A Ben Hunt-inspired Dragons ended Brisbane's finals hopes and ensured the Raiders would claim eighth spot with a 22-12 triumph at Netstrata Jubilee Stadium on Saturday night.
Hunt produced a game turning 40/20 kick and laid on three of his side's four tries to leave the Broncos finals dream in tatters after sitting inside the top four for much of the season.
Despite still having a chance to grab eighth spot if they won, Brisbane failed to match the intensity of St George Illawarra from start to finish and couldn't capitalise on a greater share of possession and field position.
Dragons winger Mathew Feagai sealed his side's win with a brilliant individual try five minutes before fulltime, while departing forward Josh McGuire made it his personal mission to limit the impact of Broncos halfback Adam Reynolds.
After sitting in the top four just six weeks ago, Brisbane finished the season in ninth place and outside the final eight for a third consecutive season.
The Dragons finished 10th with a record of 12 wins and 12 losses after winning their last three matches.
Match: Dragons v Broncos
Round 25 -
Venue: Netstrata Jubilee Stadium, Sydney
- The Dragons turned defence into attack to take an early lead in the sixth minute after
- Jack Bird pushed his way through four Broncos defenders to score the opening try just two tackles after the scrum win
Jack jumps out of the blocks
- Things went from bad to worse for the Broncos when prop Thomas Flegler was sin-binned for a ninth minute tackle on Dragons centre Mathew Feagai, who was called from the field for a HIA.
- Adam Reynolds steadied the ship by forcing back-to-back goal-line drop outs and the star playmaker then helped to lay on a 24th minute try for winger Delouise Hoeter with a cut-out pass to Te Maire Martin.
Hoeter cracks the Dragons open
- With the kicking game of Reynolds keeping the Dragons pinned inside their own half, Dragons captain Ben Hunt took it upon himself to shift momentum back in favour of the home team with a 40/20 kick.
- Hunt then sent Feagai over in the corner from the ensuing set of tackles to regain the lead three minutes before halftime.
The Dragons back in front
- The Dragons halfback laid on another try four minutes after the re-start when he jinked and danced his way across the defensive line before putting fullback Cody Ramsey over.
- Billy Walters kept Brisbane's finals hopes alive when he sliced his way through the defence to score in the 58th minute and set up a gripping finish to the match.
Walters slices through
- Feagai sealed the win for the Dragons with a stunning individual try after receiving a pass from Hunt which created space for him near the sideline and then beating eight Broncos defenders to score in the 75th minute.
Fantastic Feagai beats them all to score
Play of the game
With momentum having shifted in favour of the Broncos after a poor start to the match, Ben Hunt put the Dragons back on top with a perfectly placed 40/20 kick and Mathew Feagai scored in the ensuing set of tackles.
Another Hunt 40/20
What they said
"I thought our performance was outstanding under the circumstances. On face value they were the team that everything to play for and I thought that when the game was really there to be won in big moments in the second half our guys kept turning up and there was some really nice footy at vital times so it is a nice way to finish. I'm filthy that we haven't found a way to play in the play-offs but I'm really proud of the people in our club and confident that we have just got to keep building," - Dragons coach Anthony Griffin.
Dragons: Round 25
"We have improved the last couple of years but I thought we could have made the eight this year. Thirteen wins is certainly a lot more than we had last year and we bought some players through this year who weren't even in our sights last year so there are some good positives around the club and around the team but we just couldn't finish the season off the way we wanted to. We lacked effort and discipline in the last five weeks that is required. We had that effort and that discipline for the first 20 weeks," - Broncos coach Kevin Walters.
Broncos: Round 25
The Dragons season is over but captain Ben Hunt should start preparing an acceptance speech for the Dally M awards and packing his bags for the World Cup.
Hunt is among the Dally M favourites and an almost certain selection for the Kangaroos given his utility value, leadership and experience, as well as his match winning form at NRL and Origin level.
Veteran forward Josh McGuire (Warrington) is among the players to have played his last match for the Red V, along with Melbourne-bound second-rower Tariq Sims.
For the Broncos, there will be some soul searching after the team fell from the top four just five weeks ago to missing a spot in the final eight.
Fullback Te Maire Martin (Warriors), five-eighth Tyson Gamble (Knights), forward Zac Hosking (Panthers) and centre Brenko Lee (Dolphins) will join rival NRL clubs in 2023, while Rhys Kennedy has signed with Super League club Hull KR.
Reece Walsh is returning to Brisbane as the major recruit for the Kevin Walters-coached team next season.