Brothers withstood a tremendous second half surge from a determined Wests Bulldogs side at Sedgeman Oval to prevail 31-44 in what was a tremendous game of rugby in round one of Queensland Premier Rugby 2015.
Visiting side Brothers raced out to a 34-10 lead at half time, and looked to be coasting against a Bulldogs team guilty of conceding too many first half penalties and an untenable amount of possession to their cross-city rivals.
The second half was another story though, as the home side reversed the possession and penalty statistics to get back to within 6 points. However, a late interception try for Brothers killed off any thoughts of a late comeback, handing Brothers an ideal start to the 2015 season.
In oppressively hot and humid conditions, Brothers set out their stall early, committing bodies to the breakdown with ferocity forged during a long offseason. The visitors got on the scoreboard first after Wests were penalised right in front of the posts, fly half Sam Greene accepting the early gift to open the scoring.
However, Wests responded perfectly to the early setback. In their first foray into Brothers territory, a quick tap penalty from scrum half Tim Smith saw the ball move through quick hands to the left wing where The Bulldogs recorded the opening try of the contest. Smith missed the tough conversion from wide left, giving the home side a 5-3 lead.
It wasn’t to get much better in the first half for the Bulldogs though, as Brothers dominated possession and the penalty count to surge into a dominant lead that they never relinquished.
Post-match, Brothers players professed to being extremely happy with the first half performance, and it was easy to see why. Dominating with huge hits in the loose and a strong scrum, the Brothers forwards arrived at each breakdown with strength in numbers, allowing their backs plenty of clean ball.
The overrun Bulldogs lost discipline regularly as Brothers plundered three unanswered tries, racing into a 24-5 lead with just over a quarter of the match gone.
But despite the deficit, there was hope for Wests. The home side barely had the ball in the early exchanges, but when given the opportunity, they gave the home fans in the Kennel hope that this match would not become a procession. Impressive work at the scrum earned a penalty for Wests, and the pack surged over the line from the resulting lineout for Wests second try.
But Brothers were not done for the half yet. Another penalty for Greene further extended the visitors lead, and winger Mitch Felsman took advantage of a pushing melee amongst the forwards to score in the corner right on the stroke of half time, giving Brothers a lead of 34-10 at the break.
If the first half had been typified by an absence of possession and poor discipline for Wests, the second half reversed that trend. The Bulldogs forwards stepped up with some huge pushes at the scrum, and the backs – so starved of possession in the first half – were finally given the opportunity to get their hands on the ball and stretch the visitors defence.
The home sides increase in intensity at the breakdown meant that Brothers were victims of the referees whistle more often in the second half. Wests enterprise was justly rewarded as first, winger Jack Pinchin and then prop Jake Newell went over for deserved scores. Smith, who rediscovered his kicking boots, converted the two scores and suddenly Wests were back in the game at 24-34.
Despite another successful penalty from Greene – whose radar was perfectly calibrated all afternoon – the tide of momentum had firmly shifted to the home side, and even though Wests spurned several opportunities to score as the clock ticked down to full time, the Kennel retained a sense of hope that the comeback could be completed.
And with 10 minutes left on the clock it seemed their hopes were answered, as yet another spell of pressure from the Bulldogs forwards paid dividends. With the backs screaming for the ball outside them, substitute back rower Seb Russell-Shamman forced himself over to the right of the posts, bringing his side within a converted try of a dramatic comeback.
It was however, too late for the Bulldogs. As Brothers kicked deep from the restart, Wests were forced to spread the ball wide in a final attempt to launch a winning attack from their own half. Unfortunately for Wests, Brothers winger Mitch Felsman ghosted between two players to pounce on a loose pass for the interception try, and the victory.
In the post-game speeches, Brothers captain was understandably critical of Brothers second half performance, saying “we did everything we said we wouldn’t do to let (Wests) back into the game”. Disappointed Bulldogs captain, Andrew Turner, praised his sides second half response, rightly stating “we can take a fair bit from the second half” but admitted his team had been left with too much to do after their disappointing start.
Greene echoed his captains sentiments, while begrudgingly professing to being very pleased with his own display with the boot (kicking 8 from 8). He also repeated that “everything we set out to do came off”, in the first half and that even though the performance tailed off in the second half, that was more a case of “things not coming off” than fatigue after the blisteringly humid first half conditions.
Each captain nominated opposition backs Luke Ferry (Wests) and double try scorer Mitch Felsman (Brothers) as their Men of the Match. But special mention should also go to Brothers fly half Sam Greene, whose mature marshalling of his backline deserves credit along with his exemplary goal kicking.
It doesn’t get any easier for Wests, as they continue their tough start to the season against last year’s beaten finalists Sunnybank at Oldmac Oval, while Brothers have an early bye before they take on the same opponents at Crosby Park in Round 3.