Conversation at pubs, clubs and around the dinner table this weekend is likely to focus on who is going to reign supreme in the NRL in 2020.
However, one thing is certain. It will not be the Brisbane Broncos for one simple reason: they have no football IQ. They could very well find themselves flunking in the race for the finals.
The term football IQ is bandied around by commentators and journalists on a daily basis, but what does it mean?
In its simplest form, football IQ refers to a player’s ability to learn and problem solve, yet it is more finely grained.
The concept also involves a host of sub-skills, including critical thinking, improvisation, time management, and forward planning. Football IQ is Wally Lewis scooting down the blindside to score untouched in the corner, it’s an Andrew Johns 40/20 on the second tackle or a Johnathan Thurston chip-and-chase after he spots that the fullback isn’t at home.
Next week, the side from Red Hill will take to the field with one of its youngest ever rosters to start the home-and-away season. While it is plausible that they could develop into a top outfit, I feel as though I have been here many times before.
During the Broncos’ 14-year premiership drought, how many times have I heard commentators exclaim: “Look at the Baby Broncos go. In two years they will be world beaters”.
Sorry people, it hasn’t happened and the one constant has been a lack of football IQ.
This was no more clearly on display than last year when it became apparent that Anthony Seibold’s game plan was too complex for the young apprentices.
They failed to complete sets and even get kicks away on the last because they were focusing on the structures they had been training in, as opposed to staying in the moment and thinking for themselves.
Perhaps the biggest reason for this is that young players are often happy to take the good with bad and feel no urgency to learn. Whenever they cop a drubbing in the press, they can reply with the mantra: “But we are still young and learning”.
If the boys from the stable truly want to change their tune and experience growth, they should probably change the way they prepare for big matches.
Allan Langer would finish a Panasonic Cup match on a Wednesday night and then go back to the team hotel and watch video footage of the opposition halfback he was clashing with on Sunday at home in Brisbane. Only then would be study the form for the Ipswich gallops the next day.
Who could forget how the Broncos prepared for their finals match against Parramatta last year, by going down to the local and chucking a few lazy 50s through the pokies. Players these days are certainly not always students of the game.
In many respects, though, it is not the players themselves who are solely to blame for the lack of football IQ in the modern game. One massive contributing factor, especially at Broncos HQ, has been the over-intellectualisation of the sport.
What was once a game of catch, draw and pass has evolved into a science. This is a science of human movement, biomechanics and databases, of structures, angles, curves, unders, overs, lead runners, blockers and anything else a computer program can draw up. Coaches now create plays that require a player to run to a specific shoulder of a defender, inside or outside, for the motion to take effect.
Coaches, and the many assistant coaches, fill these kids’ heads with so much data that it is almost impossible for them to think for themselves when they step onto the field. These kids become puppets, able to run ten different variations of the same structure, yet unable to think for themselves.
A perfect illustration of this happens every time a team is attacking. The ground swarms with blokes in yellow barking instructions from the coach about how the team should respond in the next few sets. Could you imagine someone like Artie Beetson being told what to do by a trainer?
Last year Seibold thought that he had the smarts and the game plan to bring the best out of the Broncos. He gave the young fellas the notes and they turned up full of energy.
However, having the notes is no good if the teacher changes the test on the day. Unless new playmaker Brodie Croft can provide the Broncos with some of the football IQ they have been missing, it might be a case of being sent to detention in 2020.