Brisbane have stretched their lead at the top of the NRL ladder with a hard fought-win over fellow premiership heavyweights Canterbury, doing enough to hold on to a 16-8 win in tough conditions with neither side able to display their best football.
In a game where each side had four State of Origin players backing up three days after Wednesday night’s series decider, it was the Maroons contingent of Sam Thaiday and Corey Parker who led the way for the visitors.
While Canterbury will be left clinging to eighth position, a tough run to the finals means the loss puts a dent in their title aspirations, and coach Des Hasler will be left ruing some disjointed attacking sets where his side repeatedly failed to take advantage of good field position or build any serious pressure.
A strong start to the second half briefly threatened to take the ascendency from Wayne Bennett’s men but for the majority of the match Brisbane just looked far too strong in the middle of the field, despite the return from injury of Dogs skipper James Graham after a month out with a hamstring injury.
Brisbane enjoyed 10 more sets than the home team and finished up with 57 per cent of possession for the game, the extra defensive workload telling on Canterbury at the back end of the contest.
Origin III Man of the Match Parker was colossal for the visitors with a match-high 197 metres and four offloads, while Thaiday’s try just before half-time capped a strong all-round game.
The opening exchanges lived up to the heavyweight billing of this clash with both sides feeling each other out in a middle-of-the-field battle with few errors and penalties.
The Broncos began to earn the ascendency in the middle and after being handed the first attacking chance took full advantage when some long flat passes out to the left edge allowed centre Jack Reed to send Daniel Vidot over for the first points.
Canterbury hit back slightly against the run of play when a Brett Morris half break and offload allowed his twin Josh to level the scores.
But with the Broncos reasserting ascendency and the Bulldogs’ few attacking chances breaking down, it was Brisbane who managed to regain the lead when a long Andrew McCullough pass followed by an Anthony Milford short ball allowed a wide-running Sam Thaiday to slice through to the outside of towering youngster Shaun Lane.
Jordan Kahu’s sideline conversion – which only came because hard-working lock Corey Parker’s 105 metres and four offloads earned him a rest after 28 minutes – were the final points of the half, although had winger Lachlan Maranta latched onto a precision Ben Hunt kick five seconds from the siren it could have been a different story.
A ferocious thunderstorm passed over ANZ Stadium during the half-time break and while it cleared quickly it left puddles around the ground and delayed the start of the second half until the flashes of lightning stopped and the Bulldogs came out fired up and full of running.
After Moses Mbye came within millimetres of forcing a line drop out and a brilliant Josh Morris save on a seemingly try-bound Anthony Milford provided let-offs for each side, impressive Bulldogs youngster Shaun Lane used his huge size and strength to push through Brisbane’s left-edge defence to get his team back within two points after 50 minutes.
Some good Canterbury defence repelled several attacking sets on their own line but having finally absorbed all that pressure and gained possession, a knock on from a scrum handed Brisbane yet another opportunity and the pressure finally told as prop Adam Blair forced his way over under the posts, the 16-8 lead the biggest of the game so far.
With the clock starting to become a factor Canterbury continued to be disjointed in attack; in consecutive sets Josh Morris and Josh Jackson were caught with it on the last and forced to kick with Morris’s going out on the full and Jackson’s earning Brisbane a penalty after Curtis Rona’s extra effort trying to force Maranta back in-goal.
A brilliant 77th-minute touchfinder from an optional 20-metre restart by Moses Mbye handed his side one last chance to get within striking distance but a try-saving tackle from Thaiday on centre Tim Lafai in-goal put paid to those hopes and Brisbane were able to wind the clock down to earn a vital two competition points.
Brisbane Broncos 16 (Vidot, Thaiday, Blair tries Kahu, parker goals) defeated Canterbury Bulldogs 8 (J Morris, Lane tries). Half time: Brisbane 10-4. Crowd: 16,253.