Tonight’s blockbuster between Brisbane and Melbourne – which could have a major bearing on the minor premiership race and the make-up of the top four – represents the first time the clubs have clashed at Suncorp Stadium with Wayne Bennett at the helm of the Broncos since the unforgettable 2008 semi-final.
Throwback Thursday relives one of the most dramatic, nerve-jangling matches in premiership history.
The scene was already set for a classic showdown, with the bitter rivalry between the two clubs to be played out in front of 50,000-plus fans at Suncorp in potentially Wayne Bennett’s final game in charge of the Broncos before joining St George Illawarra. The Broncos were under siege after three of their rep stars became embroiled in a public furore surrounding an alleged sexual assault just days earlier.
But the home side showed no signs of their torrid build-up by powering to a 12-0 halftime lead over the favourites. The three players at the centre of the allegations – Karmichael Hunt, Sam Thaiday and Darius Boyd – combined to open the scoring, with Boyd finishing off some superb lead-up work, before fellow winger Denan Kemp scored Brisbane’s second try after a brilliant team movement.
Defending premier Melbourne was on the board after halftime when Israel Folau – bound for the Broncos in 2009 – set Michael Crocker up for a try, but tempers frayed soon after, when Cameron Smith and Jeremy Smith performed an ugly grapple tackle on Thaiday. The pair subsequently received two- and one-match bans respectively, while Storm prop Jeff Lima was sin-binned two minutes later for a late challenge on Michael Ennis, allowing Corey Parker to boot the Broncos to a 14-6 lead.
Boyd was denied a second try by the video referee, and when Billy Slater scored next to the posts, the deficit was cut to two. The Broncos appeared to have wrapped up a famous upset in the dying minutes when prop Ben Hannant crashed over – invoking a rare display of emotion from the usually stony-faced Bennett – but the video referee ruled Hannant was held up.
With a minute and a half to play and the home side working the ball out of their own territory, a crunching tackle by Storm interchange forward Sika Manu on Broncos counterpart Ashton Sims jolted the ball free.
Melbourne utilised a blindside overlap in the ensuing possession and Greg Inglis, who was earlier denied a freakish try by the video ref, crossed in the corner to steal the match 16-14. Brisbane captain Darren Lockyer’s anguished scream while wandering amongst his devastated troops was one of the year’s most poignant images, while Broncos fans have never truly forgiven Sims for his critical fumble.
It was the second of three straight seasons Melbourne knocked Brisbane out of the finals following the Broncos’ upset triumph in the 2006 grand final.
Commentary Box Sports’ Will Evans ranked the ferocious Broncos-Storm rivalry at No.16 in his new book, Rugby League Rivalries, which ranks the top 100 all-time premiership club rivalries. Rugby League Rivalries is available at all good bookstores and department stores or online.