Walters hails defence ‘you can build a team around’ as Kelly stars in Bunny boilover

Brisbane Broncos, featured, League, NRL, South Sydney Rabbitohs

Round 1 is a tipper’s graveyard. Just ask our experts tipping panel – six out of six for Souths.

Brisbane upset the applecart the old-fashioned way: they out enthused their opponents, took more of their opportunities and defended for their lives.

11-4 to the Broncos after 80 mins shows that this was more a defensive contest, especially when you factor that six of those points came from an Albert Kelly intercept and another from a Kurt Capewell field goal.

On the underlying metrics, the possession and the run metres and the tackle stats, there was barely an inch between the sides. Games aren’t won on underlying metrics, of course, and it was that intercept and the unlikely field goal that ultimately made the difference.

Souths will come again, because they’re too good not to. It’s not great to lose this game – especially because they have the Storm, Roosters and Panthers next up – but it won’t define them or their season.

The same might not be true for Brisbane. They run into the Bulldogs, Cowboys and Warriors now, and you can see a world where they go 4-0. With the confidence they’ll have gained tonight, it’s more than possible.

“Our defence was the best that it’s been since I’ve been here,” said Broncos coach Kevin Walters.

“That’s the stuff that you can build a team around, that desire and will to stop a team from scoring. That was the most pleasing thing.”

“I bet they had some fun tonight. It’s a tough game, the NRL, but when you win it makes all the difference.

“Tonight, we were in front on the scoreboard at the end of the game. There were some good things that we did, some fun things, but plenty to work on.

“It was a tough, gritty game and we haven’t played that way for a long time.”

The Broncos made their own luck

All the build-up around the Broncos was about what they don’t have than what they do.

Adam Reynolds, and his absence, was the major headline, and not just because they were set to face his former club: he was seen as the fix-all to the Broncos litany of problems.

As it happens, this was all about the players that they did have on deck playing above themselves. They were coherent, committed and uncomplicated. The Broncos looked like a team that had been given very specific instructions and followed them to the letter.

Albert Kelly, usually on the more inconsistent end of mercurial, had one of the three games a season where he looks like a world beater.

Since his return to the NRL – and in his last few years in Super League – Kelly has given the impression of a guy who had to be convinced that he deserved to be on the field.

With ten minutes to play, he had the ball under his arm at a penalty, barking instructions at his teammates. He looked like a senior player rather than a guy hanging onto a first grade jersey by his fingernails.

Their best player, Payne Haas, was outstanding and Pat Carrigan matched him beat for beat. When Walters handed Capewell the captaincy in Reynolds’ stead, he probably wouldn’t have anticipated him taking on the field goal kicking duties as well, but on both the leadership and the kicking front, Capewell was superb.

There’s a truism about Craig Bellamy teams that when they don’t beat the opposition, at the very least they don’t beat themselves. They put themselves in the argument and ask the other team to be good enough to beat them. So often, they aren’t.

Complete high. Make your tackles. Kick long. Stay in the game. Make the other team beat you.

Brisbane did all those things, and Souths couldn’t.

Selwyn Cobbo announces himself

Selwyn Cobbo, in just his seventh game, was hard to ignore throughout. That wasn’t necessarily always for good reasons, because the kid is as raw as anything, but he put himself onto the stage with hard carries and evasive running.

The Broncos winger is one of those players with such obvious talent that you really, really hope they can live up to it.

The strong performance tonight was more because he did lots of 1% things very well, even though he largely failed in the business end. His 150m running metres are a testament to the continued effort and application that Cobbo showed.

And yet: when he had the chance to score in the corner, he went into touch. When he could have put Albert Kelly over, he threw a ridiculous forward pass. When he had an unchallenged jump at a high kick to score, he dropped it.

It’s the sort of performance that Broncos fans will get excited about because the potential is there, if not the execution. They certainly should get excited, but not because of the spectacular things. It’s the boring things that will allow that talent shine.

Souths connections fail – but that is perhaps to be expected

At their best, Souths are a well-oiled machine – perhaps more than any of the other in the top tier of NRL teams.

Where Penrith, Melbourne and the Roosters have a culture that can allow them to drop players in and out from time to time, Souths excel when they can get their forces working in concert.

Think of the backline moves last year: Cody Walker, out the back to Latrell Mitchell and onto Alex Johnston in the corner.

Tonight, they were missing Mitchell, lost his replacement Blake Taaffe a day before and while Adam Reynolds’ replacement, Lachlan Ilias, went alright, it was clear that Dane Gagai’s role in the centre might not be best filled by Jaxson Paulo. On the evidence of his first game in the centres in the NRL, he might be better back on the wing.

New coach Jason Demetriou accepted that his team were clunky and were still building into their season.

“The scoreboard put us under pressure and we needed to be more patient with the footy,” said Demetriou.

“The Broncos’ last ditch defence was pretty good as well. I think we had three or four chances and they managed to turn us away and get blokes to cover it. That’s a credit to them.”

“Losing Taaffe on the day of captain’s run didn’t help. We’ve got to build our season, there’s no doubt out that. We’ve got some changes in key people.

I was really happy defensively and how we kept turning up: other than the intercept we conceded one try.

We’ve got to bottle that and sharpen our attack a little bit.”

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