Brisbane coach Kevin Walters revealed concerns for the short-term welfare of Xavier Coates and John Asiata after both were taken to hospital in the aftermath of a heartbreaking 24-16 loss to Parramatta at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.
Coates landed awkwardly on his head and neck scoring a diving try in the 32nd minute and although he eventually walked to the sheds he was immediately taken to hospital for scans suffering neck pain.
Asiata’s collision with a Parramatta rival in the second half appeared innocuous but the Broncos forward fell to the ground afterwards clutching his shoulder and neck and was also taken to hospital.
It was a bitter end to a night that started with promise but ended in tears for the Broncos as Matt Lodge also failed to finish the game with a hamstring injury and Brisbane played the final 10 minutes with players at a virtual standstill due to cramp but unable to be interchanged.
“It’s a tough physical sport and tonight Xavier and John came off worse for wear,” Walters said.
Match: Broncos v Eels
Round 1 -
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
“There’s some big concerns for both of them and their short-term injury diagnosis looks pretty grim at the moment.
“We’ve got to learn to play with adversity. Certainly having three injured is not ideal.
“I feel really proud of our guys just hanging in there. They seemed to be dipping down then all of a sudden they found something which is what we want from there and they came back into the game.
Match Highlights: Broncos v Eels
“A couple of opportunities we didn’t quite grab, if we grabbed them we might be sitting here with a different scoreline but that’s what the season is about, 25 rounds to fix it up so the next time that happens we nail it.”
The Eels showed plenty of grit to fight back from 16-0 down at half-time on the back of the foundation laid by Reagan Campbell-Gillard (118 metres from 12 hit-ups) and bench forward Isaiah Papali'i (180 metres from 15 hit-ups).
Hooker Reed Mahoney kick-started the revival when he darted over from dummy half in the 48th minute.
The Eels turned on some razzle dazzle in the next set, with Blake Ferguson finding space down the right-hand side to kick back infield for fullback Clint Gutherson to score under the posts.
Ferguson then used brute force to score in the corner in the 60th minute after Gutherson’s sharp hands and Mitch Moses nailed the sideline conversion to put the Eels ahead for the first time at 18-16.
The Broncos fought to the end and almost found a match-winner when Jake Turpin chased a Brodie Croft kick but the video ref ruled a knock on as he tried to ground the ball.
Junior Paulo then iced the victory for the Eels with 70 seconds left on the clock.
It was a heartbreaking ending to what had been such a romantic start to the coaching career of one of Brisbane’s favourite sons.
Although the Walters era started with a forward pass off the kick off by Coates, it was the only blip in a near faultless first half for the inspired Broncos.
Milford picks out Coates
The most impressive element was the return to form of Anthony Milford.
The maligned five-eighth turned the clock back six years to his 2015 grand final glory days with a sublime first half with a hand in all three tries.
Milford’s dig deep into the defensive line set up David Mead’s opening try on 10 minutes.
He then produced a breathtaking curving chip kick on the outside of his foot for Xavier Coates to somersault over for an easy untouched try on 18 minutes.
But Milford’s piece-de-resistance was the looping double cutout pass for Coates to score in the 32nd minute which left the winger injured.
Mahoney tries to spark the Eels
As was the case many times in 2020, half-time was the worst thing for the Broncos as they returned to the field and surrendered 40 minutes of hard work in just 20 minutes as the Eels flicked the switch.
“There was a 10-minute period in second half where we just lost our way a bit, a couple of soft tries brought Parramatta back into the game,” Walters said.
“They’re a good side so they were good enough to finish us off.”