BRISBANE'S dominance over Canterbury in yesterday's National Rugby League
grand final at the Sydney Football Stadium was summed up in one farcical
passage of play late in the match.
The Broncos scored five tries after half-time in a burst of 28 unanswered
points to win 38-12, maintaining their perfect record in premiership deciders,
equalling the record for most points scored in a grand final and nominating
themselves as the most complete side in the club's 11-year history.
Appropriately described by coach Wayne Bennett as a `clinical football team',
the Broncos clicked into overdrive in the second half after a sputtering first
40 minutes to slam the book shut on the possibility of a Canterbury fairytale.
The difference between the two sides was best illustrated in the 68th minute
when the Broncos, leading 26-12, were hammering away at the Bulldogs' line.
Another try seemed a formality but Canterbury fullback Rod Silva picked off a
pass and set sail for the southern end of the ground, in his mind carrying with
him the last hopes of another Bulldog comeback.
Surrounded by only a handful of players, referee Bill Harrigan stood his
ground signalling the Brisbane penalty but play continued for almost three
tackles before the rest of the players realised their efforts were futile.
The Bulldogs were playing fantasy football but reality was 90 metres and too
many points away.
Two plays after Brisbane's penalty tap they were in again through hooker
Phillip Lee, one of several `no-name' Broncos to stand up on the game's biggest
stage and earn equal billing with their superstar team-mates.
`Young blokes like (Tonie) Carroll, (Michael) Devere and Lee made a
difference,' Bennett said.
`Good on Gorden Tallis (for winning the Churchill Medal) but there was no
obvious player which I suppose shows how much of a team performance this was.'
Canterbury absorbed Brisbane's best shots in the opening exchanges to eke out
a 12-10 lead at half-time.
There were ominous signs in the third minute when Bulldogs centre Willie
Talau coughed up possession in a tackle close to his line and Devere, a late
starter for Michael Hancock, toed ahead to score.
Darren Lockyer's conversion from out wide gave the Broncos a dream 6-0 start
which could have been extended four minutes later but a Steve Renouf try was
pulled back because of a forward pass from Kevin Walters in the lead-up.
Back-to-back penalties put the Bulldogs on the attack and Daryl Halligan
converted with the second of those to trim Brisbane's lead to 6-2.
Canterbury continued to apply the pressure until second-rower Tony Grimaldi
found a way through in the 22nd minute, although half-back Corey Hughes appeared
to pass off the ground in the lead-up.
Halligan converted to give the Bulldogs their first lead at 8-6 but the
Broncos were back in front in the 28th minute when back-rower Kevin Campion
crashed over out wide.
There was also some doubt about that try as replays showed Campion could have
grounded the ball on the hand of Canterbury winger Gavin Lester.
Just as quickly as the Broncos regained the lead at 10-8, the Bulldogs poked
their noses back in front 12-10, three minutes later.
Prop Steve Price stepped inside Gorden Tallis and away from Kevin Walters to
put Talau over in the corner.
But there was no stopping the Broncos in the second half, with the first of
their five tries coming just three minutes after the break when Carroll beat
three defenders after storming onto an Allan Langer pass.
Langer's short balls to support players running at speed cut Canterbury to
pieces as the game progressed to its inevitable conclusion.
The Broncos cut out the mistakes they had been making in the first half while
the Bulldogs began squandering their possessions as they tried in vain to play
Only a desperate tackle by Silva stopped Renouf scoring a run-away try in the
51st minute but a quick play-the-ball and extra numbers meant Wendell Sailor
scored anyway to stretch Brisbane's lead to 20-12.
Any hope of another remarkable Canterbury comeback was brutally snuffed out
when Tallis charged over from dummy-half on the hour.
Lockyer's conversion, from in front, made it 26-12 and converted tries to Lee
(69th) and Canterbury-bound centre Darren Smith (75th) merely underlined the
difference in class between the sides.
Canterbury coach Steve Folkes joked that `at least it gives us somewhere to
go next year'.
Bennett, who is about to take the Australian coaching reins for next month's
Trans-Tasman Tests, said he would worry about that later as the Broncos began
planning their victory celebrations.
`We won Super League last year, we won the World Club Challenge, we played a
dominant role in the State of Origin and now we've won the premiership,' Bennett
said. `There's nothing more to do now.'