Broncos fight back to defeat Sea Eagles
THE much-hyped Origin showdown between Daly Cherry-Evans and Anthony Milford degenerated into a fizzer as the Broncos produced a great escape at Suncorp Stadium.
In the ultimate game of two halves, the erratic Broncos overcame a first-half siesta, fighting back from a 14-0 deficit to dispose of Manly 24-14 before 44,127 fans.
The battle between Cherry-Evans and Milford for the Queensland No.6 jumper was touted as the centrepiece of the second instalment of the double header.
But when the dust settled, neither submitted an emphatic case to wear Maroon if Johnathan Thurston (shoulder) fails to recover in time for Origin I.
Unless Corey Norman produces a blinder today for the Eels against the Roosters, Cowboys pivot Michael Morgan deserves to be on standby for Thurston for the Origin opener.
Cherry-Evans showed some nice touches to help Manly to a 14-0 half-time lead, but with the game on the line, he disappeared quicker than David Copperfield as the Broncos surged home.
Milford, meanwhile, also produced a mixed bag, lacking penetration in the first half before playing with more surety after the break to help the Broncos to their fifth consecutive victory.
If anything, both were overshadowed by pint-sized Kodi Nikorima.
The Broncos half ignited the fightback, setting up Milford's 44th minute try before his 25-metre solo effort gave the hosts a crucial 18-14 lead 14 minutes from time.
The departure of Manly sensation Tom Trbojevic, who was carving up the Broncos, turned the contest.
The Sea Eagles were leading 14-6 when Trbojevic injured his knee in the lead-up to the Corey Oates try that whittled the deficit to 14-12 after 64 minutes.
Without Trbojevic, Brisbane lifted. When Maroons ace Oates posted his second try five minutes from time for a 10-point break, the Sea Eagles were shot as Brisbane moved to equal second place on the NRL ladder.
This wasn't a win for the ages but the Broncos are the masters of holding their nerve and hanging tough.
"It was very gutsy, we weren't the Broncos in the first half,” Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett said.
"We just had to get ourselves sorted out at half-time. We regrouped in the second half and scored 24 unanswered points.”
Bennett defended Milford, saying he and Nikorima lacked the latitude to create in the first half as Manly dominated the middle-third.
"It was two halves for us,” he said.
"Our big boys (forwards) weren't doing the job in the first half and that affects the halves. Anthony and Kodi were better in the second half.”
Brisbane was sucker-punched early, the Sea Eagles rocking the Broncos with three tries in the opening nine minutes for a shock 14-0 lead.
After the break, Brisbane's halves showed more intent. Nikorima's bullet pass for Korbin Sims, who released Milford for Brisbane's opening try in the 44th minute, was perfect piece of execution and it triggered a Broncos fightback.
Cherry-Evans said an Origin recall was the last thing on his mind after his side's second-half capitulation.
"Right now, it's an after-thought,” he said.
"To lose a game like that is a bit disappointing, it's not the time to be talking about myself.”