I’ve long had a great deal of respect for the Brisbane Broncos.
Obviously, with six premierships in their first 18 years of existence, it’s not hard to work out where that respect came from.
Sure, they have all the advantages of being a one-team city and access to perhaps the greatest nursery in rugby league, but there are no guarantees in sport, so for the Broncos to build their club into a national juggernaut over 30 or so years is to be applauded.
But it’s also why their fall from grace in 2020 has been met with so much mirth.
I feel bad for the way Anthony Seibold ended his tenure at the club, but other than that there has been a pretty strong sense of schadenfreude across the league seeing the glamour club struggle so badly.
This is an organisation that turns over $50 million per year, has the best facilities in the land and play out of the finest rugby league venue in the world.
What’s more, their 2020 squad is dripping with talent.
Of the top 30 the Broncos named on 3 March of this year four played Origin in 2019, three are former Origin players, five are incumbent internationals for Pasifika nations and there are two Kiwis and a Junior Kangaroo – that means half the squad is of representative quality.
Yet a loss to the Cowboys this week will ensure they finish the year with the wooden spoon for the first time in the club’s history.
And no club deserves it more.
When we talk about the worst teams in recent history it’s hard to go past the 2016 Newcastle Knights.
That year the blue and red recorded a single victory and a draw in 24 matches, which I believe means they hold the NRL record for suckiest bunch of sucks that ever sucked.
But they were also battlers, journeymen and teenagers. Of the rep-quality players, Jarrod Mullen had a single Origin match to his name, Trent Hodkinson was well and truly a spent force and Tariq Sims – who was one of the team’s three co-captains – left for the Dragons midway through the year.
Dane Gagai was a worthy inclusion for Queensland come State of Origin, but it was overwhelmingly a side devoid of established talent.
Yet here we are, comparing the 2016 Knights to the 2020 Broncos, with the latter’s points differential to date of -340 the worst since the former’s -495.
It’s almost impressive how bad these Broncos are, particularly given they started the year with two wins – over North Queensland and former coach Wayne Bennett’s Rabbitohs.
Then the season went on hold due to COVID and Brisbane came back a completely different team.
With Seibold having been fired, there is obviously a valid argument to be made that it’s in no small part the coach’s fault.
However, while there have been lukewarm articles praising the Broncos’ improvement under Peter Gentle, the team are yet to string together a win on the interim coach’s watch. So all the blame can’t sit on Seibold’s shoulders.
Without knowing the specifics, all an outsider can really glean is that something stinks in Brisbane – and it’s not the giant squid-infested river.
A new head coach and a new CEO will hopefully start to set things right but a player cleanout is likely also required because you can’t have a squad with this much talent lose all bar one game since the season resumed and just say, “It’s the coach’s fault”.
The lack of effort and pride in the jersey from most of the team suggests the criticism levelled at the current crop from former players is bang on – that they feel entitled because they play for the Broncos despite the fact they haven’t won or done anything to make the club better than when they arrived.
In the days after the Knights finished up their 2016 season I went to the gym at Wests Mayfield and noticed one of the young players hitting the weights.
Without naming names, this bloke had debuted that year and it was apparent he was not destined for a lengthy career in the NRL.
But there he was, a battler who had just finished that humiliating season doing extras to ensure the following year was at least a little bit better for the supporters and fans.
Obviously I’m not going to be pumping iron at Red Hill any time next week, but I wonder who – if any – of the Broncos will be there trying to make amends ahead of 2021.
I’d be surprised if any turned up, because it appears as though the 2020 wooden spoon won’t be taken out by the team with the worst players but by the players with the worst attitude.