It’s been a chaotic off-season for the Brisbane Broncos, headlined by the departure of a long-time coach and a few big-name players, which will be telling for their chances in 2019.
After being bundled out of the finals by the St George Illawarra Dragons in extremely surprising circumstances at home last year, they will be out to do better this year – and for a proud club with plenty of talent and no premiership to show with it since 2006 – they need to do better.
To be fair to the Broncos (and all the clubs who finished in the bottom half of the top eight last year), there was absolutely nothing in it. Just one win separated the top eight, making it the closest season on record, so a result here or there could have easily changed the outcome at the end.
But with Wayne Bennett gone, Anthony Seibold in and a youthful pack ready to explode into action, this promises to be something of a moving year for the Broncos, although, it might be one to just give us a glimpse into the future.
They have clearly made commitments to the youth of the club (particularly in the forwards) with their recruitment over the off-season, so even if 2019 isn’t the year that takes them all the way, expect one to be coming not too far down the pipeline.
However, for that to become a reality, they do need to address a few key questions with their attack, some of which we will begin to work out whether they have the answers to in the next six weeks.
Colours: Maroon and Gold
Home grounds: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
Minor premierships: 4
Best finish in last five years: 2015 – 2nd place (grand final appearance)
2018 finish: 6th
Coach: Anthony Seibold
Captain: Darius Boyd
Darius Boyd (c), Jack Bird, Patrick Carrigan, Troy Dargan, Thomas Dearden, George Fai, Shaun Fensom, David Fifita, Thomas Flegler, Matt Gillett, Alex Glenn, Payne Haas, Jamayne Isaako, Richie Kennar, Matthew Lodge, Patrick Mago, Andrew McCullough, Anthony Milford, Kodi Nikorima, Sean O’Sullivan, Corey Oates, Joe Ofahengaue, Tevita Pangai Junior, James Roberts, Andre Savelio, Gehamat Shibasaki, Kontoni Staggs, Jaydn Su’A, Sam Tagatese, Jake Turpin
Ins: Thomas Dearden (promoted), Shaun Fensom (North Queensland Cowboys), Thomas Flegler (promoted), Richie Kennar (promoted), Sean O’Sullivan (Sydney Roosters)
Outs: Jordan Kahu (North Queensland Cowboys), Josh McGuire (North Queensland Cowboys), Tom Opacic (North Queensland Cowboys), Jonus Pearson (St George Illawarra Dragons), Korbin Sims (St George Illawarra Dragons), Sam Thaiday (retired)
As mentioned – there’s been a real commitment to youth for the Broncos this year. It’s not who they have brought in, but rather, who has left the club that suggests this.
Particularly in the forwards, Josh McGuire, Korbin Sims and Sam Thaiday have all exited for varying reasons.
That allows the Brisbane-based outfit to go to their young guns, who were left waiting in the wings last season.
Elsewhere, Tom Opacic, Jordan Kahu and Jonus Pearson, who were never going to be apart of the top 17 this year, have left the club seeking other opportunities.
It’s been all reasonably quiet on the recruitment front, although the signing of Sean O’Sullivan is an exciting one, even if he can’t get a run in the halves behind Milford and Nikorima.
Shaun Fensom will provide some experience during the Origin window, but little else, while Richie Kennar has recently been promoted to the top squad from South Sydney, after signing a train and trial contract with the club. As it turns out, Kahu’s exit prompted his promotion.
This is the area where the Broncos season will be either won or lost. They need it to click, and click consistently, which is something they struggled to do last time out.
It’s hardly a surprise either. Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima both play what’s in front of them (more on this later), while Darius Boyd is starting to get on in age. I don’t want to say he is past it, but his 2018 season was telling.
Andrew McCullough is certain to line up at dummy half for the club, and if he can find the form he had from 2017, then there is no question he is among the top five hookers in the game.
However, this is a spine where it either works, or it doesn’t. There really was very little in-between or battling out of tough periods last year, and that’s just the nature of the players in there.
Their game plan might be different under Seibold this year, but I’m yet to be convinced this combination is a winning one, even if all the players individually are very, very talented.
This backline has the potential to be one of the strongest in the competition, and while the loss of Kahu hurts their depth, he wasn’t going to be getting a spot in this top 17.
The freakishly talented Jamayne Isaako wins one wing place, while Queensland representative Corey Oates – who has an uncanny ability to get a set off to a good start – grabs the other.
While Isaako is still young and may need to fight off second-year syndrome this year, Oates has had some issues with his edge defence which must be fixed before he could be considered among the game’s elite wingers.
Then there is James Roberts – again, defensive issues – but one of the glaring issues with Brisbane last year was not getting Roberts enough ball early in the set. He is strong, fast, aggressive, and knows how to find a tryline, so Brisbane’s style must allow him to do that, even if it does involve taking a risk or three.
Jack Bird probably lines up in the other centre spot. It’s hard to say exactly what happened to his 2018 season, but he can’t afford a repeat, especially when you consider Kennar, Kontoni Staggs and Gehamat Shibasaki are queuing up for spots.
As I’ve mentioned, this Broncos forward pack is ridiculous. They have more talented juniors than you could poke a stick at, to mix in with some really strong experience.
I’m not here to judge players off the field, but no matter what you think of Matt Lodge, there is no denying he was strong returning to the game last year.
He has always been touted as an excellent footy player, and could well take his game to the next level this year in the front row alongside the rapidly improving Joe Ofahengaue.
The other man in the middle third will be Tevita Pangai Junior, who, after playing some footy on the edge last year, should be able to make the number 13 his own.
That’s because David Fifita, Matt Gillett and Alex Glenn will be tussling for the second row spots, while all of Jayden Su’A, Kontoni Staggs, Payne Haas, Sam Tagatese, Shaun Fensom, George Fai and Patrick Mago will be banging the door down for the remaining bench spots.
Their depth in the forwards is really quite outstanding, and it’s going to make the competition for spots hot.
The impact of Origin on the Broncos is normally pretty enormous. There have been times they have lost most of their first-choice squad, however, that doesn’t look likely to be the case this year, even if they do lose a few.
James Roberts is likely to wear Blue, while one could safely assume Corey Oates, Andrew McCullough and Matt Gillett are firmly in the frame. Others might push and sniff around if there are injuries – Anthony Milford, for example – but chances are, it’ll just be the first four.
Likely best 17
1. Darius Boyd
2. Corey Oates
3. Jack Bird
4. James Roberts
5. Jamayne Isaako
6. Anthony Milford
7. Kodi Nikorima
8. Matt Lodge
9. Andrew McCullough
10. Joe Ofahengaue
11. David Fifita
12. Matt Gillett
13. Tevita Pangai Junior
14. Alex Glenn
15. Jaydn Su’A
16. Payne Haas (suspended for first month – replacement Shaun Fensom)
17. Kontoni Staggs
Can the halves get it together?
It should be noted right off the bat this isn’t a stab at either Anthony Milford or Kodi Nikorima.
Both are talented players, and have their place in the NRL. I’m just not sure that place is forming a halves combination of a successful, potentially premiership-winning team.
They are similar players, in that they both like to get out and run the ball, take off the line and play what’s in front of them.
While that creates attractive rugby league and some of the best halves in this great game have been similar molds of player over the years, very rarely have two been able to get together, do that consistently and win the premiership.
They both did make improvements in their kicking game last year, and the efforts of McCullough at times out of dummy half offset some of the issues, but they are still there, and most certainly, are still relevant to the plight of Brisbane.
This might just be the best forward pack in the game
While the halves have their issues, the forward pack is one area at the Broncos which we shouldn’t be questioning the strength of.
They have a good mix of exprience and youth, but every single player in the starting pack, and some on the bench, would walk back into virtually every other pack in the game.
That’s a postition every coach would love to have available to them, and while some of their younger guys haven’t ‘made the grade,’ yet, it’s fair to say they are all expected to, and the jockeying for positions this year will be intense.
The suspension of Payne Haas might hurt them early, but last year’s breakout star Tevita Pangai Junior will be expected to have an even bigger role in the middle third this year, while Matt Gillett being back from injury will help ten-fold.
There are no weaknesses in the pack, and even if they do have injuries, there are more players to fill the positions.
The only question which has to be raised, is what if the youngsters don’t get going? What if they can’t make the transition. Of course, depth helps, but it’s a minor problem which shouldn’t really bite them, because they do have that level of experience playing around them.
How long can Darius Boyd hold Jamayne Isaako on the wing?
Let me just clear one thing up really quickly – I don’t actually expect Boyd to be pushed away from the back by Isaako this season.
However, it’s worth a discussion about whether it could happen, and just what it might do for the Broncos’ chances.
Isaako is one of the best youngsters in the game right now. His ability to make something from nothing in attack is first class, and he has proven that time and time again. He has goalkicking to back up that, and an ability to find the line and read the play.
That ability also transfers over to his defence, where he reads plays well and barely makes an error. Some of his positioning was freakish last year, and could only really be appreciated by those at the ground keeping more than an eye on him.
While he is still young and mistakes happen, it’s scary to think he is playing out of position at the moment, but has made himself an X-Factor-type player in doing so.
The incumbent fullback and skipper, Boyd, on the other hand, hasn’t quite had his best form for some years.
Last year, he was dropped from the Queensland Origin team because of it, and while he started to find his touch at the end of the season, it’s disputable whether he is actually the best option for the job right now.
While he is almost certain to get it for Round 1 this year, don’t be surprised if the calls start coming for the swap to happen, which could only improve the Broncos.
|1||Thu Mar 14||7:50pm||Melbourne Storm||AAMI Park||Nine/Fox|
|2||Fri Mar 22||7:55pm||North Queensland Cowboys||Suncorp Stadium||Nine/Fox|
|3||Thu Mar 28||7:50pm||St George Illawarra Dragons||Suncorp Stadium||Nine/Fox|
|4||Thu Apr 4||7:50pm||Sydney Roosters||Sydney Cricket Ground||Nine/Fox|
|5||Thu Apr 11||7:50pm||Wests Tigers||Suncorp Stadium||Nine/Fox|
|6||Sun Apr 21||4:05pm||Canberra Raiders||GIO Stadium||Nine/Fox|
|7||Sat Apr 27||7:35pm||Cronulla Sharks||Suncorp Stadium||Fox|
|8||Thu May 2||7:50pm||South Sydney Rabbitohs||ANZ Stadium||Nine/Fox|
|9||Fri May 10||7:55pm||Manly Sea Eagles||Suncorp Stadium||Nine/Fox|
|10||Fri May 17||7:55pm||Sydney Roosters||Suncorp Stadium||Nine/Fox|
|11||Sat May 25||5:30pm||New Zealand Warriors||MT Smart Stadium||Fox|
|13||Sun Jun 9||2pm||Gold Coast Titans||Suncorp Stadium||Fox|
|14||Sat Jun 15||7:35pm||Parramatta Eels||Western Sydney Stadium||Fox|
|15||Sat Jun 29||5:30pm||Newcastle Knights||McDonald Jones Stadium||Fox|
|16||Sun Jul 7||4:05pm||Cronulla Sharks||Shark Park||Nine/Fox|
|17||Sat Jul 13||5:30pm||New Zealand Warriors||Suncorp Stadium||Fox|
|18||Thu Jul 18||7:50pm||Canterbury Bulldogs||Suncorp Stadium||Nine/Fox|
|19||Sat Jun 27||5:30pm||Gold Coast Titans||CBus Super Stadium||Fox|
|20||Fri Aug 2||7:55pm||Melbourne Storm||Suncorp Stadium||Nine/Fox|
|21||Thu Aug 8||7:50pm||North Queensland Cowboys||1300 Smiles Stadium||Nine/Fox|
|22||Fri Aug 16||7:55pm||Penrith Panthers||Suncorp Stadium||Nine/Fox|
|23||Fri Aug 23||7:55pm||South Sydney Rabbitohs||Suncorp Stadium||Nine/Fox|
|24||Fri Aug 30||7:55pm||Parramatta Eels||Suncorp Stadium||Nine/Fox|
|25||Sat Sep 7||5:30pm||Canterbury Bulldogs||ANZ Stadium||Fox|
The quick breakdown
Teams to play twice: Melbourne Storm, North Queensland Cowboys, Sydney Roosters, Cronulla Sharks, South Sydney Rabbitohs, Gold Coast Titans, Parramatta Eels, Canterbury Bulldogs, New Zealand Warriors
Best home run: Round 17 – Round 24 (6 out of 8)
Worst away run: Round 14 – Round 16 (3 out of 3)
Five-day turnarounds: 2
The Broncos have got the friendly end of the fixture stick again. They play 21 of their 24 matches at night, have seven Thursday and seven Friday games, and just two five-day turnarounds.
Add to Magic Round, which, for an absolutely unbeknown reason has been made an away game for them, and they play 13 at Lang Park.
Madness? We haven’t even started yet.
To be fair to the NRL and those who have created fixtures, their double-up list won’t make for easy reading, featuring teams like the Storm, Roosters, Rabbitohs, while they also have the unknown quantities presented by the Sharks, Warriors and Titans.
But – and it’s a big but – the Titans, Bulldogs, Warriors, and Cowboys all finished outside the eight last year, so, on raw stats, it could be worse.
They also find themselves on what should be a particularly dreamy run to the finals, playing six of eight at home between Round 17 and 24, with one of those away trips just down the road to the Gold Coast.
Add to that, they play Round 22, 23 and 24 all on Friday night, all at home, against the Panthers, Rabbitohs and Eels, and Seibold’s men should be laughing all the way to September if they can be anywhere near the eight.
The Broncos have too much talent to not make the top eight, you’d think, but there are still plenty of questions surrounding this outfit. Whether it’s their forwards, their scoring options, or how they gel under new coach Anthony Seibold, it’s not set in stone just yet.
Still, the Broncos won’t miss the finals. If it’s anything like last year, where just a win separated the top eight, they could be anywhere between first and eighth, but on gut feel, I’m putting them as the team to scrape in.
As mentioned last week, this series is now ramping up to one per day, so tune in tomorrow to see who I have in seventh.