The Broncos lost halfback Brodie Croft with an AC joint injury but a Kotoni Staggs hat-trick sealed a deserved 22-18 win over the Rabbitohs on Friday night at an empty Suncorp Stadium.
Brisbane’s dominance of the game was never reflected on the scoreboard but the power and passion of Staggs could not be denied on a night where the NSW Blues hopeful was unstoppable.
The Broncos' star centre, who played in the halves in the second half, had plenty of mates as the forwards asserted themselves early and maintained their dominance for most of the match.
Wayne Bennett sat in the southern stand of Suncorp Stadium right behind the goalposts and wouldn’t have been impressed with what he saw for the majority of the first half.
The Broncos led every statistic convincingly by half-time but Souths went into the break with a 12-10 lead courtesy of some magic from Cody Walker, Latrell Mitchell and James Roberts.
A classic halfback’s pass by Croft put Staggs on the outside of Braidon Burns and the Tongan international’s brute strength and late feet did the rest to give the Broncos a 4-0 lead.
Match: Broncos v Rabbitohs
Round 2 -
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
The Broncos were all over the Rabbitohs early with David Fifita, Patrick Carrigan and Tom Flegler on fire.
Croft followed a Jake Turpin kick and landed awkwardly on the point of his shoulder. He battled on for several minutes before leaving the field in the 14th minute.
That didn’t stop Brisbane and it was then that Milford scored a superb try.
Jamayne Isaako broke free from 60 metres out with a show-and-go and found Milford, who zig-zagged to beat seven defenders in a dazzling 40m run.
Isaako landed a 24th minute penalty to take a 10-nil lead.
The Broncos' first error came in the 29th minute when Andrew McCullough, who came off the bench at halfback, dropped the ball. Souths made them pay with Walker throwing a perfect cutout ball for Campbell Graham to score in the corner.
Walker loops a pass out to Graham
From a mid-field scrum Mitchell chimed in to the back-line and with a magical piece of sleight of hand put James Roberts into space.
Roberts found Walker and the Rabbitohs had somehow made it 10-all. An Adam Reynolds penalty on the cusp of half-time gave them an unlikely two-point lead.
The Broncos moved Staggs into the halves after half-time, Jesse Arthars into the centres and brought Herbie Farnworth onto the wing.
A Payne Haas offload in the 50th minute to Staggs was slick. Staggs, from a standing start, put the afterburners on to beat four Rabbitohs and gave Brisbane a 16-12 lead.
The Rabbitohs continued to squander possession in the second half and it played into the Broncos' hands.
Staggs continues his stellar performance when he grabs a hat-trick
A Milford bomb was brilliantly snared by Farnworth who flipped a pass out the back for Jamil Hopoate. Hopoate tapped it on to Staggs who rampaged his way over for try number three under the sticks.
In the 74th minute Alex Johnston kicked close to the line and it rebounded off the legs of Arthars and straight back into Johnston’s arms for a try which cut Brisbane’s lead to four.
A scything kick by Reynolds and a great chase by the Rabbitohs kept Corey Oates in the in-goal with four minutes to go but the Brisbane defence held firm. A rib injury late to Oates soured the win but the Broncos hung on and maintained their perfect start to the season.
In the coaching stakes it was a big win for Broncos mentor Anthony Seibold, who secured his first win over a Bennett-coached side in five attempts.