Brisbane are in danger of following Parramatta into a painfully prolonged premiership drought no one would have ever expected.
It’s already been 15 years since the Broncos last lifted the trophy and they may not like to hear it but the NRL’s glamour club is mired in the midst of a rebuild.
Although they have a long way to go – two decades in fact – to match the Eels’ barren run since their golden era of four titles ended in 1986, the fact that Brisbane have been unable to win a premiership for 15 years is borderline unthinkable.
This is a team that has had all the advantages as far as wealth, favourable schedules, junior talent and being a preferred destination for recruits.
Apart from coming within seconds of winning the 2015 grand final, they have arguably been the NRL’s biggest underachievers in the decade since Hall of Famer Darren Lockyer retired.
They no longer seem able to retain the top talent in South-East Queensland, as evidenced by their failure to tie up David Fifita, Reece Walsh, Sam Walker and Xavier Coates in recent times.
And their monopoly on Brisbane expires soon with the Dolphins entering the premiership in 2023.
Make no mistake, as much as the club will talk about returning to the finals (as all teams should), this is a rebuild just like every other club has had to endure at some stage and it could be a few more years before Brisbane are top-four material.
They’ve added Adam Reynolds and Kurt Capewell and farewelled several inconsistent performers from last season’s 14th-placed squad, most notably Xavier Coates to the Storm, Tevita Pangai jnr to Canterbury via Penrith, Brodie Croft to the Super League, Anthony Milford to Souths and Alex Glenn to retirement.
Kevin Walters has shot down reports that he is set to have his contract rescinded to be treated the same as a regular employee at the club whose position is reviewed annually but it’s not a good sign for his long-term future when such articles are being leaked to mastheads run by the owners of the club in News Corp.
Walters put in a solid effort in his first season in charge after the failed Anthony Seibold experiment, enjoying the goodwill generated by the club’s Old Boys and fans, who were thrilled to see a club legend taking over as coach.
But the honeymoon is over and entering the second year of his contract, his only chance of remaining in charge is to get the Broncos, at the very least, in range of the finals.
Helping his cause is the fact that Dave Donaghy has praised the coach publicly several times since he took over as CEO midway through last season and that one of the other main powerbrokers at the club, football manager Ben Ikin, played alongside Walters in the halves when Brisbane won the 2000 grand final.
One of the key decisions Walters will need to make before the season kicks off is who will replace retired club legend Alex Glenn.
Reynolds is fresh off leading South Sydney to a grand final and appears to be the standout candidate but if he was to be appointed it would be the first time a player would captain the Broncos in his first game for the club, except of course for Wally Lewis in the foundation year of 1988.
Patrick Carrigan has been seen as a permanent skipper in the making over the past couple of seasons and is confident of being back from a torn ACL for the trials so he could also be part of a co-captaincy set-up if Walters goes down that path.
Reynolds solves so many of their problems in generating attack but he could become even more of a target for opposing defences unless Walters finds a secondary playmaker.
His other first-choice spine options – Tesi Niu, Jake Turpin and Tyson Gamble – aren’t renowned as natural ball-players.
It all adds up to a season where the Broncos can improve but they will need many factors to go their way before they can even start to think about being a finals factor once again.
The two main signings – Adam Reynolds and Kurt Capewell – are the only recruits who will likely move the needle for Brisbane. Reynolds will be the focal point of their attack, while Capewell will add a veteran presence in the forwards and fill in wherever needed.
Their overall depth has been boosted by Brenko Lee and Jordan Pereira out wide, Bully Walters in the spine and veterans Ryan James and Corey Jensen in the pack.
Star on the rise
The Broncos have been grooming young buck Brendan Piakura for a few years to be the dynamic edge forward they’ve lacked since David Fifita headed for the Gold Coast.
Brisbane forked out big dollars to retain the former Queensland under-18 representative after several offers came in from rival clubs. After getting a sniff of the NRL late last season, he is likely to be fast-tracked into the team in 2022 via the bench in Round 2 after serving a dangerous contact suspension from his debut, backing up new recruit Kurt Capewell and Jordan Riki in the second-row rotation.
Who’s under the pump
Kotoni Staggs could be the swing factor for the Broncos.
If he has his head on straight, then his flashing footwork and sizzling speed can break tackles at will and give his team a top-class attacking weapon out wide.
However, he’s shown immaturity off the field in the past couple of seasons which have been cut in half by a torn ACL. When on song, he’s a genuine Origin chance for NSW but at 23 and entering his fifth season with a lucrative new long-term contract, he can’t afford to again be a problem child.
Adam Reynolds stays healthy, he gets a complementary halves partner from Tyson Gamble, Albert Kelly, Billy Walters or Kotoni Staggs, the young forwards keep developing and the white noise around Kevin Walters’s position as coach quickly dies down. If these things happen, the Broncos could be a contender for the finals but are highly unlikely to be a genuine title chance.
The Broncos are super thin, especially if Adam Reynolds, Kotoni Staggs or Payne Haas get injured. Many of their squad members are still a couple of seasons away from hitting their prime while others like Jamayne Isaako, Tesi Niu and Thomas Flegler have been way too inconsistent to be considered sure things to support the three main stars in a playoff push.
If the back-up crew members don’t improve, Brisbane could finish in the bottom three for a third straight season.
1. Tesi Niu
2. Corey Oates
3. Kotoni Staggs
4. Herbie Farnworth
5. Jamayne Isaako
6. Tyson Gamble
7. Adam Reynolds
8. Payne Haas
9. Jake Turpin
10. Rhys Kennedy
11. Jordan Riki
12. Kurt Capewell
13. Patrick Carrigan
14. Kobe Hetherington
15. Corey Jensen
16. Ryan James
17. TC Robati
Others: Thomas Flegler (suspended until Round 3), Brendan Piakura (suspended until Round 2), Billy Walters, Jordan Pereira, Jesse Arthars, Selwyn Cobbo, Albert Kelly, Brenko Lee, Ezra Mam, David Mead, Corey Paix, Keenan Palasia