Wayne Bennett’s refusal to admit that he has bungled the Broncos’ recruitment efforts over the summer has effectively written off the powerhouse club’s 2018 season.
The arrival of the (injured) Jack Bird and his former teammate Sam Tagataese has done nothing to resolve the biggest issue facing Brisbane, which is a lack of direction from the halves.
The absence of any effort to recruit a quality number seven to partner Anthony Milford in the halves has been staggering.
From the moment Ben Hunt announced he was leaving for St George Illawarra, finding a replacement should have been the Broncos’ number one priority. Instead, Bennett has sat on his hands, refusing to expose any talented youngsters to the big time, or publicly chase any number of off-contract stars.
One can only assume that he thought he had Titan Ash Taylor in the bag, despite the fact he could only return to Brisbane in 2019. When Taylor recommitted to the Gold Coast, Bennett was left as the last coach standing without a chair, with almost every other quality halfback locked away.
That’s right, almost.
In an extraordinary turn of events, Roosters halfback Mitchell Pearce came onto the open market at exactly the time Bennett needed him. Granted, Pearce is not a popular figure north of the border, and any potential recruitment would have had some fans shaking their heads. However, this is a premiership-winning, representative halfback, who could have proved the perfect foil for the more unpredictable Milford.
Instead, Bennett took a swipe at Pearce, stating that he wasn’t the right cultural fit for the club, despite heavily relying on the likes of James Roberts and Matt Lodge for next year, both of whom have arguably worse off-field form than Pearce.
The coach’s argument that he didn’t want that sort of person in a position of leadership at the club doesn’t hold water, as culture is culture, no matter what number you have on your back.
The issue with putting his faith in Kodi Nikorima as his halfback has nothing to do with talent. Clearly the young Kiwi has ability, but his style and strengths are so similar to Milford’s that it leaves a significant hole in Brisbane’s arsenal.
Neither of the pair are completely comfortable running a team, and neither has a prodigious boot. Just where the Broncos’ long kicking game will come from, outside of Andrew McCullough working out of dummy half, isn’t clear.
This role of steering the team and providing the kicking game would have perfectly suited Pearce, or a number of the other off-contract 7s who appeared an option at different times during the year. But Bennett wasn’t interested, and now he is left with a pair of halves that will be dangerous in open play, but perhaps unable to get their team into the grind as is so often required.
This cannot be compared to 2006, as is oft-quoted by pundits who argue that you don’t need a superstar halfback to win a premiership. Shane Perry, who wore 7 for Brisbane that year, had a couple of things in his favour, most notably a bloke by the name of Darren Lockyer outside him, who could shift his game between team general and running or passing threat at will.
Perry was given a specific set of duties to carry out, and he did those well, allowing Lockyer to float when he needed to or run the team when required. Can Milford or Nikorima perform similar roles? Perhaps, in time, but probably not this year.
The Broncos still have a talented roster, and will win their share of games in 2018, but they just won’t have the key skills in the important positions to win the big ones down the stretch.