After losing Jayden Brailey for the NRL season, Newcastle have secured a major coup by signing Brisbane hooker Andrew McCullough for 2020.
The so-called Magic Round offered little advantage to the Brisbane Broncos.
Friday night at Suncorp, in front of a huge crowd against a travelling opponent? Pretty much par for the course really and a decent advantage.
Except this time, the entire NRL caravan had moved north, with 16 teams sharing the venue for the weekend.
With the Broncos sitting at 2-6 for the season, they needed an advantage. Anything they could find to combat a Manly side that had exceeded expectations over the first eight rounds of the competition would help.
Early on, the Sea Eagles looked like well and truly swooping the home side. An early converted try to Apisai Koroisau had Manly six clear after ten minutes before the Broncos dug in and fought hard to stay with a confident Manly team.
Both Manly centres Moses Suli and Brad Parker were forced from the field with injury during the first half and the Broncos began to exert some pressure.
The Sea Eagles were forced to scramble personnel to cover the losses and Anthony Milford took advantage in the 35th minute with a try beside the posts.
Corey Oates scored for the Broncos early in the second half after brilliant work from Darius Boyd and the Suncorp crowd lifted the roof, hoping that their much maligned team might be on their way to a gutsy and desperate victory.
A superb 40/20 by Milford kept Brisbane on the attack and when young halfback Tom Dearden broke the line and seemed likely to score, the obvious delay of the play-the-ball by Brendan Elliot made me wonder why the sin bin wasn’t used.
The weight of possession would eventually tell and Matt Gillett strolled over under the posts after a brilliant kick from Milford. The 16-6 lead appeared plenty against the tiring Manly troops.
The flow of possession and penalties swung the way of Brisbane. With Api Koroisau already off the field with an ankle injury, Toafofoa Sipley went down with what has been reported as a fractured leg and the Sea Eagles looked like throwing up the white flag, unable to continue due to a lack of troops.
It left Manly as lambs to the slaughter and Brisbane produced immediately via a Darius Boyd try and the conversion put the Broncos clear by 16.
Jack Bird left the field late with what appeared to be a serious knee issue and Jack Gosiewski scored a barnstorming late try for the Sea Eagles, but it was to be the Broncos’ night at Suncorp – a night that saw them gulp a few breaths of air from just above water level to record a 26-10 victory.
Earlier in the evening, the Wests Tigers walked onto the playing surface after a solid pre-game warm-up. The squad had been on time to catch their flight from Sydney and arrived at the hotel organised and composed.
In direct contrast, the Panthers’ head office appeared to have failed to relay the details of Magic Round to the players. The mountain men either missed their flight, overslept their alarms or stayed on the bus after failing to show for the first 40 minutes against a rampant Tigers.
Sure, Wests were good, setting up a 24-0 lead after 19 minutes.
However, the Panthers were flat out terrible. An appropriate level of intensity was absent, aggression was missing, and without the ball, Penrith stood by and watched the Tigers have their way.
Five tries in the opening 20 minutes is a rarity in the NRL and against a roster touted as one of the best and most talented in the competition, it was somewhat astonishing.
Robbie Farah, Benji Marshall and Moses Mbye pulled the strings and controlled both the tempo and the scoreboard as the Panthers stood like deer in the headlights.
Right now, team Cleary looks awful and the pre-season pundits have been proven well off the mark. The supposed talent possessed at the foot of the mountains appears to be some sort of rugby league mirage that has sucked in all and sundry.
The truth is, Penrith are already out of finals contention.
There was to be some recoil from the Panthers with an unconverted try after 29 minutes yet the Tigers took a comfortable 26-4 lead into the sheds and the match was essentially done.
If the first half was excitement plus, the second was something of a snore fest, as the Panthers continued to fumble and bumble their way along the road to mediocrity.
As the rain hit Suncorp Stadium hard for much of the second half, just the one try to Esan Marsters after 68 minutes bothered the scorers and the Tigers held on for a convincing 30-4 victory.
The most compelling statement to come from the match might well be the slim chance of New South Wales selectors going into the Origin series with the Panthers’ duo of Nathan Cleary and James Maloney.
It raises a serious headache for the Blues, but it doesn’t even come close to the one currently being experienced by Ivan Cleary at Penrith after a 2-7 start to the season.