Organizers decided months ago what the first Magic Round game would be.
In some ways, it’s a prime slot – kicking off the most anticipated round since opening – but it’s also a graveyard slot – out of free TV and starting when people get home from work or prepare dinner.
It would also just be a curtain raiser for the main event, Brisbane vs Manly.
With Newcastle falling just below Canterbury to 16th in the table last week, it ensured that the graveyard spot would be taken by two teams that were effectively dead on finish.
The NRL was lucky.
People who showed up at 6 p.m. on a Friday, less.
While the Bulldogs seem spurred on by years of futile toil at the bottom, energized by new faces and excited by the very prospect of making progress towards something, Newcastle seem shocked to find themselves where they are.
Their attack lacks spark, even with Kalyn Ponga at the back, although he seems more static than electric at the moment.
They managed to cross the finish line first – 16-6 – but even Knights coach Adam O’Brien couldn’t watch at one point, storming from the box when Leo Thompson dropped the ball from here.
Luckily for Thompson and as befits the game, the Bulldogs came up the other end and Chris Patolo dropped the ball as well.
Both mentors could have been forgiven for faking health and safety protocols to get out of the dodge, as there were a number of similar playthroughs where teams seemed rudderless.
At the end of an energetic, if flawed, opening stanza on the final play of the first half, Edrick Lee moved nearly 20 yards upfield to slide wide on a left-sided lag. He received a wide ball from Kalyn Ponga and was met not only by his counterpart Jayden Okunbor, but also by Brent Naden. Then Kyle Flanagan. Then Tevita Pangai Jr.
The Bulldogs’ slippery defense matched the wide attack so easily that it had to stun the Bulldogs that the Knights were making it easy.
The previous set, the ball fell to the ground between Lee and Bradman Best on an equally ineffective slide. The game after that, Tex Hoy dead kicked and hit his shoulder.
Starting from 20 yards with seven tackles to their name, the Bulldogs responded by failing to run over the one-armed man who was defending in a tight right cross, then hit him before reaching the third tackle.
In the second half, Newcastle chained enough competent seconds for Ponga to allow Bradman Best to get past an ordinary Bulldogs defence.
But, true to form, the Knights stood out from the set that followed. Continuing the theme, the Bulldogs failed to pack the scrum in time, but were allowed to play anyway, only to see fullback Matt Dufty drop the ball on the scrimmage play.
It was a miracle that Peter V’landys didn’t get on the fan before full time and changed the rules to make that win worth just one point, but by the time it was over and that the Lang Park light show started, it was clear it wasn’t the opening act of Magic Round; just the act of support.
The Broncos look like an NRL team again, and a pretty good one at that
Before the 16-team, eight-match football festival was official, Manly used to bring the occasional home game to Brisbane.
It was evident in the support they got from the Lang Park crowd on Friday night, coupled with some Eagle Rock choruses and Brookvale-level boos from Adam Reynolds every time he lined up a shot on goal. .
The bad news for those who booed was that Reynolds lined them up a lot. Seven times to be exact. And all got through – the only flaw being a wayward field goal attempt at the end of the first half.
For the second straight week, Reynolds played the bandleader, with Selwyn Cobbo and Corey Oates on first and second chair fiddles, and Payne Haas and Pat Carrigan setting the pace in the percussion section as the Broncos stomped on their opponents .
Last week it was reigning big runners-up South Sydney, this week it was a manly side with superstar Tom Trbojevic in his second game back from injury.
But the back of the gun featured in the game-opening blunder, allowing the kickoff to bounce between him and Kieran Foran, rolling to death and returning possession to the Broncos.
Reynolds and Cobbo first combined shortly after, and Brisbane – 14th last year and last in 2020 – were on.
Abnormal starts like the ones that have happened in Brisbane over the past two years, but they’ve almost always let them slip away with silly mistakes, lazy defending and poor execution.
This time they never seemed to slow down.
Trbojevic was clearly working from the back and couldn’t impact the game, but you got the feeling that even at the peak of his powers the end result would have been the same (though maybe not as emphatic as the score of 38-0 that happened).
The aforementioned stars were of course excellent, as were Kurt Capewell, Kotoni Staggs and Herbie Farnworth.
Crucially, Billy Walters is hitting his stride, in this case, which means passes from the dummy half finally hit Reynolds in stride, starting Brisbane’s attack on the right note more often than not.
Even the rain that battered Brisbane for two weeks in a row held out for most of the night, only really returning for the final 25 minutes to ensure Oates could have some fun and slide as he dove for his double.
On a night when four NRL teams headed to the park, the Broncos seemed by far the most capable, well-rounded and copacetic of the lot.
After watching them for the past two years, if that’s not enough to make you believe in magic, what is?