Eels climb mountain of possession to victory over Broncos

Parramatta prop Reagan Campbell-Gillard put his hand up to take the first charge as rugby league returned to the field after the two-month COVID-19 hiatus. In a completely empty Suncorp Stadium the contact by the Broncos chasers echoed throughout the vacant seating. Rugby league was back and a world-wide audience, tipped to number in the millions, were in for an entertaining clash.

It took only two and a half minutes for lone referee Gerard Sutton to award the Eels six more tackles in a first-time use of the new rule designed to clean up the ruck. Two tackles later Sutton called six again once more and it proved too much for the Broncos defence with Marata Niukore crashing over for the first try of the re-started season. Sutton incorrectly ruled that he had dropped the ball over the line, but the bunker saw it correctly.

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From the resumption the Eels received a penalty for a strip. The mountain of Eels possession was being met by determined defence, and continued when a clever kick by five-eighth Nathan Brown was grounded in the in-goal area resulting in a goal line drop-out.

Seven minutes into the game the Broncos received the ball for only the second time in the match. The Eels defence was fired up and the big hits continued.

Nine minutes in and Jesse Arthars put a hit on Eels winger Maika Sivo which sent the ball flying. The Broncos had their first real attacking opportunity. Halfback Brodie Croft put a clever kick through the line where his five-eighth Anothy Milford appeared to almost be waiting for it. He slipped as the ball rose and he bombed a certain try.

Both teams exchanged lengthy breaks as the game seemed to be noticeably faster. Players had learnt their lesson early with the six again rule and were clearing out of the ruck as quickly as they could.

Mid-way through the first half Croft dummied and broke through the Eels defence before out-sprinting the cover defence to score in the corner. The conversion levelled the scores at 6.

With fifteen minutes remaining before the break Jesse Arthars knocked-on while trying to stem an attacking raid by the Eels. Two tackles later and Sutton again restarted the tackle count. The Broncos were under enormous pressure as the Eels swung the ball from sideline to sideline. On the last a dangerous Mitchell Moses grubber kick was defused by Jamil Hopoate, but it meant another drop-out.

The Eels launched attack after attack before Sivo finally dived over in the corner, grounding the ball with a miracle effort as he was tackled into the third row of the empty grand stand. Moses converted to take the score to 12-6 in the Eels favour. With nearly 60 percent of possession the Eels were proving to be a handful for the Broncos defenders and with fatigue starting to set in came realisation that they had a full 50 minutes ahead of them.

Another set of six came from a dubious Broncos knock-on and Sivo crossed again in the corner, only to be called back for a forward pass. It was the break the Broncos needed and they were able to survive the rest of the half without conceding another point.

With two minutes remaining in the half, the Broncos received a six again call as they attacked the Eels line. At the end of it Milford put through a clever kick and it was the turn of Darius Boyd to completely bomb a try. The players trudged off with the Eels leading 12-6.

The Broncos lost captain Alex Glenn at halftime to a severe laceration of his calf. He was taken to hospital to repair the injury.

Minutes after the break another Jamil Hopoate error saw the Eels on the attack and the Broncos defenders looking weary. Fullback Clint Gutherson cut through a gap to cross for the Eels third try. Mitchell Moses missed the conversion to see the Eels lead 16-6.

From the restart the Eels looked sharp ending their possession with a perfectly weighted grubber kick which bounced off the leg of Corey Oates for yet another goal-line drop-out. They failed to capiltalise, before possession changed sides several times as mistakes crept into the game.

The Eels were soon on the attack again and a last tackle grubber kick saw the Broncos concede a penalty as Jamayne Isaako knocked the bobbling ball forward and Staggs picked it up in an offside position. Incredibly the Broncos defence held against another mountain of Eels possession. As impressive as the Broncos scrambling defence was, the Eels were able to match it on the few occasions that they were called upon.

Nineteen minutes into the second half and the Broncos finally had the opportunity to carry the ball into enemy territory. A Milford bomb was taken comfortably by Eels winger Blake Ferguson and the Broncos were tackling again. For all the weight of possession the lead was still only 10 points, as both teams started to tire.

Staggs almost removed Brown's head with a blindside tackle and from the ensuing penalty veteran Eels centre Michael Jennings finally broke the maroon and gold wall for the Eels' fourth try. Moses converted from in front and the Eels extended their lead to 16 points.

With fifteen minutes remaining, the Eels had completed 30 sets of possession, compared to 14 for the Broncos. No team wins a game of rugby league doing that much defending and as Shaun Lane crashed over for another Eels' try, the scoreboard was starting to look ugly for the home team.

A clever play through Moses and Ryan Matterson saw Waqa Blake cross out wide with just minutes remaining. The conversion taking the final score to 34-6.

The NRL was back, the speed of the game seemed greater as the ruck was cleaned up and no one really noticed that there was only one referee out there.