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The Sydney Morning Herald

DRAGONS SAVED WORST FOR THE LAST

Author: WARREN RYAN
Date: 26/09/1993
Words: 1207
          Publication: Sydney Morning Herald
Section: Sport
Page: 42
Let me open the batting by saying that, despite Tina Turner's presence, this was not one of the great grand finals.

For two teams to have publicly stated so often just how much relaxation resided within, both punctuated the early stanzas of play with uncharacteristically nervous mistakes.

Having got that off my chest, congratulations Brisbane Broncos. The words of Tina's song seem appropriate, you are "simply the best".

Pre-game speculation said it was a contest between Brisbane, the team of champions, and St George, the champion team.

Under the guidance of coach Wayne Bennett, the Broncos have broken new ground. Coming from fifth, they have convincingly established a special quality. They are a champion team of champions.

Having tipped St George to do this year's lap of honour, I must say I was surprised and disappointed with the Saints' first half.

I am loath to be critical of a team which loses a grand final. It is hard enough to endure one loss, let alone two in succession, then be subjected to a microscopic examination of the tactical mistakes.

The word "loser" should never enter the vocabulary in discussion about grand finalists, and the St George men deserved all the accolades they received for their methodical, relentless march to the last game.

Any critical analysis is only that: just a look at what might have gone wrong, without any intention of apportioning blame.

I was stunned that St George in this last game either elected to use a different brand of football to the one that got them there or for some reason departed from the modus operandi that had proved so successful in the crunch games.

To be fair, it was a mistakeriddled half by both teams, but St George were dreadful.

They lost the ball six times in the first 20 minutes and paid dearly for their indiscretions.

The counter-punch ability of this Bronco team on turnovers is awesome, and their habit of punishing the opposition where it hurts most, on the scoreboard, is a Bronco trademark.

Saints forced the ball wide from the outset and applied unnecessary pressure to their outside men.

Many sides that have faced the Brisbane team this season have operated on the belief that to be in the hunt with them you must put points on the board, because they certainly will.

St George appeared as if they wanted to make an early statement that they had the confidence to take Brisbane on at their own game.

There was a hint that the strategy of applying the blowtorch to the Broncos' stamina from the opening whistle would wear them down physically. If this was the case, it was a bold plan indeed and could have worked - but it required much better passing and handling than the stuff produced.

In fact, neither team's performance in 50 per cent of the game bore any resemblance to what was produced by each side in the lead-up matches.

The Saints' attack was different. Gone was the relentless advantage-line surge by their big forwards, the major cornerstone of victory in their tough games.

Brisbane's defence was different. Gone was the lethargic "We'll tackle if we have to, but we'd prefer to have the ball" approach. In its place was a tenacious, competitive brand of defence specially designed to halt what they thought would be coming at them.

To compound the problems St George were having out wide, they forced some passes in thick traffic, the most notable being one by prop Tony Priddle. It was this loss of possession that led to the Broncos' first try.

Before Priddle had time to reflect on his indiscretion, and seemingly to rub salt into the wound, Brisbane five-eighth Kevin Walters beat him on the outside, shot past his outstretched arm, drew fullback Michael Potter and sent Brisbane centre Chris Johns in under the posts.

Brisbane's second try was built on back-to-back possessions after St George were forced to line drop-kick.

Allan Langer was employing the smart tactic of angle-kicking to the in-goal area to trap St George, and when right-winger Willie Carne forced Saints'left-winger Ian Herron to put the ball dead, Brisbane's second try was on the way.

Kevin Walters was again the man for the job when he cleverly pulled two defenders wide on an angle-run and swivelled to find lock Terry Matterson on the inside. Saints were unable to cover Matterson, and with nobody home he strolled over untouched.

Saints were clearly in trouble with the score 10-2 against them at half-time, but to their credit they looked more like the St George of old straight after the break, which in many respects endorsed the fact that they had taken the wrong route in the first 40 minutes.

Brisbane's third and final try of the match came after the clever Langer had once again trapped St George for a line drop-kick.

His well-weighted kicks for the in-goal were a feature of the match and played a big part in producing two of the three tries.

That Saints managed to draw the second half four-all with two penalty goals to the solitary Bronco try suggests they got closer to the St George they wanted to be on the big day.

But the decision by the Saints to kick for goal with the score at 10-4 and the penalty one metre out was not a bold move by a confident team. If ever they had an opportunity to nail the Broncos, it was right there.

Saints appeared unaware a number of the Broncos were struggling at that point, but it is pointless to speculate what might have been had the scores been levelled at 10-10.

There were plenty of good performers in both teams, but none better for me than Brisbane five-eighth Kevin Walters.

Saints were desperately unlucky to lose prop Jason Stevens very early, but the Broncos thoroughly deserved their victory.

They came from fifth, their defence indicated they meant business, and in scoring three tries to nil they have won back-to-back titles in convincing fashion.

Saints must be left wondering why they saved their worst football for the grand final.

Some features of the match: Kevin Walters's effort to provide two tries for his team, Andrew Gee's enormous contribution coming off the bench, the volume of work by Saints' lock Brad Mackay, Michael Potter's faultless exhibition, and Trevor Gillmeister's usual robust performance in attack and defence.

 
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