Penrith end season on a frustrating night as Brisbane prepare to meet Melbourne Storm TweetFacebookPictures: AAPBrisbane live to fight another day, Penrith depart season 2017 with another late flourish and ultimately, frustration. And Melbourne will start as prohibitive favourites to progress to another decider after a costly elimination final at Suncorp Stadium.
The young Panthers arrived in Brisbane full of hope and wonder. They left after a tough night where they simply couldn’t create enough to find a way past a rejuvenated home side, who defended their line with the kind of vigour you need to win finals.
The Broncos defence, disconnected last week, scrambled, then scrambled some more, as they took care of business 13-6in front of 38,623 fans, setting up a trip to AAMI Park next Friday night.
But there would be some casualties, with key winger CoreyOates topping the list. Oates was knocked out cold in a horrible collision with team-mate Anthony Milford after 20 minutes and will almost certainly miss the preliminary final.
The pair made contact at full pace, with the shoulder of Milford making direct contact with Oates’ head. Penrith looked as if they had a chance to pounce on the loose ball and score but with Oates looking in serious trouble, officials were right to call a halt to play. Later, he was awake and moving about the dressing rooms.
Penrith had some issues of their own with head knocks, although with a slightly more comedic aspect. Hooker Peter Wallace had to leave the field for a HIA in the first half after Ben Hunt slammed a kick squarely into his face.
They needed his experience and were grateful for his return. He helped them cling to life and eventually, the Panthers threatened one of their customary comebacks when they finally cracked the Broncos line after 54 minutes thanks to Reagan Campbell-Gillard.
But Brisbane weren’t going to let this slip. Jordan Kahu delivered a field goal in the 70th minute, then the Broncos repelled set after set on their own line. All night, Penrith tried to send edge forwards at Anthony Milford. When that didn’t work, they looked short of options.
It was the kind of night Penrith may eventually look back on as one that helped them take the next step in their premiership hunt, similar to Cronulla’s semi-final loss to the Cowboys the year before their breakthrough.
Wayne Bennett’s poor record against Anthony Griffin has been well publicised but he was able to win the one that mattered. Now he has to conjure a miracle against the Storm next week.
Melbourne shouldn’t have feared what either team delivered on Friday night. It was scrappy and tough but lacked the kind of execution and discipline needed to compete against the Storm.
The Broncos are likely to get fullback and captain Darius Boyd back for the match but their record against Melbourne over the past decade has been nothing short of diabolical. Since 2007, they have won just four from 23 against the men in purple.
Brisbane had just one man on their bench at the end of the night and have further injury worries during the week. Jai Arrow was another that left the field with a concussion, while Kodi Nikorima, who was valiant again at fullback, looked to be carrying a knee injury at the end of the match.
But he was able to come up with one of the key moments, leaping high to spoil a Panthers raid late in the match just when it looked as if the Panthers were going to press for extra time.
Instead, they return to the foot of the mountains after a season that must be declared a success. Young half Nathan Cleary would have learned valuable lessons from the defeat – perhaps to be more flexible when Plan A wasn’t working – and can take them one step further in 2018.