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The Sydney Morning Herald

Dogged first-half heroes find that class wins out at the end

Date: 28/09/1998
Words: 899
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Sport
Page: 23


Wayne Bennett was the coach and he not only smiled, he sang the team song.

Minutes earlier, about enough time to empty four champagne bottles, Bennett's Broncos had stuck to the script they wrote in January this year, when they resumed training after the Christmas break and after the reunified rugby league competition had been announced.

The Broncos were premiers.

Winning yesterday's inaugural National Rugby League grand final was dearer for reasons more than many Broncos let on. It was about winning a competition with no asterisk marking it, indicating there was another champion somewhere else.

It hadn't escaped the players that, while winning last year's Super League competition, they had not won a united competition since 1993 and were now seen to be at the peak of their powers.

"What was important was that we won the Super League, we won the World Club Challenge, and we won the State of Origin," Bennett said.

"We've never won the premiership when we've won the State of Origin. They've beaten everybody they had to beat. We didn't beat Newcastle in the finals but we played them at Newcastle on their own turf and in the rain, they were at full strength except for Robbie O'Davis, so we've beaten everybody."

Anything less than a win would have been a Brisbane failure, although they never would have admitted it.

Brisbane were sent out the shortest price favourites in grand final history, at 9-2 on.

"Odds-on look on," Allan Langer said of the money afterwards. Langer mightn't like to bet on favourites, but he plays like one every time.

Brisbane had kept pace with the courageous Bulldogs for 40 minutes and, at half-time, they found themselves in the unlikely position of being behind 12-10.

Everyone was tipping a Brisbane blow-out, right from the start, but Canterbury's pluck was such that they held the lead even if it had to come at a cost that would tell in the second 40 minutes.

Prop Troy Stone left the field after 21 minutes, returned 10 minutes later with a guard around his arm, and played out the match. Stone had broken his arm.

Five-eighth Craig Polla-Mounter was continuing his marvellous finals series, but he took a shot to the ribs and found it difficult to move while doctor Hugh Hazard examined him on the sideline. He played on, seemingly unaffected, but ribs affect the breathing.

Canterbury had laid their best down for 40 minutes and, in the end, it was too much. It took too big a toll.

Class won in the end.

Lock Tonie Carroll hit the line, running straight off Langer, and beat three defenders on his way to the line. It was only three minutes into the second half and was exactly what the Broncos had been playing for.

Canterbury's bruising defence was built on the rugged up-and-in style, so Brisbane planned to attack the edge of the ruck, turn and find supports.

"We were looking for the second phase play," Wendell Sailor said.

"Through the hands, Locky [Darren Lockyer] coming into the line, then out to Smithy [Darren Smith] and out to me.

"And we started to break them on the right side, on our right side."

While Canterbury had played above themselves to match Brisbane in the first half, they found the pace beyond them in the second half, the cracks duly appeared.

With Canterbury on the retreat in defence Langer found Steve Renouf hitting the hole close off his hip and the Pearl was away. Exactly how Sailor had described it.

Fullback Rod Silva cut him down but, next tackle, Smith was out of dummy-half, finding Kevin Walters who put Sailor over.

It put the Broncos ahead 20-12 and Canterbury in the type of situation from which they have thrived in recent weeks. The crowd was waiting for The Comeback to begin.

But Brisbane were awake to it. Earlier they had watched Canterbury's President's Cup team come from 22-0 down to beat Parramatta 26-22. Bennett had reminded the Broncos what happened to hot-favourites North Melbourne in yesterday's AFL grand final, and Canterbury themselves had tipped their hand with last week's comeback against Parramatta.

The Broncos concentrated on continuing to play their game, the thought in the back of their mind being that Canterbury had used up a lot of energy in the first half.

"I thought they had given a lot in the first half and obviously I couldn't predict how it would go, but I was pleased," Bennett said.

"The clock was running down and we were putting the scores on."

Instead of a Canterbury comeback, Brisbane continued to chisel away, going down the left side of Canterbury's defence where the breaks came.

Gorden Tallis tricked everyone at dummy-half to dive over and push the score to 26-12.

Sailor missed a try while chasing a kick in-goal but within a few minutes Lee had found a hole off Langer, in the same area of the field they had exposed, and with just over 10 minutes left Brisbane led 32-12.

Last week Canterbury scored 16 points in 10 minutes, but this was too big a margin against too good a side.

Tonie Carroll's try, five minutes from time, sealed it.

Sealed 10 months of hard work. The Broncos could call themselves the best team in rugby league, with no asterisk involved.


3m: Last-minute inclusion Michael Devere scores in left corner for Brisbane after Canterbury centre Willie Talau spills the ball 20m from his line. Canterbury claim Talau stripped of the ball in a two-man tackle. Darren Lockyer converts. Brisbane 6-0.

11m: Canterbury winger Daryl Halligan slots 18m penalty goal after referee Bill Harrigan rules Brisbane offside. Brisbane 6-2.

14m: Canterbury five-eighth Craig Polla-Mounter leaves field for medical attention.

15m: Lockyer pulls off a try-saving tackle on Bulldog halfback Corey Hughes and seconds later slaps the ball over the dead-ball line to kill a dangerous grubber.

20m: Bulldog Troy Stone leaves field clutching right wrist.

21m: Lockyer leaves field with facial injury after a desperate tackle on centre Shane Marteene.

22m: Canterbury forward Tony Grimaldi muscles his way over the tryline near the posts after Hughes pops a pass while on his knees. Halligan converts. Canterbury 8-6.

28m: Canterbury winger Gavin Lester turns over the ball with Broncos queued on the left. Reserve forward Kevin Campion scores in the same corner as Devere. Replays provoke some doubt he grounded the ball, but Harrigan declines to consult the video referee. Brisbane 10-8.

31m: Bulldog forward Steve Price gallops past rival Gorden Tallis before off-loading to Talau, who has too much pace for Lockyer and scores out wide. Canterbury 12-10.

40m: Canterbury fullback Rod Silva comes up with try-saving tackle on Brisbane centre Darren Smith on the right touchline.

Half-time: Canterbury 12, Brisbane 10.

42m: Harrigan awards Brisbane a second set of six tackles, from which Allan Langer finds a flying Tonie Carroll, who storms past Hughes, Price and Silva like a runaway freight train. Lockyer converts. Brisbane 16-12.

50m: Langer slips brilliant inside ball to flying Steve Renouf, who is pulled down by a sensational last-ditch Silva tackle. Brisbane winger Wendell Sailor scores out wide from next play. Brisbane 20-12.

59m: Halligan fields Langer kick only to be driven five metres backwards in goal.

60m: Harrigan awards Brisbane extra six tackles after scrambling Bulldog defence. Tallis dummies and dives over two players to score beside posts. Lockyer converts. Brisbane 26-12.

66m: Sailor disallowed what would have been a sensational try after kicking ahead but failing to ground the ball, but Brisbane receive a penalty for Canterbury forward Robert Relf taking Langer out of the play.

67m: Silva grabs an intercept and runs 75m before being collared. Harrigan rules Silva offside but play continues for a minute in Brisbane's 20m zone while Canterbury players remonstrate with Harrigan 80m back.

68m: Brisbane hooker Phillip Lee scores Brisbane's sixth try from the resumption. Lockyer converts. Brisbane 32-12.

75m: Langer finds Carroll at pace before he presents Canterbury-bound Smith a try to remember. Lockyer kicks fifth goal. Brisbane 38-12.

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