Brisbane’s NRL finals hopes are alive and cooking after they prevailed in a see-sawing contest with South Sydney on Thursday night.
The Broncos wiped aside the distraction of their coach Wayne Bennett’s future – and his controversial, impromptu barbecue with players last week – to win 38-18 and ensure a place in the NRL’s top eight with two rounds remaining.
The hosts shot to an 18-0 lead at Suncorp Stadium, only to see it evaporate before a rearguard that stretched the Rabbitohs’ losing streak against the Broncos to seven.
The Rabbitohs awoke from a sloppy start, where they knocked on four times in the opening 15 minutes, to level the scores with 25 minutes to play.
Winger Richie Kennar scored either side of the break and former Brisbane schoolboy Hymel Hunt crossed in the right corner as the Rabbitohs had all the running.
But, just as the Rabbitohs’ hulking forward pack looked to be getting the upper hand, the Broncos responded.
First Corey Oates rose highest to collect an Anthony Milford bomb, before David Fifita drove and spun 10 metres to score a memorable first NRL try.
Kodi Nikorima then sealed the win with a runaway intercept try in the 78th minute.
“I thought we responded great,” Bennett said.
“Tevita (Pangai) made a great run that made a difference, then Anthony (Milford) put a wonderful kick in that got them in goal and all of a sudden it came back our way.”
Linked to the Brisbane job, irate Souths coach Anthony Seibold used the post-game press conference to slam the speculation over his future as a “circus” before being equally critical of his men.
“It was really poor; you can’t go down 18-0 against a quality side … we got what we deserved,” he said.
Earlier the off-contract Oates scored the first two of his three tries in identical fashion, running on to precise passes from fullback Darius Boyd.
Korbin Sims had his fourth try from the last three games not long after, backing up after a slicing Milford beat the line.
The Rabbitohs steadied though, with Kennar’s late try and a penalty making it a 10-point game to stop the bleeding before the main break.
Victory gives Brisbane welcome respite on the ladder, with the Wests Tigers unable to leapfrog them into the eight for now.
But the pressure will remain at Red Hill in a week dominated by coaching speculation and an alleged rift between Bennett and club CEO Paul White that could see the master coach exit before his contract is due to expire at the end of next season.
Bennett downplayed the week’s distractions and pleaded ignorance to reports he had been offered a non-coaching role at the club from 2020 onwards.
“We’ve been in the headlines all season from the day that the media decided to make Matt Lodge a target it really hasn’t stopped at our place. it’s just another day, another week,” he said.