St George were given plenty of advice on how to beat Brisbane in the
week before yesterday's grand final.
The Broncos' weaknesses, according to the experts and mug punters were:
* Brisbane were vulnerable to offloads, so the Saints' runners would be
best advised to unload the ball at every opportunity.
* Having played only once in the semi-finals, Brisbane would not be as
match-fit as St George, so the Saints should keep ball in play with kicks on the
sixth tackle to weary the Broncos.
* Brisbane were defensively frail on the fringes of the ruck, so Saints
should run at players like five-eighth Kevin Walters and that renowned poor
defender, centre Steve Renouf.
* Bronco fullback Julian O'Neill was suspect under high bombs, so these
should be rained on him.
* Hooker Kerrod Walters would try to steal cheap metres from dummy-half.
By stopping him, Saints would slow Brisbane's roll-on.
* Halfback and captain Allan Langer often cuts back on the inside when
with the ball, so Saints were out to plant a defender there.
And as St George found several times yesterday, some of those weaknesses
did indeed manifest themselves.
But for all their tactics and attempts to take advantage of of any soft
spots, the Saints were ultimately overwhelmed by the Broncos' sheer skills and
Saints "surprised" the Broncos-as just about every expert had said they
would-by regularly directing attacks wide, using towering props Tony Priddle and
second-rower Scott Gourley as the launching pads.
Though for the most part Brisbane held, they weren't comfortable with
Gourley's forays, and he created Saints' try in the 15th minute with a brilliant
pass to captain Michael Beattie.
Saints coach Brian Smith revealed after the match that Brisbane's
assistant coach, Steve Calder, (who used to be Smith's assistant coach at
Illawarra) had said to him: "You tried to beat us at our game, mate. You nearly
bloody did it."
Broncos coach Wayne Bennett said that for most of the first half, St
George"tried to spread us a little bit and tried to attack us out wide".
The experts had advised St George to target Renouf, given his past
fragility in defence.
But Renouf said yesterday that St George hadn't gunned for him, but the
other Broncos centre, Chris Johns. Maybe it was just as well, for Renouf engaged
in a bit of revealing introspection about his defensive abilities after the
"I'll be the first to admit I probably still have a problem with my
defence," he said.
"But that's a thing I'm still working on, and I've just got to improve
To be fair to the Saints, Johns missed at least three tackles, including
one on his opposite, Mark Coyne, in the 59th minute.
But while St George's early off-loading tactics were promising, they
didn't make up for the costly energy the Saints expended when Brisbane had the
"The wheels came off there in the second half," Smith said.
"But they really came off because we had to spend so much petrol in the
"Mick Potter was saying to me it was like defending against eight, or 10,
or even 12 tackles in one set of six."
But this need to cover an unusually large number of Bronco ball-handlers
in every set of six was, to a large extent, selfinflicted.
The kick returns by O'Neill and wingers Willie Carne and Michael Hancock
forced the Saints to work harder than they should have.
The advice to St George earlier in the week from people such as Easts
coach Mark Murray was not to kick to the trio since they were extremely
dangerous in broken play and would inevitably beat a couple of tacklers on kick
Kicking for touch on the sixth tackle was a safer option.
Other advisers, such as Newcastle coach David Waite, said it was best to
keep the ball in play, aiming it deep between O'Neill and one of the wingers so
Brisbane's forwards would tire from constantly having to run back to the ball.
St George followed the second option-and Carne, O'Neill and Hancock
inevitably made considerable ground returning downfield kicks.
This is what happened when they ran back kicks by Saints five-eighth Peter
Coyne or halfback Noel Goldthorpe on the sixth tackle:
In the fourth minute O'Neill beat the first defender; in the eighth Willie
Carne beat three defenders; in the 13th O'Neill drew tacklers and threw a risky
pass to put Carne on a clear 15m run up the sideline; in the 19th minute Carne
again beat three tacklers, and in the 31st O'Neill beat two.
Not only did they make the St George defence work more than necessary,
they also saved the Broncos forwards from having to run back too far to the
ruck-so achieving the opposite of what the kickers had intended.
Perhaps the best tactic would have been to aim more high bombs at O'Neill.
The Broncos' fullback confirmed his fragility under the high ball when he
dropped a spectacularly tall kick by Goldthorpe in the 23rd minute. He fielded
another meteorite on his tryline early in second half, but dropped it when
The Dragons didn't produce any more such ballistic kicks.
The experts had warned Saints to watch Kerrod Walters, whose dashes from
dummy-half would be dangerous-but he wasn't stopped effectively.
Taking advantage of quick play-the-balls, Walters beat two defenders with
a scurry from dummy-half as early as the third minute; he slipped through his
two markers in the 34th minute; and shot through again in the 37th, his break
finishing 40m upfield after Langer and prop Glenn Lazarus had handled.
During the week, there was also plenty of advice on how to contain Langer.
One first-grader said much of Langer's effectiveness comes from suddenly
cutting back on the inside, both with his runs and kicks, so a suggestion was
made that Langer could be stopped by having a defender shadow him on the inside,
like a sucker fish.
Sure enough, Langer often cut back inside to devastating effect, including
for the initial break that led to Brisbane's first try.
But it was difficult to see how the Saints could possibly have assigned a
defender to tail Langer on the inside when the Broncos captain was popping up
all over the field.