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Hunt haunts Broncos as Brisbane crash out of finals with horror loss to Dragons

St George Illawarra have put the red pen through the Broncos with a gritty 22-12 win in the wet at Kogarah Oval, with Ben Hunt laying on another masterpiece in halfback play.

The Broncos had to win to stand a chance of making the finals, but capitulated to a Dragons side that had nothing but pride to play for. Barring a 60 point win for the Tigers tomorrow, they are done.

Brisbane have now completed the unfortunate record being having the worst fall from grace in the top eight era of the NRL, becoming the first side to have been in the top four with six weeks to go to miss the finals completely.

Kevin Walters made several huge selection calls: Selwyn Cobbo was allowed to play despite a dressing down from the coach after missing the team bus. He vindicated the decision, with several surging runs and his characteristic spark, but few went with him.

The choice of Tyson Gamble over Ezra Mam was perhaps less effective, with the recalled five eighth offering little in an attack that never really got going.

St George Illawarra, with nothing to play for, did what they have done all season. Their limitation has always been that struggle to defeat anyone who plays well against them, but have lost to every team that turns up and plays competently.

The Broncos made errors – Kurt Capewell had a shocking afternoon with three on his own – but it was as much the sort of mistakes as it was the number of them: too often, they were in yardage and gifted easy territory to their opponents. When in good ball, they failed to threaten enough.

The Dragons are nothing if not efficient. They completed, they tried to absorb pressure and they delegated their attack down to Ben Hunt to sort out. As has been the case when they have won this year, he delivered them everything.

This time, he was ably assisted. Zac Lomax had one of his good days and Jack Bird seemed intent on proving a point against his former club. Mat Feagai, too, was excellent and capped the result with an outstanding solo try late on.

Tautau Moga gave the Dragons their first big win of the game, dislodging a ball from Jake Turpin on his own line. From the resultant good ball set, Bird was able to dart in from close range.

Brisbane then stunted their own progress yet further, with Flegler binned for a high shot on Feagai. They saw out the ten minutes without further concessions and when the prop returned, immediately got to work.

The Broncos forced three repeat sets on the Dragons line, which eventually relented and allowed Delouise Hoiter to score.

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The metres were flowing freely, with Brisbane averaging more than twice as many per set as the Dragons, but as is invariably the case, Hunt removed the burden from his forwards with an excellent 40/20.

Griffin’s plan seems to hinge on Hunt or Lomax doing something exceptional, so after the halfback’s kick, the centre was on hand to throw a no look pass that got Feagai in at the corner.

The Broncos continued to give the Dragons chances to beat them. They made another yardage error to start the second half, giving Hunt the opportunity to craft another try, this time for Ramsey.

There was very nearly another soon after, again off Hunt, but Feagai was denied by a Staggs trysaver.

The defensive action was rewarded. With twenty to play, the Broncos were gifted a repeat set through needless Josh McGuire roughhousing, which was exploited by Billy Walters with a dummy half dart.

The pressure was relentless. Walters went close again from dummy half, before Hunt – excellent in defence as well as attack – chopped down Zac Hosking to save a certain try.

He must wonder who he has to work with. Under no pressure, Ramsey spilled a kick behind his own dead ball, gifting more good ball to the Broncos – only for Staggs to spill it straight back.

It was nearly put beyond doubt, as Lomax raced away from a Cobbo error, only for an accidental offside to be found by the bunker.

It didn’t matter: after another Broncos error, Hunt spread wide and got the ball to Feagai, who ran straight through the heart of the scrambling defence, batting eight tacklers out of the way before reaching the arm out for the line.

There was time yet for another binning – this time Staggs, again for a high shot – before the Broncos were put out of their misery.

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