This is the first year since I began following the Broncos in 1993 that I cannot see them competing for the premiership.
After watching my beloved Brisbane be demolished by the Storm in last year’s elimination final, then the directionless display against the Dragons last Thursday, the dreaded fear of failure has entered my optimistic mind.
Obviously, they have had ordinary years, but the presence of Alfie Langer or Darren Lockyer always provided a sense of assurance and confidence that come the finals, the Broncos would provide the opposition some anxiety. Not with this 2018 outfit.
I hope to be proven wrong, but here are my reasons why they will only make up the numbers this season.
1. Darius Boyd at fullback
Darius Boyd has come a long way as a footballer and person, and I admire his resilience and maturity as captain of the club. But during the first State of Origin match last year, a glaring vulnerability popped up.
The speed of the game and the intensity of kick-returns have changed. Boyd, however, has persevered with the same style of play he possessed when he was playing for the Dragons and the Knights.
In recent times, Boyd has gone down the pecking order for the best custodians, with incumbent Australian fullback Billy Slater, James Tedesco, Tom Trbojevic and even Clint Gutherson ahead of him.
The chief reason is that they are natural attackers.
Boyd is probably the best defensive fullback, but the state of the modern game means one must possess attacking flair and creativity, along with sound defence. In terms of tackle breaks, line-breaks, and running metres in 2017, Boyd struggled to feature.
Boyd does not possess a strong kicking game either, meaning the Broncos’ attack has become over-reliant on Boyd’s second man play when he joins the attacking line and creates space for his outside men. Though he does that well, opposing teams have started to cut his time and space down and have limited his effectiveness.
As a result, Brisbane’s attack has become one-dimensional and rudderless. Add to that his ongoing hamstring concerns and the Broncos have a huge problem.
Boyd would be better suited at centre or five-eighth.
2. Size and mobility of forwards
Brisbane’s strength in previous years was defined by their dominating forward packs, but the 2018 frontline lacks both physicality and mobility.
A lot relies on Matt Gillett and Josh McGuire both in attack and defence. The Dragons forwards, led by Tyson Frizell, James Graham and Paul Vaughan, totally ran over the Broncos starting forwards in their Round 1 clash.
Losing exciting young forwards Herman Ese’ese and Jarrod Wallace to other clubs, and Andre Savelio to a season-ending injury punched a hole in the team’s blueprint.
Though some youngsters have talent and a bright future, 2018 will be a transitional year and not a successful one.
Gone are the days where Brisbane forwards would grind their opposition through the middle and provide opportunities for their classy playmakers such as Lockyer, Langer and the likes to wreak havoc.
3. The halves’ kicking game
When I read that Anthony Milford was coming to the Broncos from the Canberra Raiders, I said, “Thank you Lord!”
But Milford the fullback was much more electrifying than Milford the five-eighth. Both Milford and Kodi Nikorima are skilful running halves but the deficiencies in their kicking games cannot be concealed. Their fifth-tackle options have been abysmal and have given the opposition seven-tackle sets numerous times.
At periods last year when Nikorima shifted to fullback, Brisbane looked dangerous. But I still feel he is best suited as an impact player off the bench.
So who do the Broncos then put at halfback? Ben Hunt moving to the Dragons is a big loss, as he had a superior kicking game than both Milford and Nikorima, and created more options.
Wayne Bennett would have had a bittersweet moment of realisation when his tactical move of shifting Hunt to hooker late last season was successful, as by then Hunt had already signed with the Dragons. And wasn’t he brilliant for the Dragons against his old club last week?
I am sorry to say, but even having the assistance of Queensland coach and ex-Bronco Kevin Walters will prove futile. Kicking game comes naturally to the best halves in our game, and it’s a crucial aspect to winning games of football.
4. Wayne Bennett is coming to the end of his coaching career
Bennett seems a lot more riled up and annoyed over the last couple of years. All great managers possess stubbornness and ego, and Bennett is no different, but it has never been more evident than now.
The master coach had a wonderful chance to sign Mitchell Pearce, who would have been a great addition to the squad, but Bennett said the then-Roosters’ half would not fit into the team’s culture. Bennett’s self-control has also been dwindling, as illustrated by his open criticism of the Cronulla Sharks for their handling of Jack Bird.
Tactically, Bennett seems to be applying a very un-Brisbane approach, such as playing Sam Thaiday at hooker instead of Andrew McCullough in the season opener, playing an injured Boyd in their loss against the Storm in the finals, and playing a more ad-lib, dangerous and entertaining style of football – it’s not what the Broncos are about.
I really hope Wayne Bennett adds an eighth NRL premiership title to his already glittering career, but I doubt that will happen this year.
If he steps down, there is an excellent replacement waiting in the form of Kevin Walters.