NRLW heavyweights Brisbane will miss the finals series for the first time in the history of the competition after a 28-16 loss to underdog Parramatta – leaving Broncos skipper Briggenshaw in tears.
Brisbane, winners of the first three NRLW Premierships, finished the regular season with a 1-4 record, completing a fall from grace that began with their early elimination from last year’s Finals series.
Heading into the fifth and final round of the regular season, the Broncos, Gold Coast and Parramatta had every chance to finish fourth and secure a spot in next week’s semifinals.
The Eels were the only winless team of the three and needed to win by more than six points on Sunday at Gosford’s Central Coast Stadium to edge the Broncos out of the top four.
You have mastered the task with flying colours.
Forwards Kennedy Cherrington and Simaima Taufa stood out for the Eels, each running 250 yards and scoring late tries that confirmed the most memorable win in Parramatta’s short NRLW history.
Despite losing influential center and assistant captain Tiana Penitani to a quadriceps injury just 13 minutes into the game, the Eels rallied for their season and overwhelmed the Broncos with powerful running play.
Parramatta went into the break with a 14-6 lead that didn’t really reflect their dominance of possession and field position, and did particularly well crossing down the left in the minutes before half-time despite Penitani’s absence.
The Eels failed to convert the pressure into points early in the second half and with an eye on keeping a six-point buffer, they kicked in for a penalty goal to extend their lead to 16-6.
But their decision to miss a chance to stay in attack proved costly.
With the issues resolved, it took the Broncos just four minutes to close the gap through Hayley Maddick, who was the beneficiary of a line break from Amber Hall.
Ali Brigginshaw played in two game-changing plays, first kicking a short dropout that was perfect for Jamie Chapman.
And once the Broncos moved downfield, they drew level with a piece of Brigginshaw’s individual brilliance.
But just when the Broncos’ experience could have overwhelmed the Eels, Taufa rushed over to restore the six-point lead before Cherrington sealed the result at right flank three minutes later.
The win helped the Eels exorcise their demons from last year when a loss to the Broncos eliminated them from playoff contention in the final game of the regular season.
Comforted by Broncos coach Kelvin Wright in the press conference, Brigginshaw said the team was “devastated” not to make the playoffs.
“It hurts so much because we sacrificed so much to be here today,” Brigginshaw said.
“To perform like that, we know we’re better.
“It’s just disappointing. We are disappointed that our family and friends are watching at home.
“We tried so hard. We will learn from it, but it just hurts.”
Brisbane fans were shaken by the outcome of the close game that was in limbo until the final ten minutes.
“We didn’t deserve the win, Eels too good too hungry well done,” said one Twitter user
“More misery for the Broncos as a club,” lamented another.
Eels fans, on the other hand, were delighted with the surprising result.