The Brisbane Broncos have all but booked themselves in for a Top 4 finish with two rounds remaining, with a strong victory over the St George Illawarra Dragons running out winners by 24-12 in front of a bumper home crowd of 31,832 at Suncorp Stadium tonight.
Star five eighth Anthony Milford put on a timely masterclass for the home side, with the Queensland back proving a menace for the Dragons defence in a sublime display, having a hand in two of the Broncos five tries, as well as scoring one himself.
The mercurial number 6 has put his hand up as the prospective danger man of the 2017 final series in a clear sign that he has put his troublesome shoulder injury, which had been plaguing him over the past month, well and truly behind him.
For the Dragons their finals aspirations are in tatters with two games remaining, meaning that they must now win their remaining games and hope results go their way this weekend as their dramatic slide out of finals contention continued, after they fired out of the blocks early in the season.
There was no doubt that Paul McGregor's men tried their best tonight with their season on the line. However, simple handling errors cost them opportunities on a number of occasions and try as they might, they just could crack the Broncos defensive wall, with both of the Dragons tries tonight coming through kicks.
Brisbane got off to a dream start when Dragons centre Josh Dugan spilt an Anthony Milford cross field kick right on his own line. The ball fell into the lap of Broncos backrower Alex Glenn, who opened the home side's account for a 4-0 lead after just three minutes.
Josh Dugan's hands let him down again minutes later when Dragons halfback Kurt Mann put Dugan over for what looked a certain try. However a desperate tackle from Corey Oates, saw Dugan cough up the ball over the line and a try went begging.
The NSW centre made amends minutes later, when off the back of a strong run from Mann, Dugan put in a deft grubber close to the line catching the Broncos defence by surprise. The ball bounced up perfectly for Dragons prop Paul Vaughan for him to score the Red V's first try of the night. Gareth Widdop converted to take a 6-4 lead.
Vaughan however then gave the Broncos another attacking chance, when the in-form prop spilled the ball on halfway. Brisbane made them pay for the simple error, when Milford got the ball from a standing start off Matt Gillett, which saw the elusive five-eighth swerve past opposite number Widdop to score. Milford again missed the conversion and the Broncos lead 8-6 despite dominating possession early.
Brisbane extended their lead in style just before the break, when Dragons bound hooker/halfback Ben Hunt picked up a loose pass from interchange forward Tevita Pangai. Hunt then puts in an exquisite chip kick over the top of the Dragons defensive line for Jordan Kahu to race away. Anthony Milford finally converted a try and the Broncos lead 14-6 at halftime.
Brisbane extended their lead early in the second half, when backrower Alex Glenn scored his second try of the night thanks to a superb offload from Josh McGuire close to the line, which allowed the rampaging backrower to crash over. Milford found his kicking boots to extend the lead to 20-6 with half an hour remaining.
With their season on the line, the Dragons showed plenty of urgency and a cross field kick from Gareth Widdop found flying winger Jason Nightingale who knocked the ball backwards for Tim Lafai to collect the bounce and stroll over to give the visitors some hope at 20-12 with a quarter of the game remaining on the clock.
However from there, Anthony Milford was again a menace. Breaking tackles at will he again weaved some magic, when he threw a beautiful flat cut out pass to Oates who set sail for the corner and looked certain to run out of room as the cover defence closed in. However the 194cm winger somehow got the ball down in mid-air, in one of the best put downs of the season to ice the game for the home side in spectacular style.
The Broncos now sit in second spot on the NRL ladder and will welcome fellow Top 4 contenders the Parramatta Eels to Suncorp Stadium in an absolute blockbuster next Thursday night in what should be played in front of a sell-out crowd.
The Dragons now have a long turn around, and will need to fine tune their game before their season goes on the line against the Penrith Panthers at Pepper Stadium next Sunday.