Every game I’ve watched of the Broncos since the resumption after the COVID-19 break has been lost through the hands of the coach.
There are three main reasons I can raise that will highlight this fact.
1. The defensive structure is terrible
The Broncos have a defensive system where they hang back and keep the line straight and strong and absorb attackers without too much risk. They give up lots of metres with the supposed trade-off of keeping a wall intact.
This defensive style pre-dates the Anthony Seibold age and seems to be a remnant from the last era of Wayne Bennett.
It is a system that isn’t necessarily a negative if the team buys into it, but why has Seibold accepted inheriting this?
Does he not have his own defensive plan? I could understand his reluctance last year to completely overhaul the team structure without a full pre-season under his belt, however he simply cannot use that excuse now.
It may seem a few players haven’t been great at making their individual tackles, but it’s not the root of the problem. The Broncos are in the middle of the table for missed tackles this year, but have the most conceded points.
It’s the structure and shape of the line that looks disgusting. Instead of an impenetrable wall, it looks more like Swiss cheese. There are holes everywhere, defenders are often moving in different directions or have indifferent body language, and the wider defenders are constantly running in without timing or cohesion with the rest of the line.
The hang-back defence only works if the line is eternally strong and not like some mythological creature, which only turns up when camera resolution is turned down.
Systems of play are the coach’s area. Execution is the players. It could be argued that the players are not implementing the game plan correctly, but it seems they either don’t believe in or don’t understand the game play set by the coaching team.
Again, this is the coach’s area to revitalise and it has not changed, let alone improved under Seibold’s watch.
2. The COVID-19 forced break has been a big negative for the Broncos
Granted, I haven’t watched every match of the NRL since the return of the game, but of everything I’ve seen and read about, the Broncos look like the worst team in the completion after the break.
The effort levels looked better against the Titans, but prior to this they looked like sloths on morphine. Slow and off the pace, the intelligence levels and awareness certainly hadn’t increased, and worst of all they looked so flat, like the pandemic may have been a difficult toll for some players.
This is fair enough as fans don’t know what they’ve been dealing with in their personal lives, but regardless, the professional standard was up to the coach to resurrect, or better yet maintain throughout the break. He was the one to keep them more on the StairMaster than TikTok when they were on their own in isolation, and he was the one to train them back to match fitness subsequently. More importantly, he needed to get their heads back to Hungryville and ready to eat other teams alive on resumption.
They have also come back with little regard or awareness for the new rules. Their penalty count since the resumption is 40 conceded to 19 awarded. It seems they are learning more each week, and regaining their fitness and knowledge, but they are still behind even the bottom ranked teams in this area.
Every team was in the same boat over the break, forced to train individually, so why is this team in Brisbane so far behind?
Is it a geographical anomaly, like their normal amounts of sun exposure dropped drastically in comparison to teams in, say, Melbourne or Canberra? Let’s be honest, we need to polish off a few more beers before we can start having conspiracy discussions.
The Broncos also have the highest amount of penalties conceded in the competition for the entire season. This is either due to a misunderstanding of the rules, or is result of their style of play.
Conceding penalties can be positive or negative. Last year’s grand finalists were one and two on that list in 2019.
However in this instance it must be seen as a negative for the cellar-dwelling Broncos. Why are these stats matching a team sitting at the bottom of the ladder?
The effort, energy and awareness are all off the pace after the break, and all these factors are channelled through the coach.
3. None of the players under Seibold’s watch have improved
This is most the most damning sign of a coach out of his depth.
While the Broncos may lack in particular areas of skill, they definitely don’t lack in youth. Certainly inexperience can have its weaknesses, but it also can have massive benefits. There have been plenty of young sides in the world in all different sports that have succeeded in grand amounts, but youth needs coaching – desperately – more than other teams.
The Queensland Origin team of the recent golden era could have had multiple captain-coaches with Billy Slater, Darren Lockyer, Cameron Smith and Johnathan Thurston hanging around.
Yet kids can be trained in important areas such as work ethic, style of play and attitude easier than the old dogs, who are more set in their ways once they hit their early 20s.
This is like Pantene, it doesn’t happen overnight, but with the exception of general growth like physicality and some consistency, the current crop of Broncos youngsters have taken very few steps forward in terms of progression under Seibold’s 18-month watch.
Jamayne Isaako should have more strings to his bow right now. He is at the perfect age to increase his skill set with a base of incredible talent to work from.
Matt Lodge, although he seems to be plagued by injury, has only regressed in skill and desire under Seibold.
Even Payne Haas, superstar of the game, has not taken further steps forward this year.
Dairus Boyd needs to be dropped and Seibold either doesn’t see it, or can’t back himself to do it, even though every person who’s ever watched a game of league knows it needs to be done.
When Boyd was good, it wasn’t because he was an X-factor player like Slater or James Tedesco. He made his tackles, took the high ball well and often performed searing kick returns like a kamikaze warrior flying into battle.
Yet ever since he was dropped for Slater on his return to State of Origin in 2017, his confidence has progressively deteriorated. For a workhorse player, the basics need to be performed consistently. The Morris brothers are a perfect example.
Granted, the issues with Boyd haven’t surfaced because of the new coach, but they have been maintained. It seems obvious Seibold is using him for his experience in a team that is light in this area, however this ineffective role has lasted a season too long.
The non-growth of Brodie Croft is especially worrying. The player who was touted as the glue to hold the team together, to bring out the brilliance in a dynamic back line and to give Anthony Milford the space and time needed to create havoc has not improved as a player since arriving.
After his good start to the season there was a lot of talk about Croft being the final piece of the Broncos puzzle. Whether that was true or not was to be entirely judged on how it continued. While Croft hasn’t been the worst performed player, he has not taken many, if any, skilful steps forward.
Croft should be encouraged to use his short kicking game more centrally to find Anthony Milford, who is one of the best in-goal kick chasers in the competition. Ben Hunt used to do this with a lot of effectiveness. This could result in a try, however it can also earn repeat sets, which drain opposition defences.
This secondary goal is about game management. Croft, as a player in the mould of Cooper Cronk, is a game manager, however he needs to manage more. He should be screaming for the ball, to take hold of the reins and run the team, to boot the ball into touch when the other players are just running hard without direction, or to get defenders set in place.
He has had six months to mesh with the team and has been given the captaincy at times, which should have given him the confidence to be barking orders by now.
Seibold was a prop in his day so maybe he has an excuse for not being able to take a halfback under his wing, but he had to have a plan for what was his biggest recruitment move since taking the reins.
Where is it? What is it? It seems he has just told Croft to take the field and do his best.
What are the coaches doing to improve skill level and drive player improvement? Broncos fans would like to know.
Where has the Broncos’ style gone? It seems it hasn’t been around for a long time now.
However, where is the coach to bring it out in these boys? Bennett seemed to draw it out in flashes during the more consistent times around 2015.
On their good days the boys were playing like a hungry pack of wild dogs, not reliant on a single superstar, but steamrolling teams with gutsy efforts and flashes of brilliance, scoring length-of-the-field team tries like there wasn’t even an opposition team on the field and celebrating as one in youthful fervour.
Even when they weren’t the best team on the field, they simply enjoyed it more, out-enthusing their opposition, regardless of the reputation or CV of the other team.
This issue comes down to the coach. Yet with many years lacking this desire and hunger, we must look further at the employers of the coaches. We can’t expect every coach to have the skill required to implement this aura, yet can we not expect the board to find the coach who can?
Seibold needs to go because he doesn’t have the required expertise to make this crop of players churn out solid performances.
However, the Broncos board needs to explain why they employed him in the first place. They also need to explain why recruitment and retention of players has been almost non-existent for some years now.
I don’t know the ins and outs of the Broncos board room, but someone in there is dropping silent and foul-smelling bombs.
When it causes the fans to boo their own team, a thorough explanation is unavoidable.