Wayne Bennett says Brisbane’s defence is equal to the greatest in the six-time NRL premier’s history.
The master coach admitted he had to cast his mind back over the club’s glittering past to find a better defensive effort than in their 16-12 NRL qualifying final win over North Queensland at a sold-out Suncorp Stadium.
Brisbane’s brick wall helped earn their first home preliminary final since 2011 and a week off.
The Cowboys host the winner of Sunday’s Cronulla-South Sydney clash in a knockout semi-final next week.
Remarkably the win marked Bennett’s first finals victory at Suncorp Stadium, ending an eight game losing run (six with Broncos, two with Dragons).
“We’ve had some great defensive teams here … but they are as good as anyone I have had,” Bennett said after Brisbane’s maiden finals win over the Cowboys (1-3 finals head to head).
“Defence was the thing that won the game for us.
“They have a belief and trust in each other.
“It’s not like they have a magical defensive system, those guys have bought into it.”
Retiring Brisbane captain Justin Hodges has already played his final Origin for Queensland this year but admitted he got another taste on Saturday night.
Hodges and his Broncos went into an Origin-like camp ahead of the NRL finals opener and emerged from it resembling Queensland in defence.
“It was one of the fastest games I have been a part of – it definitely had an Origin feel about it,” Hodges said.
Hodges – in his 16th NRL season – backed Bennett’s big call about their defence.
“You have to want to do it, but the best thing about the bunch of boys is that they genuinely care for each other and don’t want to let each other down (in defence),” Hodges said.
Something had to give after the classic derby went at a frenetic pace from the outset in front of 50,388 fans – and North Queensland blinked first.
Rookie pivot Anthony Milford set sail for the try-line in the 65th minute after a freshly injected Brisbane bench utility Kodi Nikorima’s bust, making it 16-6.
“You could say I am a genius. It just reminds you of what a fresh body can do,” Bennett said of injecting back-up hooker Nikorima.
The Cowboys were also the team to drop their guard in the first half pressure cooker.
Star halfback Ben Hunt dummied and ran around Gavin Cooper in the 27th minute to score and help Brisbane grab a 8-2 halftime lead.
“He has grown all year. He is one of the reasons why we are where we are,” Bennett said of Hunt.
“He could do some wonderful things but (in the past) he had some habits that could create an opportunity for you to lose games.
“He is a changed player.”
Broncos back-rower Corey Parker (148 metres run, one try assist) showed no sign of a hamstring niggle in another mammoth effort by the veteran.