It’s sixty-seven days since rugby league disappeared from our lives, and from our screens, but as the Brisbane Broncos and Paramatta Eels took to the field at a shade before eleven o’clock this morning it signalled a return to some semblance of normality after the horrendous coronavirus pandemic. Project Apollo had landed.
The game was played behind closed doors, and after much gnashing of teeth, detailed preparation, tests and vaccinations, and a fair bit of bad press and controversy. There was a reversion to a single referee, no ball boys, and a new ‘six-again’ rule when a defensive side have committed some offenses which would previously have seen a penalty awarded.
But the rugby starved public were, on the whole, delighted about the return and settled down in their armchairs to watch events unfold in the truncated NRL season.
Both sides came into the game with unbeaten records, Paramatta topping the table on points difference.
Two uses of the new ‘six-more’ rule in the opening Eels attack allowed them to the Broncos line with Marata Niukore breaking the line and diving over the line to ground. Referee Sutton was unsure and sought video approval, but it was clear that the ball was grounded. Mitchell Moses added the conversion for a 6-0 lead with three minutes on the clock.
Brisbane dislodged the ball from the hands of Maika Sivo in a ferocious tackle on ten but a great kick into goal couldn’t be grounded by Antony Milford.
On seventeen minutes a superb Brodie Croft individual effort saw him accelerate down the left wing to outstrip the covering tackle from full back Clinton Gutherson and score in the corner. Jamayne Isaako kicked brilliantly from the left touchline to level the scores.
Paramatta were back in the lead on twenty-eight when Sivo scored an acrobatic try by the left corner flag as he went airborne off a Michael Jennings pass and rode the tackle to ground the ball. Sutton again went for confirmation, and again the video referees ruled ‘TRY’. Moses added the conversion for 12-6.
Sivo had a second try ruled out on thirty-two for a dubious forward pass, Brisbane breathed a collective sigh of relief.
The half ended with a bombed try as Darius Boyd knocked-on under pressure over the Eels line. The Blue and Golds holding on for a 12-6 lead after a breath-taking forty minutes.
News emerged at half time that Broncos second rower, and captain, Alex Glenn had been taken to hospital with a deep laceration to his thigh.
Four minutes after the restart the Eels extended their lead as Clinton Gutherson broke the line and crashed over the line after throwing a couple of dummies. Moses was unable to add the conversion from wide but the Eels now had a ten point lead.
A period of massive pressure from the Eels came to nothing, thanks to sensational Broncos defence.
With seventeen minutes remaining Michael Jennings threw a dummy from five metres out and then dragged two Broncos tacklers over the line with him to ground next to the uprights and take the points. Moses added the conversion from in front of the sticks for 22-6.
On twenty-seven the Eels got their fifth try of the night when Shaun Lane went over the top of the tackler to ground the ball over the line. Moses added the conversion, his fourth of the game for 28-6, the points well and truly in the bag.
The thirty came up on seventy-eight as Waqa Blake took a Ryan Matterson pass to go over with no Brisbane player able to put a hand on him. Moses kicked the additional two points for 34-6, a terrific win for the Eels to keep them atop the NRL ladder.
Brisbane Broncos: Isaako (G), Oates, Staggs, Boyd, Arthars, Milford, Croft (T), Flegler, Turpin, Haas, Glenn, Hopoate, Carrigan. Subs: Farnworth, Ofahengaue, Bullemor, Lodge.
Paramatta Eels: Gutherson (T), Sivo (T), Jennings (T), Blake (T), Ferguson, Brown, Moses (5G), Campbell-Gillard, Mahoney, Paulo, Lane (T), Matterson, Niukore (T). Subs: Takairangi, Stone, Evans, Terepo.
Referee: Gerard Sutton.
Ground: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane.