Rugby League

Rematch a mismatch as Walsh hurt and Cleary dazzles

March 22, 2024 7:06 am

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After conjuring a grand final miracle to break Brisbane’s heart last October, Nathan Cleary tormented the Broncos again at BlueBet Stadium on Thursday as he led the premiers to a dominant 34-12 victory.

Cleary finished the night with three try assists, three line-break assists and four tackle breaks while Dylan Edwards ran for 307 metres as the Panthers made it seven wins in their past eight games against Brisbane.

The night started badly for the Broncos when fullback Reece Walsh was forced from the field after just for minutes following a head clash with Taylan May and was unable to return.

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May was placed on report for failing to lower his body height and attempt to make a tackle, with Brisbane’s new kicker Kotoni Staggs landing the penalty goal for a 2-0 lead.

The Panthers hit their straps in the 14th minute when Cleary sent a pinpoint long pass over the top for winger Sunia Turuva to cross wide out and make it 4-2 to the premiers.

The home side then turned up the pressure and makeshift fullback Selwyn Cobbo did a fine job to defuse two grubbers to keep Brisbane’s line intact before the weight of possession told and Izack Tago skipped through a Brendan Piakura tackle to score. Cleary converted for a 10-2 lead.

When Mitch Kenny exploded out of dummy half and fooled Billy Walters with a dummy to grab the Panthers’ try the score had blown out to 16-2 after 25 minutes.

Having had his cut stitched, Walsh returned to the sideline with 10 minutes remaining in the half but headed back up the tunnel after experiencing problems with his vision.

The Broncos launched a right-side raid in the 34th minute which ended with Deine Mariner trying to dive into the corner but stepping on the sideline before he took flight.

A mistake by Fletcher Baker on his own 30-metre line handed the Panthers field position and Cleary made the Broncos pay when he put the ball on a platter for Tago to cross for his second.

Trailing 22-2 at the break the Broncos were dealt a hammer blow when Walsh was officially ruled out for the rest of the game and the Panthers went further ahead when slick hands created space for Brian To’o to score.

Come the 50th minute To’o made it a double courtesy of a Jarome Luai long ball before the Broncos finally got on the board through Mariner, who showed some great footwork to beat three defenders,

On the hour mark, the Broncos produced a long-range special when Piakura found space down the left wing and sent the ball back inside to Jesse Arthars who powered through Edwards’ tackle to score to get it back to 34-12.

Kotoni Staggs then muscled up in defence to force an error from Liam Martin as the Broncos hung tough in the face of adversity.