a 28-22 lead and hold onto it under exceptional strain over the final 14 minutes.
After winning seven of their last nine matches, the loss was a disappointment for the Vodafone Warriors on a number of levels, not least because they’d been in a position to control the outcome. Conceding 28 points won’t have pleased them either after yielding an average of only 16 points a game in their last 11 matches.
Yet Brisbane contributed hugely to what, for the neutrals, must have been a quite stupendous spectacle, the footballing high point so far in the #RiseForAlex Round.
The Broncos came into the match arguably unsettled after Jack Reed, Daniel Vidot and Corey Oates were all dropped for breaching team protocol while Matt Gillett was ruled out.
The disruptions showed as they handed the ball over inside their own half the first time they had possession, inviting the Vodafone Warriors to put on early points.
They weren’t about to decline, threatening to break through on the right before going to their left through Jacob Lillyman, Shaun Johnson and Chad Townsend to put captain Simon Mannering over for his eighth try of the season and his seventh in his last seven games.
Johnson, fresh from kicking eight from eight in the 48-0 win over Parramatta, was on song again for a 6-0 lead after two minutes.
And minutes later it was 12-0 after Ben Henry made his second bust in short order. Stopped centimetres short of the line, he played the ball quickly and Sam Tomkins scored all too easily from dummy half, his ninth try of the season and his third in two games. Cue Johnson for another conversion and a 12-0 lead.
They then paid the price for poor discipline, back to back penalties piggy-backing the Broncos downfield for Corey Parker to lay on a try for a rampaging Ben Hannant. It was all-action with the score-line reading 12-6 after 16 minutes.
The Vodafone Warriors regrouped, won some penalties themselves and set about creating pressure, forcing two goal-line drop outs.
On a last tackle Johnson kick, Tomkins rose to tap back, Mannering cleaned up and flicked the ball on to Dane Nielsen. He rolled a pass inside to Tomkins who had stayed alive; he went low at the line but Josh Hoffman pulled of a brilliant try-saving tackle to prevent the Vodafone Warriors going further ahead.
Having dodged that bullet the Broncos were soon down the other end after Konrad Hurrell was put on report. They were denied then but successive errors by the Vodafone Warriors gave Brisbane both possession and field position, halfback Ben Hunt breaching the right edge defence too easily to score. With Parker’s conversion the Vodafone Warriors had surrendered their 12-0 lead at the 35-minute mark.
Worse was to follow two minutes later when the Vodafone Warriors were caught in possession on the final tackle, offering the Broncos another shot at points. They went wide to their right and then worked back towards the opposite edge, chancing their arm on the last tackle when Hunt went down a short side and Jordan Kahu bumped David Fusitu’a off to score.
Parker’s conversion hit the right-hand upright and the Broncos had a 16-12 halftime lead.
It was a wake-up call for the Vodafone Warriors, if they needed one. Stretching back to the final minutes of the 16th-round win against Penrith they had scored 66 points without reply – 11 converted tries – but now yielded 16 points all too readily.
Chastened by their efforts in the backend of the first half, the Vodafone Warriors atoned in the second minute of the second spell. Off a bomb they reclaimed the ball and shifted it slickly to the right to Henry. He dummied, straightened up and strode through for a well-deserved try. After 10 straight conversions, Johnson missed but the game was even at 16-16.
It was 18-16 in the Broncos’ favour briefly after a Parker penalty but the Vodafone Warriors rectified that when they went to their right again. Sebastine Ikahihifo transferred to Johnson, the ball went on to Tomkins and then Henry with plenty of defence in front of him. He made light of it, arcing out wide and getting across in two tackles for a double on the night, the 16th try of his career. Johnson’s conversion was fantastic and the Vodafone Warriors were back in front 22-18 after 51 minutes of this wonderful contest.
By this stage they were down in numbers, though, with Hurrell ruled out for the rest of the game after a head knock. The Broncos had Todd Lowrie and Josh McGuire taken from the field with concussion as well (although McGuire would return later).
Despite the setbacks Brisbane proceeded to make a defining double statement with Dale Copley snaring two tries in the space of three minuites to help his side to go 28-22 ahead with 12 minutes to play.
This game was showing no sign of slowing down. It was earning a place in the catalogue of classics.
Chances were coming for the Vodafone Warriors in the closing stages – right down to the last 30 seconds – but they just couldn’t finish with Manu Vatuvei, Fusitu’a and Mannering stopped when they had the sniff of a chance. Equally the Broncos were heroic on defence to hold on.
So the Vodafone Warriors slip to seventh on the ladder, head home today (Sunday) and face an utter blockbuster against beaten 2013 premiers the Manly Sea Eagles next Sunday (July 27). As NRL match-ups go, they don't come much bigger than this must-see battle.
Match details | Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Brisbane Broncos 28 (Dale Copley 2, Ben Hannant, Ben Hunt, Jordan Kahu tries; Corey Parker 3 conversions, penalty).
Vodafone Warriors 22 (Ben Henry 2. Simon Mannering, Sam Tomkins tries; Shaun Johnson 3 conversions).
Referees: Adam Devcich and Grant Atkins.
Vodafone Warriors: Sam Tomkins; David Fusitu’a, Konrad Hurrell, Dane Nielsen, Manu Vatuvei; Chad Townsend, Shaun Johnson; Jacob Lillyman, Nathan Friend, Suaia Matagi; Ben Henry, Simon Mannering (c); Sebastine Ikahihifo. Interchange: Feleti Mateo, Ben Matulino, Agnatius Paasi, Thomas Leuluai.