Rugby: Broncos on a charge

Dave Hadfield says Brisbane will need their Sunday best at The Stoop
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The Independent Online
The self-renewing dynasty that the Brisbane Broncos have established since the club was founded 10 seasons ago has had few more searching examinations than the one it faces at The Stoop today.

Brisbane must face their namesakes, the London Broncos - a side currently full of form and confidence - without two of the players who have kept them at the top of the Australian game.

Glenn Lazarus's dislocated ankle could keep him out for the rest of the season, while Allan Langer, back in the form that makes him the best scrum-half in the world, has not sufficiently recovered from a groin injury, which forced him off at Wigan.

Brisbane's coach, Wayne Bennett, gets around problems like that by virtue of the quality and versatility of the back-up that he has available. Kevin Walters will move to scrum-half, while young forwards like Shane Webcke and Brad Thorn will compensate for the absence of Lazarus.

"You don't replace a player like Lazarus very easily, but part of his legacy at the club has been to help the development of young forwards like Webcke and Thorn," said Bennett. "They are both great young players - and players of the future. We also have a lot of players who can adapt to different positions. We call it multi-skilling and it's an important part of our approach."

Three players brought along essentially for the ride - the brothers Shane and Ben Walker, plus the young utility forward, Phil Lee - are further evidence of Brisbane's ability to groom versatile newcomers. All three played a role in the victory over Wigan on Sunday and are likely to be required at some stage again today.

But Bennett is delighted to have one of his most explosive forwards back in the line-up, after recovering from one of the season's more bizarre injuries.

"Gorden Tallis's back was bad after the long flight and then he aggravated it pushing in a tee on the golf course," Bennett said, no doubt regretting allowing his players to take part in such a dangerous sport.

Bennett knows that he will need to put out a strong side playing to their full ability after London's stunning victory over his old club, Canberra, on Monday. "That was a great result and shows what a good side they have become," he said. "I coached several of their players in Australia and I know the talent that they have there."

He knows none of the London side better than he does Terry Matterson, once his captain and right-hand man at Brisbane and now filling a similiarly influential role at London. "Terry was a great player for Brisbane and he's still a great player. He was only 28 when he left, so I'm not surprised to still see him doing such a good job.

"He just enjoys his football. He doesn't get too uptight about anything and, in the case of players who have great longevity, that's often a big factor.

"Peter Gill is also a wonderful player for them. Martin Offiah only needs a sniff of a chance on the wing and I don't think I've ever seen Tulsen Tollett play any better than he's doing now. But basically they are a team who play well together and do the little things right."

It is in the nature of the World Club Championship that a slip-up this evening is likely to be fatal for Brisbane. "I'm not worrying about points difference. We've got enough points on the board that if we carry on winning we will make the quarter-finals. But if we lose a game, it's all over for us," Bennett said.

It could already be all over for Canberra - London's victims last week - who face a Halifax side strengthened by the return from rugby union of the successful Lion John Bentley this afternoon and for Canterbury, who play a Wigan team to whom they have already lost on Monday.

That leaves Brisbane, Auckland, Penrith and Cronulla as the four unbeaten sides fighting for the three qualifying places from the Australian Group A. Bennett's men would hate a defeat at the other Broncos - a club reborn out of the Brisbane operation - to unsaddle them on their run-in.