Top topples bottom to retain lead
by Chris Cox
Sunday June 05, 2005
The Brisbane Broncos have won the 1st vs 15th battle against Newcastle Knights to retain their spot on top of the Telstra Premiership at the half way mark in the competition. The Broncos won 34-16 after trailing 10-0 after 15 minutes, providing a clinical display against the hapless, undermanned Knights.
The big talking point of the game, the return of Andrew Johns, was largely a fizzer. While the halfback and captain played strongly, he was part of a side that ultimately had little chance of halting the Broncos juggernaut.
After a less than auspicious start to the match, centre Justin Hodges took control midway through the first half. He started by providing Scott Minto with his first try, beating two defenders before flickin the ball to the rangy winger to score.
Hodges and Minto combined again moments later, with Hodges grubbering ahead, and Minto toeing the ball further and winning the race to ground the ball just inside the dead ball line. Darren Lockyer's conversion levelled the scores with 5 minutes before half time.
Lockyer launched a magnificent 40-20 kick from the kick off, into the wind, and from the scrum Shaun Berrigan beat Matt Gidley to score out wide. Lockyer failed to convert but the Broncos led 14-10 at half time.
However, Brisbane's joy at turning a 10-0 deficit into a 14-10 lead was tempered with the news that Tonie Carroll had reinjured his calf. The lock forward is now in grave doubt for Origin 2 on Wednesday week.
The opening of the second half was an armwrestle. The Broncos had the first opportunity to attack but it was foiled when Neville Costigan dropped the ball. Soon after the Knights were deep on attack and rookie Jarrod Mullen crashed over, only to lose the ball over the line.
The Broncos eventually added to their half time score when, from a scrum win, Lockyer again found Bott charging down the wing, and this time the rookie got low and got the ball down inside the corner. Lockyer's magnificent sideline conversion extended the lead to 10 points.
10 minutes later Barry Berrigan darted from dummyhalf and got into the clear, Brent Tate positioned himself well to run away and score under the posts.
David Stagg was hit high by Johns shortly after, a tackle that should attract the attention of the video review committee tomorrow, and Lockyer landed the goal to extend the lead to 3 converted tries.
Johns again was in the action minutes later when he launched a crazy pass back across the ruck only to watch in despair as Dane Carlaw latched onto the loose ball and ran 45 metres to score under the posts. Lockyer's conversion made it 34 unanswered points.
The Knights got some payback in the final minute when Johns put Mullen into space and Reegan Tanner supported to score.
The Broncos' injury toll worsened with Minto leaving the field with a knee injury and Barry Berrigan also limping off on a suspect knee. However, early reports indicate Berrigan's injury is not serious.
Newcastle had their own problems, with fullback David Seage playing the last 45 minutes of the match with a dislocated elbow.
The Broncos pack was clinical in its dismissal of their smaller less fancied opponents. Shane Webcke and Petero Civoniceva lay a good platform, and back rowers Carlaw, Stagg, Parker and Costigan kept the roll going. However, the backs were the ones who really took control. Centre Justin Hodges' form continues to improve and he's shaping as a key factor as the Broncos approach the finals. Darren Lockyer was typically outstanding, and Shaun Berrigan added to his try tally again, but more importantly defended outstandingly well against former international Matt Gidley.
Bott and Minto did a great job on the wings, while Tate made another successful step in his comeback trail.
The Knights really look like a team coming last. They try hard but they're simply outclassed. Johns tried hard but the players around him had little idea what he was doing. Mullen looks a likely prospect at five-eighth, but the outside backs and the forwards were literally making up the numbers. Even hooker Danny Buderus was made to look ordinary at times with fundamental errors.
Earlier the Knights started in grand fashion with centre George Carmont scoring in the opening minutes.
The Broncos looked to have scored themselves moments later when Leon Bott charged down the left wing, only to lose the ball over the line.
Newcastle extended their lead soon after when winger Milton Thaiday found yawning space down the right wing to score.
But once Minto scored his first, it was all the Broncos.