Broncos back in finals hunt after Staggs party

The Broncos have surged back into the finals hunt after boom centre Kotoni Staggs lit up Suncorp Stadium with a two-try haul last night that buried the Bulldogs and gave Brisbane hope of a playoffs charge.

Before 20,818 fans at Suncorp, the Broncos celebrated their 800th game as a premiership club with a 28-6 disposal of lowly Canterbury to move within striking distance of the top eight.

It was a night of milestones, with Broncos hooker Andrew McCullough chalking up his 250th career game and Belinda Sharpe becoming the first female referee in rugby league's 111-year history to officiate a premiership match.

Rockhampton-product Sharpe turned in a fine display, handling the NRL's biggest names without a fuss on a night where Broncos outside backs Staggs and Corey Oates finished off the Bulldogs with two tries apiece.

Staggs unleashed the best performance of his 25-game career, resembling the man he has succeeded at right centre - James 'The Jet' Roberts - as he torched Canterbury with his first NRL double.

But the 20-year-old may have a case to answer with the NRL judiciary after being placed on report in the 30th minute for a knee lift as he ran into the Bulldogs defence.

"He was outstanding," Broncos coach Anthony Seibold said. "Kotoni has enormous potential, I have so much belief in him and he will only get better as well."

Of his kneeing incident, Seibold said: "I didn't think there was anything to it."

It was a strong if not spectacular display by the Broncos and most importantly they are now in the finals race with Brisbane to wake today in ninth spot, one competition point behind eight-placed Penrith.

 

Staggs and his teammates celebrate a try. Picture: AAP Image/Dave Hunt
Staggs and his teammates celebrate a try. Picture: AAP Image/Dave Hunt

 

The Broncos' season looked in disarray six weeks ago but they have stabilised and can move into the top eight with victory over the Titans next Saturday night at Robina.

"There's no doubt it has been challenging but internally we know where we are going, we have a plan in place," Seibold said.

"It was a really solid performance, the Dogs are a gritty team and don't beat themselves."

For three years Roberts was Brisbane's go-to man in the right-centre slot but in the speedy Staggs, the Broncos have found another exciting strike weapon.

His 14th-minute try, dashing for the corner after a clever Jamayne Isaako offload for a 6-0 lead, was testament to his pace.

While Staggs was best on field, he received fine support in the middle from Payne Haas and Tevita Pangai Jr.

Pangai Jr is the NRL's leading offloader with 43 from 14 games and it was his sublime piece of second-phase which led to Isaako's 38th minute four-pointer to give the hosts a 10-6 half-time lead.

Canterbury lacked the big-name experience to apply pressure. Darius Boys released Corey Oates with a magnificent cut-out pass in the 52nd minute for 16-6 and when Staggs ran a smart line off Anthony Milford 10 minutes later, the Broncos were home.

 

BRISBANE 28 (C Oates 2 K Staggs 2 J Isaako tries K Staggs 3 A McCullough goals) d CANTERBURY 6 (B Wakeham try N Meaney goal) at Suncorp Stadium. Referee: Ben Cummins, Belinda Sharpe. Crowd: 20,818.