“My back is broken. Spinal.”
Mike Tyson’s famous quote after a heavyweight boxing bout in 2003 accurately describes one of the Broncos’ many problems at the moment: a broken spine.
There’s been a lot of commentary regarding their misfiring one, six, seven and nine, with fullback Darius Boyd’s defensive issues, five-eighth Anthony Milford’s inability to effectively manage the team, halfback Kodi Nikorima failing to step up when games are on the line and hooker Andrew McCullough in the midst of a form slump.
Coach Anthony Seibold continues to show faith in his spine despite the combination showing little to no improvement over the first six rounds, ignoring the widespread calls for changes.
It’s hard to put a finger on what’s gone wrong for Darius Boyd. Defensively, he looks lethargic, disinterested and unwilling to put his body on the line, and he’s clearly lacking confidence.
He’s fallen for dummies, been turned inside out, got caught flat-footed and been steamrolled.
But perhaps the most worrying sign for the Broncos is the amount of times when opposition players have broken the front line and Boyd throws his hands in the air appealing to the referees for a penalty instead of trying to save a try.
What happened to play to the whistle?
The problems relating to the Broncos’ halves combination is glaringly obvious. Milford and Nikorima are both eyes-up running halves trying to play structured football, and it’s not working.
The top halves combinations have a running half who plays what he sees while the other half manages the team and sticks to structures. The Roosters’ halves Luke Keary and Cooper Cronk are the perfect example.
Asking Milford to take on the responsibility of managing the team since the departure of Ben Hunt has proven to be an error of judgement.
It takes away his strengths and he doesn’t have the personality to be an on-field general.
Imagine what he could do if he had a Cooper Cronk-like halfback who would allow him to focus on his own game without the added pressure of team management. He’d consistently slice open defensive lines like he did in Brisbane’s charge towards the 2015 grand final.
This is no disrespect to Kodi Nikorima but he’s in the same mould as Milford: a running five-eighth trying to play as a structured halfback.
Andrew McCullough’s form – or lack thereof – is another major cause of concern for Brisbane.
After the first six rounds, he’s produced zero try assists, zero line breaks, zero line break assists, only two tackle busts and has failed to run for more than 20 metres in three games.
McCullough is the incumbent Queensland Origin hooker, but it’s looking likely he will be overlooked as he’s been unable to produce the same qualities in 2019 as he has in previous seasons.
Opinions are divided as to what Brisbane’s solutions are, as each loss brings more and more scrutiny and examination.
Their shortcomings may simply be due to Seibold’s new structures compared to what they were used to under former coach Wayne Bennett. They may require more time and patience to get it right.
Unfortunately, the season is slipping away, and the time is now for the Broncos’ spine to aim up or changes must be made.
There have been relentless calls for Boyd to switch from fullback to five-eighth, centre, wing or reserve grade, Milford to fullback, Nikorima to the bench, and Jack Bird to five-eighth.
Many fans are also keen for Brisbane to blood some of their youngsters like Sean O’Sullivan or Tom Dearden into the halves and drop McCullough for 22-year-old back-up hooker Jake Turpin.
In all fairness to the current spine, they’re just one part of the Broncos woes. They have a young, inexperienced forward pack and the team’s defence has been diabolical at times.
However, from the five games Brisbane have lost this season, they had the opportunity to win four of them but were unable to close out the opposition in the dying stages.
When games are on the line, its the responsibility of the team’s spine – and the halves in particular – to step up and secure the win.
But for the Broncos, they are consistently failing to deliver.