Rugby League: World Club Championship Final - Broncos' early burst leaves Mariners marooned

Brisbane Broncos 36 Hunter Mariners 12
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The Independent Online
The short but eventful voyage of the Hunter Mariners shuddered to a halt as they were run aground by the best club side in the world.

Brisbane assured themselves of the $1m (pounds 640,000) first prize in the World Club Championship during a dominant first half-hour in Auckland yesterday.

It was then that they built up a daunting 26-point lead, warning Great Britain in the process of what to expect from some of their Australian internationals next month. Although the Mariners fought back bravely after that, the damage was done.

The first boost for the Broncos was that their captain and scrum-half, Allan Langer, started the game after battling against a groin injury for the last fortnight. The fact that he also finished the 80 minutes without any obvious problems means that Australia will be certain to pick him for their tour, subject to any reaction setting in over the weekend.

"He is an inspiration to the team just by being on the field," said his coach, Wayne Bennett. "But, unlike the Grand Final, he was able to run with the ball in this match."

Langer had little need to test his dodgy fitness or take on the Hunter defence directly in that crucial opening 30 minutes. Just being there to direct their efforts was more than enough.

Only three minutes into the game, Darren Lockyer, who will be the latest in an outstanding line of Australian full-backs against Great Britain in a couple of weeks, spotted a gap from dummy-half, kicked through and, when the defence concentrated entirely on stopping him, watched Kevin Walters pounce on the loose ball for the first try.

Hunter's weakness in marker defence caught them out again when John Plath darted through, and then came a 10-minute hat-trick of tries from Darren Smith, superb in the centres in this match but more like to face Great Britain from loose forward.

His first try came from Langer, Walters and Steve Renouf simply shipping the ball past an outflanked back line.

His second sprang straight from a scrum, with Langer and Walters opening the path to the try line and Lockyer's inside pass gave him his third point. Brisbane were 26-0 up and the game was, to all intents, over.

That Hunter managed to bounce back to any extent from that hopeless position reiterates everything that has been said about the remarkable spirit of a club which knows it is on death row, condemned to be sacrificed as part of a peace deal in Australia.

Facing humiliation, they dug deep and found the resources to resist and, after one promising attack had broken down, scored through Nick Zisti before half-time.

That momentum carried forward into the second half with one sustained thrust at the line being denied only by a forward pass and another two only failing because tries were disallowed on video evidence.

By the time that tries from John Carlaw and Zisti again had brought them within 14 points, the idea was starting to take seed that, if they had taken all their chances, they could be in the lead.

That turned out to be a short-lived theory. Brisbane had soaked up everything they had to offer and, in the last five minutes, scored tries through Wendell Sailor and Renouf to restore the scoreline to its clear-cut proportions of the first half.

"I was proud of the team for getting here and I was proud of them for the way they fought back," said the Mariners coach, Graham Murray, and he has every justification on both counts.

If some of Hunter's stars of recent weeks, like Scott Hill and Brett Kimmorley, failed to fire, then the collective determination that had brought this far against all the odds was still obvious.

Nor was Murray prepared to concede that his club is necessarily doomed, which could mean a wait for Leeds before they can confirm him as their new coach.

"We only know what we read in the papers," he said. "If there is still a Hunter Mariners next season I'll be coaching them. But it's quite flattering when other people think you've been doing a decent enough job to call you up and see what you're up to."

Brisbane Broncos: Lockyer; Devere, Renouf, D Smith, Sailor; Walters, Langer; Gee, Plath, Webcke, Tallis, Thorn, Ryan. Substitutes used: Hancock, Lee, Walker Carroll.

Hunter Mariners: Ross; Zisti, Godden, K Iro, Carlaw; Hill, Kimmorley; Brann, McCormack, Stone, Doherty, Marquet, T Smith. Substitutes used: Maddison, Swain, Beauchamp, T Iro.

Referee: G Emmesley (Sydney).

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