Life after Lockyer a whole new ball game for Brisbane
Brisbane Broncos 18 Parramatta Eels 6
First impression ... New recruit Chris Sandow scored Parramatta's only try of the night. Photo: Steve Christo
IN A match just as much about the two blokes on the sidelines wearing sharp suits as it was about the men in the middle, Brisbane coped better without Darren Lockyer than Parramatta did without Jarryd Hayne.
That's not to say the Broncos coped well; they were disjointed and rather rushed in the first half, but they changed their game enough in the second half to turn the match around. That won't be enough to win many games this year but it was enough last night against another set of understrength opponents.
Broncos trample the Eels
Parramatta Eels v Brisbane Broncos at Parramatta Stadium - Reni Maitua Photo: Steve Christo
The Eels looked like they might prevail without their star fullback, but when the Broncos lifted, the Eels just did not have the class to go with them. The person who could provide it was watching in the rain. They could at least be comforted that Hayne will return. The other sharp-dressed man would not.
Lockyer, indeed, was so close to the play in his role of Channel Nine commentator that he could have high-fived winger Gerard Beale at times. It seemed cruel to put him so close, yet so far away, not that the players would have noticed his attendance. What they will have noticed was his absence, certainly in the first half.
Lockyer noted from the sidelines that the Broncos were attempting to use centre Justin Hodges, a tactic which was clearly designed to compensate for the side being without their champion. But Sydney's wet had made that a dangerous practice; the Broncos were trying to go too wide too soon, something they shouldn't be doing on a dry night, let alone a dam-breaking one. Hodges would only ever find the space he would require after the Broncos had achieved the ascendancy in the forwards. Hodges would have had more room in a phone box.
They clearly missed Lockyer's calming influence. Lockyer was such a calm player and the Broncos certainly weren't displaying that trait. They were rushing their play, and even though their defence was keeping them in the contest their inability to find any sort of momentum was still hurting them.
They were guilty of not adapting to the conditions just as much as they were to the absence of their retired star. But one was a byproduct of the other. Having Lockyer on the field was akin to having a captain-coach; he could change things on the run, not needing to rely on half-time for instructions to be given.
Which meant that they went into the break trailing. Coach Anthony Griffin knew what was required, though, and after half-time the Broncos made the appropriate changes.
They were patient with the ball, and were content to put pressure on the Eels for the opening 12 minutes, their forwards rumbling in the right direction, knowing the Eels would eventually crack. Suddenly Hodges found himself in space, and he sent winger Jharal Yow Yeh over for what would prove the leveller.
Hayne's only duties of the night seemed to be to shadow radio personality Jackie O as she sang the national anthem. It was noted rather mischievously that she wouldn't be the worst performing act of the night in a Parramatta jumper, such were the rather low hopes which were held for the Eels without their own star. Those fears were unfounded, however. Halfback Chris Sandow showed good and bad moments in his first NRL match for his new club, scoring in the fourth minute, after Beale spilled the halfback's kick. He still needs to rid his game of the occasional errors, like the misdirected pass which allowed the Broncos to skip up-field and give his opposite, Wallace, the try which broke the Eels back. Still, it's way too early to discount the Eels. The same goes for their opponents.
BRISBANE 18 (B Hannant P Wallace J Yow Yeh tries C Parker 3 goals) bt PARRAMATTA 6 (C Sandow try L Burt goal) at Parramatta Stadium. Referee: Shayne Hayne, Gavin Morris. Crowd: 11,399