Bennett: Broncos fail to deal with pressure
BRONCOS coach Wayne Bennett lamented his side's inability to cope with pressure in the wake of Brisbane's 48-18 finals humiliation against the Dragons at Suncorp Stadium.
Brisbane entered the playoffs believing they had generated title-winning momentum after three consecutive wins saw them installed as raging favourites to dispose of the struggling Dragons.
But Brisbane were left stunned by a Red V ambush, with former Broncos halfback Ben Hunt overcoming months of savage criticism to put the sword to his one-time teammates.
While the Broncos qualified for a fourth straight finals campaign, this is officially their worst finish since Bennett returned to Red Hill in 2015 determined to deliver the club's seventh premiership.
Brisbane's depleted forward pack - missing injured veterans Matt Gillett and Alex Glenn - were belted in midfield by the Dragons, continuing a familiar narrative for the Broncos this season.
Brisbane's class of 2018 has not coped with the burden of expectation. As underdogs, they conjured boilovers against the Roosters and South Sydney. But when they were expected to knock out the Dragons on Sunday, the Broncos hit the canvas.
"We have not won one of those games (as favourites) all season," Bennett said.
"All week it was about us and how good we were going etc, which we were, but my biggest fear was that the expectation would rise its head again and choke us.
"Our best performances have been against the best teams. Teams we thought we could beat we just lost our way.
"We are a team that relies on energy and ball control and good discipline and we were down in all those three areas.
"I said to the players we have had three constants all year.
"One is the injury toll we've had, we've overcome that.
"The second is expectation … every game we have been expected to win, we have played badly in.
"The third one has been our 'D' (defence), it hasn't been where I would like it to be, it hasn't been as consistent as it should have been.
"They were the three things that got exposed as well."
Now Bennett's future will come under the microscope.
The super coach is contracted for next season but the Broncos board will meet in coming weeks to decide whether to issue the 68-year-old a 12-month deal for 2020.
Based on yesterday's effort, Bennett's hopes of an extension are grim.
Asked if he believes Brisbane bosses will show faith in him, Bennett said: "I'm not going to discuss that.
"That's not today's conversation, the season has been tough on everybody, no tougher for me than anybody else.
"I won't give us a pass or failure mark today. We did well to put ourselves in the top eight. Has it all been wasted? No it hasn't, but there's been some challenges for us."
Dragons coach Paul McGregor lauded his side's spirit on a day when key prop James Graham (concussion) and star five-eighth Gareth Widdop (shoulder) failed to finish.
Meanwhile, NSW Origin lock Jack de Belin was inspirational, overcoming a severe ankle injury to terrorise the Broncos.
In a huge blow for the Dragons, Widdop is no hope of taking on South Sydney in their sudden-death semi-final this Saturday night.
"Gareth's (dislocated) shoulder only went in after the siren," McGregor said. "It was a brave effort, Jack (de Belin) was in a (moon) boot all week.
"We got behind 10-2, but we won that momentum shift back in our favour. We were down to one interchange at 34-18, but we showed a lot of character.
"To come out the other side, it was an outstanding victory."