TWL FINALS WRAP: BRONCOS BLASTED OUT OF FINALS BY REBORN SAINTS

Brisbane Broncos’ season is over after St George Illawarra Dragons doused the hosts’ late-season fire and performed their own remarkable turnaround with a 48-18 demolition at Suncorp Stadium.

THE MATCH: From the opening exchanges it was clear the Dragons had turned up hell-bent on keeping their campaign alive, producing defensive aggression and line-speed – both led by James Graham – that had been missing throughout their late-season slump.

Penalty goals were the order of the opening 15 minutes but the Broncos grabbed a 10-2 lead when Kodi Nikorima sliced through on his own 20-metre line and found 18-year-old hulk David Fifita in support to stride away and score.

Joe Ofahengaue and Graham departed early due to head injuries and the latter loomed as an RTS-like disaster for the Saints.

But the Broncos were caught on the heels by a phenomenal barrage of St George Illawarra tries, with the underdogs piling on four close-range tries in the space of 16 minutes and adding a late penalty goal to set up an extraordinary 28-10 halftime scoreline.

While everything that could go wrong did for Broncos prop Korbin Sims, brother Tariq was on fire with a career-first hat-trick in rapid time.

Tim Lafai stood up James Roberts from a scrum win to power over early in the second half and at 34-10 it looked all over for the home side. But tries to Darius Boyd and Nikorima in quick succession reduced the margin to an achievable 16 points with 23 minutes to go.

Match-ending injuries to Jack de Belin (ankle), Gareth Widdop (shoulder) and Fifita (ankle) added to the drama.

The Dragons managed to keep their heads and regain a bit of momentum, sealing their passage to week two with 11 minutes left as Cameron McInnes slid a grubber through for Luciano Leilua to dot down.

The final insult came with just seconds remaining as Ben Hunt, McInnes and teenaged centre Zac Lomax combined to lay on a brilliant 85-metre try for Matt Dufty directly from an Anthony Milford error.

A Dragons win was a result few saw coming. A 30-point hiding was scarcely believable.

Like Penrith, who eliminated the Warriors with a finals performance of genuine grit, toughness and class despite some dusty form in the latter rounds, St George Illawarra are suddenly back in the premiership picture.

They may have to take on South Sydney next weekend minus De Belin and Widdop, who made a fabulous return from injury, but after that performance a preliminary final berth would not be the shock achievement it seemed just a few days ago.

The Broncos, meanwhile, are left to pick up the pieces after heading into the playoffs as arguably the form team in the top eight. Speculation will immediately ramp up over whether that was the grand old master Wayne Bennett’s last match in charge at the club.

THE MAN: Former Brisbane playmaker Ben Hunt, a perpetual punching bag in recent times, would have enjoyed the Dragons’ stunning win more than any. But it was ex-Broncos NYC player Tariq Sims that had the biggest impact, scoring the Saints’ opening try that turned the tide before crashing over twice more at the back-end of the half as he terrorised his opponents’ right-edge defence. The NSW Origin rep also racked up 21 tackles and 12 runs in an unforgettable display. Tyson Frizell  and Ah Mau weren’t far behind.

THE MOMENT: It was the most nondescript try of a match that produced 10, many of them memorable. But 2019 Warriors recruit Leeson Ah Mau’s 28th-minute effort to muscle over under the posts put the Dragons back in front and opened the floodgates for their remarkable surge late in the first half.

St George Illawarra Dragons 48 (Tariq Sims 3, Leeson Ah Mau, Tim Lafai, Luciano Leilua, Matt Dufty tries; Gareth Widdop 7, Zac Lomax 3 goals) defeated Brisbane Broncos 18 (David Fifita, Darius Boyd, Kodi Nikorima tries; Jamayne Isaako 3 goals) at Suncorp Stadium. 


It wasn’t all doom and gloom for Broncos fans at Suncorp Stadium, with the club’s women’s team carving out an emphatic 30-4 win over the Dragons in their opening match of the historic NRLW premiership.

Rival fullbacks Chelsea Baker (Broncos) and Sam Bremner (Dragons), long-time Jillaroos teammates, traded tries in the opening eight minutes, but it was all Broncos from that point.

Baker finished with a personal tally of 18 points from two tries and five goals, while Kiwi Ferns reps Maitua Feterika and Teuila Fotu-Moala had big games in the Brisbane back-row.

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