What can we say other than Brisbane had a party at Suncorp Stadium and the Penrith Panthers were the clowns; as a new look Broncos with Darren Lockyer back on deck cruised to an easy victory that will get them rolling into the 2008 NRL season with good confidence. Brisbane thrashing the Penrith side 48-12.
The new age Brisbane Broncos, look like remaining a force regardless of the new faces – as their new mobile forwards combined with the existing crop of players to crush the life out of the mistake riddled Panthers. While the Broncos may have lost new prop and former Panther Joel Clinton to a knee injury early on, it didn’t stop them getting over the top and around the bigger, heavier Penrith forwards.
The forward packs from these two sides couldn’t be more contrasting. The Panthers boasting big boppers in Petero Civoniceva, the Puletua boys and giant Frank Pritchard all weighing in at well over 100kgs. For the Broncos, it was a sleek looking Asthon Sims and Joel Clinton joining the pack; both looking to have dropped weight and existing front men Corey Parker, Ben Hennant and Sam Thaiday all looking very mobile as they worked their opponents around.
With Darren Lockyer starting from the bench, the Penrith Panthers had the chance to work into the game and get a start before the world’s best player was unleashed. That was a good plan in theory, but in reality the Panthers started 2008 where they left off last year – with a penalty inside 90 seconds of the game. You could forgive them and put it down to enthusiasm maybe, but it just kept happening. From all corners, the Panthers just couldn’t remain disciplined.
Penrith struggled to find cohesion in their halves in this match, new recruit Joe Williams having a poor kicking game and while Sammut didn’t start the match, his injection did build any successful links or combinations for the team – having a retreating forward pack and little possession didn’t help either.
The Broncos first try came off the back of a Panthers penalty, committing those cardinal sins again – Brisbane worked one of their old school double second man plays, to give Darius Boyd enough room on the wing to score comfortably and give Brisbane good confidence from early on.
Penrith really seemed to look lost after the early try. There was little taking amongst players and they really went into their shells; trying to gain confidence as they started running one out from the play the ball and bunching up real tight centre field.
Joel Clinton had a nervous start against his old team after a few mistakes and gift penalties and eventually succumbed to a knee injury; leaving after only a few minutes and missing the match.
As Penrith started from scratch, they began to find a little bit of rhythm just shy of the 20m mark. Mounting some pressure finally and getting some passes to stick, the Panthers looked certain to score on a few occasions but were guilty of not finishing off. The penny finally dropped for the Panthers when a hard running Nathan Smith was setup by Joe Williams from 10m out. A good second man play, where Wesser and Waterhouse sucked in the defence as dummy runners gave Smith the room and he didn’t disappoint. A proven performer in 2007, he again looks passionate for the Panthers and needs some of his energy to rub off on team mates.
This was the time for Penrith. They hit back and started to get some metres through Petero, as others started to chip in. Luke Rooney got busy, looked for work and the Panthers looked up for the contest.
Enter Darren Lockyer.
While starting half Peter Wallace was doing well for the Broncos, the injection of Lockyer gave the side so many options. Wallace and Lockyer looked to be a slick pairing immediately and not only worked off each other smoothly, but split the ruck and gave Penrith so much to worry about.
The first to crack for Penrith was Luke Priddis. Luke has achieved plenty in the game, but he really has lost that edge he had out of dummy half. His play seems very one dimensional and Luke rarely scampers out of the play the ball these days and to compound this – his discipline is shocking for Penrith. Priddis wasn’t playing smart football, there were errors compounded by penalties and in the blink of an eye Penrith went from challenging to having no chance.
On the attack, the Panthers grubber into the Broncos in goal and somehow – even with 5+ chasers manage to let Darius Boyd run out of the in-goal into the field of play and through frustration they work him over, give up a penalty – Broncos march downfield and score from the next play. This is Penrith 2007 all over again.
And it was the man Penrith said they didn’t want that really made them pay. Launching a towering bomb, Peter Wallace sent some work Michael Jennings’ way and without protection a scrambling Jennings spilled the beans and gifted Greg Eastwood a try to set the scene for a long day at the office for the visitors.
As halftime neared, the Panthers discipline got so bad – I stopped writing that D word down on my game report. Are these guys serious? I am dumbfounded how professionals can squander that much ball from infringements. I don’t know how Matt Elliott can deal with it.
The heart was ripped from Penrith right on the stroke of half time, as one of their few attacking raids was snuffed out, as Darius Boyd shoveled up an intercept to race 80m to score putting the Broncos well out of reach.
Apart from poor ball control and penalties against, the Panthers were being run around by a smart Brisbane forwards gameplan. On most plays the likes of Hennant and Sims were running and passing before the line which kept turning around the Penrith big men – really taking petrol from the tank that burnt them in back end.
The second term began much like the first. Either Matt Elliott used sign language in the dressing rooms or the players put headphones on during the coaches speech, as the first kick from their starting set of 6 sailed out on the full, immediately putting Penrith on the backfoot and setting the tone for the half.
Seconds after this kick failure there were more penalties. This was getting painful and I really felt for Panthers fans. Brisbane grew and grew. They kept accepting the gifts and began to really get confident, Darren Lockyer feeling his way into the game nicely to setup Justin Hodges for a wide gap running try on the Panthers left edge and new hooker PJ Marsh getting in on the action too, running to the line and finding those danger men again – the stepping Karmichael Hunt and Jusin Hodges to put on another hot try.
Even with Penrith managed a complete set without error or infringement, their final options were average at best. Any kicks were poorly directed and most were being defused by former Panther Peter Wallace as he read the plays that may have come from the 2007 playbook.
It was most certainly a long day at the office for the visiting side, Penrith needing to re-think their game almost immediately for this year or risk not improving on the last. The Brisbane, their new-look side probably got the best start possible. Being played into form and giving them time to softly ease Darren Lockyer into the fray and gel some combinations of new players.
Wallace looked immediately at home in the halves and should blossom now he feels wanted by a club. His combination with Lockyer should be a sight to see in a few weeks time. The makeshift hooking rotation of PJ Marsh and Shane Perry was also a plus for the Broncos who may have been worried at losing Michael Ennis late in the piece.
The most promising of all is the new Broncos forward pack. Their fitter, stronger and faster forwards could be the key to the 2008 NRL season. All heavy runners and hitters, that are fully mobile and possess all the skills in terms of offloads and game nous. No wonder big Dave Taylor can’t get a run – these Broncos look bulletproof in the forwards.