A deserved win

As a Broncos fan who has always had a strong dislike of Manly, I’ll get the difficult part over with straight away: I have to admit Manly deserved to win.

In all honesty I wasn’t expecting the Broncos to win. With Darren Lockyer missing, I sensed the Broncos wouldn’t quite have what it took to make it to the grand final. Nonetheless I was impressed with the way they hung in there for the full 80 minutes, particularly after falling behind 16-0 midway through the first half after making some embarrassing errors. It was only afterwards when I analysed the game in my head that I realised the Broncos got the ball over the Manly try-line without registering a try on no fewer than four occasions, and lost the game by two converted tries.

But there are no excuses. There was nothing at all controversial about any of the occasions that the Broncos crossed Manly’s try-line without scoring a try. Quite simply, the Broncos just didn’t do the little things right.

I watch the game in my own company at the Woolpack Hotel in the town where I have resided since 2008, Tumut. This match occurs in yet another week in which Prime Minister Julia Gillard is getting hammered in the polls. With Matt Gillett replacing Lockyer at five-eighth, commentator Ray Warren emphasises the enormity of his role: “He may have the toughest job in Australia tonight, never mind Julia Gillard.”

Anyway, the Broncos have first use of the football and have a good set first up. But then they concede the first penalty after 72 seconds, then another at the halfway line for a hand on the ball. The Sea Eagles are one metre from the try-line on the last tackle, when hooker Matt Ballin dives from dummy-half and beats the marker defence to ground the ball.

There are a few things I associate with Ballin. He scored the first try in the 2008 decider; he played one State of Origin game for Queensland; and I earned a good character reference from his father, the Kingaroy High School principal when I finished my time working at the South Burnett Times newspaper back in 2007.

Despite my favourable thoughts in terms of him being a Queenslander and having a father who supported me well, I don’t like seeing Matt Ballin score against the Broncos!

Manly leads 6-0 in the fifth minute but the game suddenly changes from the subsequent kick-off as the ball hits the upright and bounces back where the Broncos regain possession. The Broncos don’t profit, but soon they get a penalty and go on the attack again. Peter Wallace kicks in the air on the last tackle, and Jack Reed catches the ball over the line and is trybound, only for teammate Dale Copley to fly through the air and accidentally knock the ball out of his grasp!

I’ve never seen such a thing, and I curse as I see the replay. I just know that it isn’t going to be the Broncos’ night.

Soon afterwards, Copley compounds his error and strengthens my knowing that it won’t be the Broncos’ night when he drops a wayward pass in his quarter. The Sea Eagles instantly swoop, and Daly Cherry-Evans sends the ball out to Will Hopoate who scores in the right corner. I think football is a very unfair game as Manly leads 10-0 after the Broncos could have levelled at 6-all just before.

An offside penalty against the Broncos around the marker area leads to another Manly attack, and then Cherry-Evans superbly draws the defence and rifles a pass to send Brett Stewart through for a try. With the score 16-0, I think that everything that could go against the Broncos will go against them as Sam Thaiday is controversially penalised for not playing the ball properly as a defender holds him. “I think they’re harsh penalties,” Peter Sterling says.

Thankfully Manly doesn’t capitalise, and then the Broncos finally get a stroke of fortune as their tackle count is restarted when a defender knocks the ball down. Gillett cross-kicks to the right where Jharal Yow Yeh takes an overhead catch, goes to ground and swivels to ground the ball for a brilliant try. “This is athleticism at its best,” Wally Lewis remarks in the commentary.

The Broncos trail 16-4, and then Thaiday leads a gang tackle on Cherry-Evans to force a goal-line dropout. I think come on Broncos, make the impossible become possible. But they can’t score again before half-time, and Manly also butcher a couple of scoring chances in the shadows of half-time as the score remains 16-4 at the break. I promise myself that I’ll have a glass or two of champagne if the Broncos come back and win.

The Broncos came from 20-6 down against the Bulldogs five years ago, and it occurred after Willie Mason said something like “The Broncos are gone, we’re going through to the grand final”. In Shane Webcke’s second book, Webcke considered Mason’s remarks fired the Broncos up for their second half splurge which resulted in 31 unanswered points. Could any similar fightback occur this time?

My hopes plummet just 57 seconds after play resumes as Yow Yeh spills a bomb. Manly threaten but fumble, before poor Broncos defence enables Hopoate to make a break after he takes a high kick. Thaiday gives away a stupid penalty when he dives and tackles Cherry-Evans around the legs after Cherry-Evans puts up a bomb. It proves costly, as Cherry-Evans and Jamie Lyon combine to send Hopoate across in the corner. The margin again is 16 points.

Anthony Watmough gives away a trademark silly penalty, prompting Phil Gould to say of the Broncos: “They need a try Rabbits.” Ray Warren replies: “They certainly do.” Moments later, the Broncos break through. Corey Parker hits the ball up and offloads well to Wallace who darts through to score at the posts. With Manly’s lead reduced to 10 points with 27-and-a-half minutes left, I allow myself the barest glimmer of hope that the Broncos can still win.

But the breeze takes hold of a bomb from Gillett, and the ball goes out on the full. Wallace then concedes a penalty for a high tackle, but the Broncos survive and then are in Manly’s quarter. But Wallace’s kick is a shocker, and then the Sea Eagles quickly return to Brisbane’s half where Cherry-Evans puts up a towering bomb. Kieran Foran never takes his eye off the ball as he chases and catches brilliantly for a try. I know there’s no way back for the Broncos as Manly leads 26-10 with 20 minutes left.

Yow Yeh makes a good break but cops a high tackle from Tony Williams, who is placed on report. Soon the Broncos send the ball right where a cut-out pass finds Yow Yeh, who reaches for the corner to ground the ball but touches the sideline first. Steve Matai however is penalised and placed on report for leading with his knees, and then the Broncos force a repeat set before another kick from Wallace proves ineffective. Credit to Lyon however who leaps high to take an impressive overhead catch. After an offside penalty to Brisbane, Gillett interestingly kicks a stray ball backwards before a scrappy period of play leads to Justin Hodges making a break. Gillett rolls over the line but Lyon’s Herculean effort prevents him grounding the ball. The video referee asks the on-field referee to make the call, and “held up” is the ruling.

A good sweeping movement coupled with a second man play enable Copley to run in a try out wide, and the Broncos have seven minutes to score two converted tries to level the scores. I’m still hoping the impossible becomes possible. But it doesn’t. Late in the game, replacement David Hala steams onto an inside pass and steams into Corey Parker who played the ball, before Hala grounds the ball. The video referee however correctly penalises Parker for obstruction, considering he pushed an opponent who held him. Parker in fact didn’t even play the ball properly. He stepped over it but this seems to have been overlooked.

I’m disappointed the Broncos lose, as I would have been thrilled had they won which would have ensured there was no NSW team in the grand final. So, I’ll support the Warriors in the big game.

MANLY 26 (W Hopoate 2, M Ballin, B Stewart, K Foran tries; J Lyon 3 goals) beat BRISBANE 14 (J Yow Yeh, C Parker, D Copley tries; Parker goal) at the Sydney Football Stadium.

Crowd: 31,894.

3 – Daly Cherry-Evans (Manly), 2 – Jamie Lyon (Manly), 1 – Will Hopoate (Manly).

 

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