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ANALYSIS: Walsh puts Panthers on notice as Broncos crush Warriors to deliver first Grand Final since 2015

23rd September, 2023
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23rd September, 2023
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It had to be him. Reece Walsh has powered Brisbane into their first Grand Final since 2015, defeating the Warriors 42-12 to set up a decider with Penrith in Sydney next Sunday night.

The fullback has been inspirational all year and was here again: he produced three line break assists, plus one of his own, in a stellar first half that saw the Broncos go to the sheds 24-12 up, before adding another three in the second to put the game beyond doubt.

At one point he burned Te Maire Martin, racing clear, before throwing the most egregious forward pass of the year. Lucky for Walsh, he’d burned the touch judge too, who was nowhere near to make the call. When it’s your day, it’s your day.

Kevin Walters was displeased at half time, which tells you exactly where the standards in this group are. They’ll fear nobody next week.

Unfortunately for Andrew Webster, that doesn’t include his team, though it is no slight to be a rung below this Broncos and that Penrith.

“We didn’t get it right today, that was pretty clear,” said the Warriors coach. “We were beaten by a really good side.

“Defensively we didn’t give ourselves a chance. You’ve got a team running red hot and a team not defending the way they want to.

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The Warriors gave their all, but came up short. It was partly their own shortcomings, particularly in defence, but largely a result of their opponents’ excellence. 

Shaun Johnson was again imperious and Addin Fonua-Blake aggressive, but it was hard not to think that, had they won, they would have been smashed next week. 

Winning here would have been their Grand Final, and with Wayde Egan going down to a HIA, they would have missed a key cog in their attack, too.

Instead, we get the Grand Final that this season has deserved, with the two best teams in the comp ready to duke it out. Penrith would have been huge favourites before this game. They’re not now.

“It’s a great achievement for everyone at the club, but also from where the club’s been to where we are now,” said Walters. “It’s a good feeling.

“But tomorrow when we wake up we’ve got a big job ahead to make sure we get the week planned really well to get into Sunday and give ourselves every chance for another great performance.

Our best performance is still in front of us this year and we need to be at our best next week in the Grand Final.”

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Walsh is elite – and he fits in perfectly

Walsh stood, hands on hips, behind the play on his own 40m line. He watched the move seemingly stop, before a late offload came. Quick as a flash, he kicked into gear, spotting a hole and aiming for it outside of Ezra Mam. 

The speed kicked in, the ball appeared and through he went, racing away before dropping Billy Walters inside for a try that all but confirmed that the Broncos were going to the Grand Final.

It was breathtaking stuff, and just one of four or five amazing things that Walsh had done. We’re 25 minutes in.

He turned up early, taking just seven minutes to put on the play that the Warriors have watched all week in video, but had no answer to in real life. Te Maire Martin wasn’t close to fast enough, Selwyn Cobbo broke through and Walters scored moments later.

Then he had a setback, throwing a long one straight to Dallin Watene-Zelezniak, but instead of dwelling on it, the next time, Walsh played short and put Herbie Farnworth in.

They say the best athletes have the shortest memories. The elite players flush mistakes and don’t get carried away with successes, simply resetting and going again. That’s certainly true of Walsh.

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It’s great having incredible individuals, but what the Broncos have mastered is building a system tailored to their best players.

The effort levels in the middle, across Payne Haas, Pat Carrigan and Thomas Flegler, don’t give the opposition any chance to breathe, keeping them tight to the centre and exposing the seams to Walsh’s pace.

The centres, in particular Farnworth, batter in at the gap between edge and middle defence, and Ezra Mam has become an expert at knowing when to dart back. Adam Reynolds keeps it all together.

Next week they get thee ultimate test against the best system in the NRL. Lucky for the Broncos, their style doesn’t match with the Panthers and will be able to challenge it. Styles make fights, they say. Let’s hope so.

The Warriors are good, just not this good

Much like the Storm last night, the Warriors would have to be near perfect to stand a chance. They got further along than Melbourne did, but simply couldn’t cope with Brisbane’s attack and ultimately fell short.

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It’s a synecdoche of the competition this year: there’s been two, then everyone else. The Warriors may well be the third best, but that’s a fair way down from second. We find out how big the gap between second and first is next week.

Defensively, the Wahs have been among the best all year, but they struggled badly. They couldn’t stop the middle, with 16 offloads in the first half alone (more than the Broncos average per game in the rest of 2023) and a series of bad defensive reads.

Sometimes there’s not much you can do, such as Martin’s failure to keep up with Walsh early, but on other occasions, there certainly was. 

Watene-Zelezniak, as good as he has been going forward, was too willing to jam in from his wing. While it paid one intercept, it also cost two highly preventable tries. 

After the second, Johnson could be seen reading the riot act to the winger for his poor decision making.

Conceding from a dummy half dart was fairly criminal too, with Jackson Ford the culprit.

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For Webster, it will be particularly irritating because his side showed all of what they can do in attack. 

Their first was near-perfect from a coaching perspective, battering repeatedly at one section of the line, Johnson touching the ball on every play, probing until the gap was found.

But it was just a flash in the pan. There were chances in the first half, but the scoreboard got away. The final score in the end was, perhaps, a little harsh. But when you lose a Prelim, it doesn’t matter by how much.

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