AFTER an entire summer agonising over how they would replace Darren Lockyer, the Brisbane Broncos last night discovered they could do perfectly well without both their first-choice halves.
Anthony Griffin's men have already dismissed questions over their ability to move on from the Australian captain by winning all but one of their matches this year. But against Canberra at Suncorp Stadium, they were also without halfback Peter Wallace, sidelined with a groin injury.
The five-eighth, Corey Norman, duly scored two tries while halfback Ben Hunt set up two and crossed for another himself in a 30-6 belting of the Raiders side, which was missing captain Terry Campese for the entire second half.
''I told Ben before the game that this was his chance to really make a mark and that's exactly what he went out there and did,'' captain Sam Thaiday said.
''The two of them, Corey and Ben, have been competing for one spot in the team all year. We now know that if anything goes wrong, Ben can more than do the job.''
It was a particularly pleasing showing for Griffin, who coached both youngsters in the Toyota Cup. Instead of competing for a first grade place, Norman and Hunt we grappling for man of the match honours after a six-try win in front of 30,017 fans.
Campese's injury, though, was not the best example of how poor the Raiders' evening was. That honour goes to late inclusion Joel Thompson being placed on report in the second half - for a swinging arm on teammate Joe Picker.
Thompson was attempting a rather reckless hit on Bronco Alex Glenn but missed, collecting Picker. Picker then thought he had been hit by an opponent, and searched for the perpetrator. One hopes it goes to the judiciary - we are all looking for some light relief before the representative season.
Video referee Chris Ward had a busy first half, called up four times as Canberra took an early lead only to be run down and eclipsed by the break.
Josh McCrone's kick pinballed off players from both sides after five minutes before it was claimed by second rower Picker. On-field officials Ben Cummins and Gavin Badger seemed to be coaching Ward into disallowing the touchdown, advising him to check alternate replays, but in the end the green light was flashed and the Raiders were off and running.
The try may have been fortunate but Canberra's lead from the fifth to the 29th minute was thoroughly deserved. The had more enthusiasm and better execution than their slow-starting rivals.
Brisbane did manage to score in the 19th minute, however, when stand-in half Ben Hunt sent Thaiday roaring into a giant gap. Corey Parker, a late inclusion in the starting side at the expense of Matt Gillett, missed a reasonably straight-forward conversion.
At the very least, the Broncos should have received a penalty deep in the Canberra red zone not long afterwards.
Three Brisbane chasers trailed a kick into the Green Machine in-goal area and Jack Reed clearly seemed on the replay to be taken out by Blake Ferguson but no action was taken.
Andrew McCullough's short ball out of dummy half finally put Brisbane in front at 29 minutes when Ben Hannant plunged over. Ward was asked to check on obstruction but there was some doubt that the international prop grounded the ball. The try duly awarded, Parker missed with his conversion attempt again.
After Canberra prop Dane Tilse conceded a penalty on the final tackle, 20 metres from his own line, replacement Gillett posted the Broncos' third try with Ben Hunt again the key in the lead-up with a superb final pass. This time Parker goaled for 14-6.
Gillett's flick pass for five-eighth Corey Norman to score in the 39th minute was one of the off-loads of the season. With Ward clearing the Broncos of a shepherd, it was converted as Campese was carried off by trainers.
Without Campese, the Raiders struggled to keep their heads above water in the second half. Hunt scored a richly-deserved 53rd-minute try and then Corey Norman posted his second.
BRISBANE 30 (C Norman 2 B Norman S Thaiday B Hannant M Gillett C Norman B Hunt tries C Parker 3 goals) bt CANBERRA 6 (J Picker try J Croker goal) at Suncorp Stadium. Referees: B Cummins/G Badger. Crowd: 30,017.