While the Anthony Milford renaissance may be in full swing for the Brisbane Broncos, it wasn’t enough to stop an unsteady Cronulla Sharks outfit in a tight 24-16 affair.
With a finals spot on the line, the Cronulla Sharks had to fend off a young, bustling and promising Brisbane Broncos side, led by the departing wayward son in Milford.
Despite the loss, the promising signs are there for the Broncos. Jake Turpin may have been hoping for more at the start of the season when he declared that Brisbane would not be receiving a consecutive Wooden Spoon.
However, the forward pack and outside backs combined well enough against superior opposition and we may well be seeing the beginnings of a dark horse for the top eight in season 2022.
Sione Katoa would open the scoring to begin what would become an excellent game for the powerful winger.
In the fourth minute, after sustained early pressure, it was the revelatory fullback Will Kennedy who threw a pinpoint cutout pass to the winger.
A man few predicted for greatness at the start of the season has become Cronulla’s most crucial player, leading the team in a number of key statistics.
Minutes later and Turpin cut through the middle of the field, before sending Tesi Niu towards the tryline, only to see him tackled a metre short.
The ball was sent to the right Albert Kelly launched a perfect crossfield kick to a flying Xavier Coates.
One heartstopping juggle later and the ball was safely planted to bring the Broncos right back into the mix.
It was 20 minutes into the half when Milford combined with Niu once more.
Niu, pouncing off one leg stepped his way over to give the Sharks pause to think. The Broncos were bucking and suddenly they were leading Cronulla.
Unfortunately for the Broncos, one of their stout, young forwards in Tom Flegler, who had started the game with intensity and aggression, was sent to the bin for a shot that just slipped high on Jack Williams.
The Sharks would make them pay shortly thereafter when barnstorming centre Jesse Ramien somehow wrestled his arm out of a four-man tackle to plant the ball down over his head.
Suddenly it was level again. Still against a 12 man Brisbane side, Kennedy found Katoa in some space on a skip out wide.
45 metres out and Katoa would cross the length of the field while gaining 30 metres before he found a willing Sharks support runner in Connor Tracey to give Cronulla the lead once again.
A Flegler strip would lead to a penalty in front of the goals and an 18-10 scoreline at half-time.
The second half would start at an equal level of commitment from both teams but it would be Brisbane’s defence that cracked first.
Five minutes into the resumption and Briton Nikora managed to somehow spin and offload out of a tackle to Trindall in support who would further extend Cronulla’s lead.
It is unfortunately very clear when Payne Haas is not on the field.
The Broncos were not done however and Milford again showed why Wayne Bennett has taken a chance on his former protege.
Attacking the line and busting tackles like the Milford of old, he was able to connect with a supporting Niu to give him his second try and bring the scores slightly closer.
Not a coincidence it happened in the immediate aftermath of Haas’ return.
Brisbane threatened for the remainder of the half and Selwyn Cobbo was but a fingertip away from a try on two separate occasions.
The young man has a touch of Latrell Mitchell about him.
Debutant Brendan Piakura would be sin-binned early into his NRL career, snuffing out hopes of Broncos comeback. The scores remained 24-16.
Cronulla Sharks 24 (Katoa, Ramien, Tracey, Trindall) def Brisbane Broncos 16 (Coates, Niu 2)
NRL News Player of the Match
3 Points – Will Kennedy (CRO)
2 Points – Sione Katoa (CRO)
1 Point – Payne Haas (BRI)