Dynamic duo ... Cooper Cronk kicks for Billy Slater. Photo: Getty Images
Barely six weeks ago Sam Thaiday rejoiced as Maroons teammate Cooper Cronk put to bed the State of Origin decider with a 75th-minute field goal from 40m.
Last night, the Broncos skipper found out what it’s like to be on the wrong side of the champion halfback’s precision right boot when Cronk iced a 19-18 win for the Melbourne Storm that sent the gallant Broncos to a fifth-straight loss.
Corey Norman gets the ball away. Photo: Getty Images
With scores locked at 18-18 after 75 minutes of struggle, likened by Melbourne coach Craig Bellamy to finals football, and the ball on the Broncos’ 20m line, the scene was set for Cronk.
The Storm knew it, the crowd of 41,467 knew it and the Broncos knew it, especially Corey Parker, who cannonballed out of marker and launched headlong in a futile bid to charge down the shot.
Storm skipper Cameron Smith knew it as well. Cronk had told him so as the pair ran back to halfway after Ben Te’o had crashed over in the 71st minute to level the scores for the Broncos.
“He can kick a field goal here, that’s for sure,” he said.
“He’s good at reading a game. He came over and spoke to me when Benny Te’o scored that try. He said ‘mate, get me to halfway and I’m gonna have a shot’.
“He can pull them off. He’s two from two long range at this ground.”
The chapter fits neatly into the ongoing saga that the Bronco-Storm rivalry has become.
The Storm have now won 11 of the past 13 encounters between the two sides, but each instalment has been bitterly contested and Smith said last night’s showdown was reminiscent of the 2008 semi-final between the sides at this very ground.
That night it was Greg Inglis who broke Bronco hearts with a last-minute try to end their season.
If Cronk’s effort last night failed to break Brisbane’s hearts, it surely bruised them.
After surrendering a 14-0 lead against the Canterbury Bulldogs last week, Thaiday was clearly crestfallen after what was for all intents and purposes an excellent night at the office by his charges.
Early tries to Justin Hodges and Te’o sent the home side to a 12-0 lead in a spotless first half from the Broncos that only yielded a 38th-minute try to Sisa Waqa on a contentious video referee decision.
Thaiday said if hard work is to be rewarded, a Broncos turnaround is just around the corner.
“We’re doing everything we can to try and win a game, I think that’s probably the reason why so many blokes were so wrecked after that game,” he said.
“We’ve been close last week and we’ve been close this week, it’s just not good enough at the moment.
“The effort is there and I think that’s what hurts the most because we’re trying our butts off so hard to try and win and it’s just not happening for us at the moment.”
The Broncos now travel to Manly before finishing up the regular season back at Suncorp Stadium.
Thaiday’s Maroons teammate Smith said he too could see a revival that could catapult the Broncos into a formidable opponent come finals time.
“We threw everything at each other early and a team hasn’t really thrown that much at us in the first 40 minutes all year,” he said.
“Never write a Broncos team off, they’re a great football side. I was speaking to Hodgo and Corey Parker and Matt Gillett there at the end and I just said to them that it reminds me of the patch we went through. They didn’t do too much wrong tonight, the Broncos.
“They just need some bounces to go their way. It’s exactly the way we felt when you come off the ground scratching your head and thinking ‘where did we go wrong?"
Broncos coach Anthony Griffin said he could see improvements in his side, even if it wasn’t showing up on the scoreboard.
“I was happy with our general effort, we’re getting a little bit better each week,” he said.
“It’s just frustrating, but we’ll get there. We’ll keep showing up and we’ll get there.”
Cronk’s boot was slicing the Broncos open well before his match-winning field goal. Three minutes after halftime his grubber kick found the goal post and the ball bounced back neatly for him to recover his own kick and score.
Nine minutes later it was his cross-field kick that gave Waqa his second try of the night.