Is Broncos belting the end of Bennett?
BATTERED Brisbane's season is over … and it is almost certainly over and out for Wayne Bennett.
Brisbane super coach Bennett is a dead-man walking after the Dragons conjured a stunning finals boilover to send the Broncos crashing out of the title race with a 48-18 belting at Suncorp Stadium.
Before a shell-shocked crowd of 47,296, former Brisbane halfback Ben Hunt exacted the ultimate revenge, helping the Dragons engineer a ruthless seven-try rout of Bennett's Broncos.
Dragons back-rower Tariq Sims, a junior Bronco, hammered Brisbane's pack, posting a first-half hat-trick running like Superman to deliver the bullet to the career of Broncos 304-game warhorse Sam Thaiday.
The resurgent Dragons march on to face South Sydney in a sudden-death semi-final this Saturday night, while the Broncos' painful premiership drought extends to 12 fruitless seasons.
Now the knives will be sharpened for Bennett.
The Broncos board will meet in the coming weeks to decide his fate and the 68-year-old knew in his heart he needed a premiership fairytale this year to secure a 12-month extension for 2020.
But Brisbane's woeful finals capitulation will give the Broncos board sufficient evidence to inform Bennett he will not be coaching at Red Hill beyond next year.
It was an inspired display by the Dragons, who overturned a 10-2 deficit to charge to a 28-10 half-time lead before finishing the Broncos off after the break.
St George Illawarra's $6 million man Hunt entered the clash under siege, but he was near flawless, outpointing former halves partner Anthony Milford to answer the critics in his Suncorp cakewalk.
It was almost 25 years ago that Broncos halfback great Allan Langer famously declared "Saints can't play" before the 1993 grand final.
With the spluttering Dragons limping into the finals, 'Alfie's' sentiment could have easily swirled around Suncorp on Sunday.
There was just one problem: someone forgot to hand the script to St George Illawarra.
Amid the scathing critiques of the Dragons, what had been missed was the reality that Brisbane entered the playoffs with the worst defensive record of the top-eight teams.
Having leaked a whopping 500 points in the regular season, Brisbane's defensive fragility was laid bare in a horrendous first 40 minutes as Dragons back-rowers Sims and Tyson Frizell ran riot.
Playing like an indestructible Red V robot, Sims was the poster boy for the Dragons' demolition as he crashed over in the 20th, 33rd and 38th minutes to post a rampaging hat-trick.
A sublime Gareth Widdop short ball put Sims over for his second try for a 20-10 lead and when the NSW Origin forward steamrolled his brother Korbin two minutes before half-time, the Broncos were in tatters at 26-10.
After posting his hat-trick, Sims rose to his feet, roared in delight and flexed like Arnold Schwarzenegger.
It was a living, breathing snapshot of this finals boilover. Brisbane's shell-shocked forwards were being bashed, bullied and outmuscled.
With their season hanging by a thread, the Broncos refused to surrender, launching a desperate second-half fightback.
Broncos skipper Darius Boyd sliced through out wide and when Nikorima darted his way through in the 56th minute _ in the process forcing Dragons star Widdop off with a shoulder injury _ Brisbane had hope at 34-18.
But there would be no Broncos miracle. Rookie Dragon Luciano Leilua won the race to a grubber kick in the 69th minute before Matt Dufty crossed right on full-time.
In the process, he drove the dagger into Wayne Bennett, the only premiership coach Brisbane know.
ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA 48 (T Sims 3 L Ah Mau M Dufty T Lafai L Leilua tries G Widdop 7 Z Lomax 3 goals) bt BRISBANE 18 (D Boyd D Fifita K Nikorima tries J Isaako 3 goals) at Suncorp Stadium. Referee: Chris Sutton, Grant Atkins. Crowd: 47,296