If the Dragons had scored one more converted try and the Broncos one less four-pointer, the two NRL clubs would have reversed positions on the premiership ladder and Sunday’s match at Suncorp would have been played at Homebush.
It’s a good result for the Broncos and the revenue-conscious NRL, given the Brisbane stadium will be packed. But it’s also a fillip for the enigmatic Dragons.
The St George Illawarra players will prefer playing in front of a spirited, raucous crowd, compared to the empty, cavernous atmosphere at ANZ Stadium.
While there will be red and white jumpers laced through the Suncorp crowd, the Broncos wouldn’t have added any significant numbers of fans to Homebush.
The Dragons are a club that tends to respond to big audiences, as if they draw their energy from them.
Insofar as they were booed by their own supporters recently at Kogarah, perhaps they prefer an away crowd to home support, provided it’s a big one.
Another factor ignored in the build-up to the first weekend of the semi-finals is the quality of the opposition in the final round.
The Knights were far more competitive, structured and motivated against the Dragons than the disinterested Wests Tigers were against the Rabbitohs, or the pathetic Eels against eventual minor premiers the Roosters.
In other words, the Dragons encountered stronger opposition than the teams above them in the semi-final equation, including the token challenge the Sea Eagles gave the Broncos.
The Dragons defence on their line was solid, far more impressive than when coach Paul “Mary” McGregor was under siege a month back.
Rumours circulated that Broncos coach Wayne Bennett – who was in dispute with his own club over a contract extension – was set to replace him. After all, Bennett had coached the Dragons before, delivering them the 2010 premiership, their first since 1979.
The rumours forced St George Illawarra chief executive Peter Doust to raise it at a board meeting. Doust addressed each director in turn, enquiring whether Bennett had been in contact, and all answered in the negative.
My understanding is that Bennett will never be welcome back, certainly from the St George side of the joint venture, for what he did to Doust.
When Bennett decided to leave Newcastle in 2014, he made contact with the Dragons about returning to the club. A meeting was held in the office of his agent, George Mimis, with Bennett’s fitness guru, Jeremy Hickman, and Doust.
Bennett and Doust shook hands on a deal. It was a Friday afternoon. However, Bennett had been simultaneously lobbying the Broncos to return and their board had told him he would need the assent of the club’s biggest shareholder, News Corporation, to clear the way.
After all, there were some senior executives at News who were unhappy with Bennett when he coached the Broncos in the mid 2000s and did a secret deal with Nick Politis to join the Roosters.
But Lachlan Murdoch cast any residual animosity aside and approved Bennett’s return.
The following Saturday morning, as Doust was about to inform a midday St George Illawarra board meeting that Bennett was returning, his phone rang. It was Mimis informing him that Bennett would not be accepting the Dragons offer.
Bennett likes going to the top and WIN boss Bruce Gordon may still be a fan, but I’d be surprised that if any of the club’s directors are.
McGregor has made mistakes this year, principally around the game time given to his forwards.
While he has been criticised for not resting some of his NSW forwards, the problem arose earlier when he gave limited game time to his bench players. It meant that when those replacements came onto the field to replace the Origin forwards, they didn’t have the match fitness.
But every coach is reluctant to replace a top-quality player with a lesser one, particularly with the outcome of games in the balance.
With seven premierships, and having coached continuously in the top grade since 1987, Bennett is unlikely to make similar mistakes.
McGregor was still a Steelers player when Bennett coached the Broncos to their first two premierships, in 1992-93, defeating the Dragons in consecutive grand finals.
What Dragons supporter can forget the Broncos’ Allan Langer chanting “St George can’t play” as he was surfed though a joyous crowd in Brisbane after winning the 1993 decider 14-6?
Langer’s ridicule was highly unusual, certainly from victors who usually praise their opponents.
However, Bennett had given his team a fictitious tip sheet early in the week leading to the grand final, allegedly from the St George camp, setting out the weaknesses of the Broncos players.
It was written on St George stationery to add to its authenticity and described Kevin Walters as overrated and Glenn Lazarus as lazy.
Langer and others were so fired up at the criticism of their teammates, the ruse worked.
This time, Bennett has created a division within his own club with the players at odds with the management over their refusal to give the coach a contract extension.
It’s classic siege mentality. But will it work?
Negativism never drives sustained top performance. Long-term success comes from confidence in the skills of the player and his teammates.
Given Bennett’s chicanery, it will be highly ironic today if the Dragons draw energy from the opposition crowd and put on a performance for the ages.