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The Sydney Morning Herald

The champs deliver the final blow in rugby league's title bout

Date: 28/09/1998
Words: 709
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Sport
Page: 23
WHAT a pity that it wasn't the NRL grand final that Muhammad Ali attended at the weekend, instead of the AFL version of the same. For was there ever a football game that more resembled a boxing match between two would-be heavyweight champeens of all the world? Ali would have loved it.

In the Maroon corner - the Broncos, the champs, sporting royalty armed with every punch in the book and a pure pedigree of pugilism, stepping into the ring as firm favourites with all the smart money on them.

And in the Blue corner - the Bulldogs, the scrappy home-town favourites who had already done marvellously well to even be contenders for the title, coming from a ranking of ninth a month ago to now be within 80 minutes of a glory that would last all summer and beyond.

Ding ding.

Right hook! Canterbury were sucking canvas after only two minutes when the Broncos scored, and at that point it seemed like the whole thing was nought but a terrible mismatch. Brisbane looked so dangerous it was almost as if they could have phoned in the rest of their game from the airport on their way home.

It was, as Ray Warren so correctly summated on the box, "just the start that Canterbury did not want".

But that was where it became a great boxing match. Although clearly outclassed, Canterbury, seemingly on guts alone, were able to drag themselves up from the mat, start swinging and strike back for a try of their own. No matter that the Broncos were able to score again soon after, Canterbury had them covered on that, too, again coming back with a combination that enabled them to go to the break with an all but unbelievable 12-10 lead.

The problem, of course, was that Brisbane, more than any other team in the League, have their own version of what George Foreman used to call his "anything punch" (as in "anything I hits, I breaks"). When the Broncos get it right, they are able to do exactly the same - stringing together passes and movements capable of breaking just about any defence whatsoever, even so valiant and resilient a defence as Canterbury's.

So it proved. Though there might have been some teams capable of stopping the Broncos' try scored by Tonie Carroll just after half-time, damn nigh none of them could have prevented Wendell Sailor's follow-up try after superb set-up work by Steve Renouf.

And when Gorden Tallis went over for Brisbane after that, it simply underlined the point - Brisbane weren't playing one of their best games, but they were, by God, putting together one of their finest 40 minutes.

Not that Canterbury stopped trying. At this stage, if it really had been a boxing match, the towel might very well have been thrown in - with the Bulldogs on the wrong end of a 26-12 hiding - bar one thing. That was that only a week ago Canterbury had managed to come back from a 16-point deficit with only 10 minutes to go, and it was not totally beyond the bounds of possibility that they could do it again here.

Of course, it was not to be. The Brisbane tries kept coming and when the ball rang to complete the 15th round, Canterbury, with their heads bloodied but unbowed, had conceded a points victory of 38-12. Whatever the width of that impressive margin, here let it be said: it was not a knockout.

To have a KO, even a technical one, really means that one party to the contest is unable to go on, has had the air completely knocked out of them, and that most definitely does not describe Canterbury. To the end, they were flailing away, and taking plenty of punches in return. But it simply boiled down to the incontrovertible - the sheer guts of the Bulldogs was not sufficient to make up for the sheer class of Brisbane.

It was like that Banjo Patterson line: "Though the drover fought for his very life, blood in the end must tell."

So bravo, Broncos, well done - but at least you'll remember the efforts of the Canterbury boys when you try to get out of bed this morning. Actually, make that Tuesday morning.

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