Despite being the incumbent wooden spooners, it’s crazy to me that the Brisbane Broncos are being tipped by many to again be at the bottom of the ladder at the end of the 2021 NRL season.
The Broncos were a mess last year – honestly, that’s putting it kindly.
The lack of commitment on show virtually across the park was embarrassing and eventually cost coach Anthony Seibold his job.
And while a fat stack of cash certainly would have played a part in his decision, being part of a losing squad surely helped make David Fifita’s move to the Gold Coast a little bit easier.
It was a tightly-run affair but when the last of the NRL’s 20 rounds were played last September, Brisbane were for the first time in their illustrious history, fairly and squarely last on the ladder.
The odd thing was, their last place was not down to a lack of talent.
As I wrote shortly before the loss to the Cowboys last September that confirmed their status as the worst team of the year, “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.”
Since that time, as mentioned above, Fifita has left Red Hill, while Payne Haas will be missing for the first three matches of the season due to an off-field issue, and an ACL injury means Kotoni Staggs won’t be on the team sheet for a number of months.
However, if you go through the Broncos squad, it’s not half bad.
Haas is one of the game’s premier props, Matt Lodge was considered a chance of playing Origin only two years ago, and in 2019 Thomas Flegler made both the Prime Minister’s XIII and the Junior Kangaroos – a team that, to be clear, was made up of the best NRL players under the age of 23, not schoolboys, and was referred to by coach Neil Henry as “a genuine Australia-A side”.
I have no idea why the club let Andrew McCullough leave but the Broncos have made it clear they see Jake Turpin and Cory Paix as their future at hooker, so I guess that’s what’s going on there.
The backrow features the likes of internationals Alex Glenn and Tevita Pangai Jr, as well as Queensland Origin squad member Patrick Carrigan.
Keeping those three honest will be dual international Ben Te’o, premiership winner John Asiata, and youngsters such as Ethan Bullemore (referred to by NRL.com as being “the fastest and smartest forward at the club”), Maori All Star Jordan Riki and Keenan Palasia.
Halfback Tom Dearden is considered one of the brightest young prospects in the game, Anthony Milford at his best was a worthy selection for Origin footy, and Brodie Croft was the vice captain of the aforementioned ’19 Junior Kangaroos.
Though he’s injured, Staggs is the reigning Dally M Centre of the Year – and scored 2020’s try of the year – 19-year-old Tesi Niu has already played Test footy, starring in Tonga’s historic 2019 win over Great Britain, while David Mead is an experienced campaigner who has captained his country.
Xavier Coates is an Origin winger, while Jesse Arthars, well, isn’t, but he’s only 22. Then at fullback, Jamayne Isaako is another Test-quality player.
At full strength, that squad can challenge for the top eight. I mean, the core of it did play semi-finals footy in 2019.
Though he wouldn’t admit it, this level of lowered expectation certainly makes Kevin Walters’ job that much easier, because second-last place is all he needs to achieve to have surpassed expectations.
But that really shouldn’t be the case.
The problem with the Broncos last year wasn’t a lack of quality troops, it was a lack of commitment. If Walters can solve that issue – which really only seemed to become apparent after the season relaunch in May, Brisbane having actually won their first two matches before COVID put everything on hold – he’s got the makings of a team that should be placed somewhere from sixth to tenth when September rolls around.
Talk of a second wooden spoon is off. Brisbane won’t win the comp this year but they’re too good to come dead last.
Of course, I guess you would have said the same in 2020.