Broncos halves impress as Holmes returns for Cowboys
Broncos halves Anthony Milford and Brodie Croft combined superbly despite two late Cowboys tries stealing victory to give Valentine Holmes a winning return to rugby league in Cairns.
Playing his first game in 490 days, failed NFL defector Holmes looked comfortable from the outset in his homegrown code, helping the Cowboys to a gripping 18-16 trial defeat of the Broncos at Barlow Park.
Wearing the Cowboys No.1 jumper, Holmes showed some nice touches and while there wasn't a magical moment, coach Paul Green was happy enough to give him an early shower at the 30-minute mark.
The pre-game hype was all about Holmes' comeback to the NRL but it was another attacking ace, Milford, who carved up in Cairns.
In wet conditions, Milford was red-hot, setting up two tries for Jesse Arthars and scoring one himself to suggest he is primed for the best year of his career after stripping 3kg in pre-season.
And in Storm halfback recruit Croft, Brisbane may just have found the composed game-manager to steer the Broncos around the park while giving Milford the freedom to work his magic.
The Broncos led 10-4 at half-time before Milford finished off a fine 60-metre movement for a 16-10 lead in the 52nd minute, only for Cowboys hooker Reuben Cotter to stun Brisbane with two tries in the final 14 minutes.
"Anthony was very good, he and Croft combined very strongly in that first half," Broncos coach Anthony Seibold said.
"I was really happy with how 'Milf' and Brodie connected, it's a good starting point for them.
"I was pretty pleased with our performance, we got what we wanted."
Everyone knows Brisbane have boom forwards but their title campaign this year will hinge on Croft's game-management and Milford's ability to fire consistently.
From the moment Croft threw a long ball for Milford to release Arthars in the ninth minute, their scrumbase understanding looked crisp.
Amid the heavy rain, the Broncos had to weather an early storm when Cowboys winger Connelly Lemuelu crossed in the third minute after Brisbane rookie Xavier Coates spilled a bomb in the lead-up.
But it wasn't long before Brisbane's backline zip and class began to the trouble the Cowboys on the edges.
Milford has trimmed down over summer and it showed last night. He looked slim, sharp and purposeful from the outset, engineering Arthars' tries in the 9th and 28th minutes with clever short balls.
While Milford was slick, several other Broncos were in good nick.
Croft showed the poise the Broncos crave at No.7, prop Payne Haas ran riot in midfield, lock Pat Carrigan toiled all night and Arthars was superb at left centre in attack and defence.
Based on this trial, Jack Bird has the edge on Jamayne Isaako for the Broncos No.1 jumper.
The pair played 40 minutes each and Bird won this shootout with high involvement and dynamic kick returns in the opening stanza.