Makeshift Brisbane centre Dale Copley was the unlikely second-half hero as the Broncos put a tumultuous week behind them with a thrilling 28-22 NRL win over the Warriors on Saturday night at Suncorp Stadium.
The Broncos stopped the in-form New Zealand outfit’s three-game winning streak as Copley produced the most-influential match of his career.
The 22-year-old scored two crowd-pleasing tries in three minutes midway through the second half to turn a 22-18 deficit into a six-point lead before Brisbane finally closed out a tight match.
The win ends a three-match rut and moves the Broncos to equal sixth on the table with the Warriors on 22 points.
Down 12-0 after nine minutes, the home side belatedly muscled up to ensure no one was left to rue under-pressure coach Anthony Griffin’s decision to dump Jack Reed, Daniel Vidot and Corey Oates for a big night out.
Griffin was rewarded for his controversial call with the performances by their backline replacements.
Moved from the wing to left centre due to the axings, Copley was outstanding while late wing addition Lachlan Maranta was also influential with three superb high-ball takes under immense pressure near his line.
Copley’s double came after opposing centre Konrad Hurrell was replaced with concussion and back-rower Ben Henry, who scored two tries himself, was unable to contain him in defence.
While star recruit Ben Barba, shifted to five-eighth, continued to struggle, Ben Hunt continued the form that has had him topping the Dally M Medal count.
The match had followed the form line in a one-way opening for the visitors who successfully targeted Barba, playing in the front line at No.6, on the Broncos’ makeshift left side.
Simon Mannering scored his seventh try in seven games before Sam Tomkins, who overcame a hip-flexor problem to play, dived over from dummy-half after Henry swept past Barba.
But the match turned when Ben Hannant scored a soft try by powering past Suaia Matagi and Tomkins.
The Warriors’ attack, which had piled eight tries on against Parramatta last week, then lost all composure and precision, gifting Brisbane field position three times with errors in their own half.
In-form halfback Hunt stepped up and made them pay twice just before the break.
Hunt scythed through with a dummy and stepped past opposite number Shaun Johnson to score and then, three minutes later, went the blind on the sixth tackle to put winger Jordan Kahu over for a 16-12 lead.
Henry’s two tries after the break gave the lead back to the Warriors but Copley ensured a 37,082-strong Brisbane crowd went home happy.