He’s done all that’s been asked of him in restoring pride in the Broncos jersey, and the time will soon come for the club to reward Kevvie Walters with a contract extension.
Brisbane head into Friday night’s AAMI Park litmus test against Melbourne without injured skipper Adam Reynolds but brimming with confidence after a seven-game winning streak.
And they will also have NSW Origin duo Payne Haas and Kotoni Staggs in the line-up after both were cleared of shoulder problems.
After the doldrums of the past two seasons, including their unprecedented first wooden spoon in 2020, Walters deserves plenty of credit for the steel he has instilled in the team.
Despite being a club legend who won five premierships at the Broncos in their glory days from 1992-2000 (one of only two players to do so alongside winger Michael Hancock), Walters was initially brushed for Anthony Seibold when the club was looking for a replacement for Wayne Bennett four years ago.
He was then given what is tantamount to the bare minimum show of faith from the board in the form of a two-year deal with an option for next season when he was finally handed the coaching reins after a four-year stint at the Maroons helm where he won his first two series before losing his next two as Queensland’s golden generation started drifting off into retirement.
Walters may not be the coach they necessarily wanted but he’s become the one they need.
He was given a show of confidence before Round 1, like St George Illawarra’s Anthony Griffin, when the Broncos announced they would be exercising the option on his services for 2023.
After starting the year being mentioned alongside Trent Barrett, Michael Maguire and Nathan Brown as the main candidates to be given the punt from their coaching gigs, Walters has not only outlasted them but deserves more than just another token one-year extension when he next meets Broncos powerbrokers at the negotiating table.
Their rise to fourth spot on the ladder with a 9-4 record has been built on grit and grind more than the traditional Broncos skill and flamboyance.
Brisbane’s attack is ninth but their defence trails only three teams – the trio above them on the ladder: Penrith, North Queensland and Friday night’s opponents, the Storm.
“It’s not about the coach bringing the toughness, the players have got to bring that. We’ve seen that this year, particularly with their resilience this year,” he said on Thursday.
“I thought last week against the Raiders, they stood tall and that’s the players doing their work, very strong mentally. We’ll be well led tomorrow night by Kurt Capewell, he’s the mainstay for all that stuff, He’s been great for us and we need him to be really good tomorrow night for us.”
Reynolds has received plenty of accolades this season following Brisbane’s turnaround as captain and on-field general but Capewell, their other big off-season recruit, has arguably been just as important in the intangible qualities the former Penrith grand final-winning forward has brought to the club which aren’t as apparent to outsiders.
Former Knights and Titans journeyman Tyrone Roberts, who came to the Broncos on a train-and-trial deal in the off-season, will replace Reynolds at halfback alongside rookie five-eighth Ezra Mam against the Storm’s formidable pairing of Maroons star Cameron Munster and New Zealand playmaker Jahrome Hughes.
When the Storm came into the premiership in 1998, their founding chief executive John Ribot, who ran the Broncos before becoming Super League kingpin, made no secret of how he wanted to model the new club on the Brisbane juggernaut.
With no close geographical foes, Brisbane became the Storm’s bigger brother rival who they would always lift an extra gear when they met in Melbourne’s early years.
They have transformed that early rivalry into an amazing run of dominance, holding a 32-6 head-to-head record against the Broncos since 2004, including the last 10 straight.
Brisbane have not won in Melbourne for six years so it’s not so clear who’s the metaphorical big brother nowadays in their match-ups.
Bellamy famously began his coaching apprenticeship for several years in Brisbane under Bennett. Part of the reason why he came to the club in the mid 1990s was his relationship with Walters from their time together as players at Canberra when Bellamy, a club stalwart from their foundation year, would welcome the out-of-towners like Walters to make them feel part of the furniture.
Bellamy repaid the favour by taking Walters on as an assistant from 2011-13.
“They doing things lot better this year, especially in defence.That’s probably the big thing that’s improved,” Bellamy said.
“They certainly deserve to be where they’re at – they obviously did a lot of hard work in the off-season and in the first 10 or 12 weeks they’ve done a great job so it’s going to be a tough contest.”
Bellamy said Ryan Papenhuyzen, initially named in the reserves, would probably have made his comeback after more than a month out with knee and hamstring injuries but for his COVID-19 positive test on Wednesday.
“He was on the edge [of playing] and it probably would have come down to him,” Bellamy said following the team’s rare captain’s run on AAMI Park itself.
“He did most of last week’s training with us with the intention of being available.
“He’s been out for six weeks and then gets COVID two days before he’s supposed to play but that’s how it goes – he’s disappointed and we’re disappointed.”
He was less forthcoming at his captain’s run media conference on the topic of Felise Kaufusi’s controversial hit on Sam Walker, which led to the Storm forward being charged, facing a fine and then getting cleared at the judiciary.
“To be quite honest I thought that was the obvious decision, there was no movement of the arm. It was where it was when they made contact and he didn’t move it when he hit the ground. I think the right decision came with the judiciary hearing.”
When asked whether he thought Kaufusi was being targeted by the match review committee, Bellamy – who, along with former Storm CEO Brian Waldron, had to pay a six-figure defamation payment to the judiciary panel in 2008 after blowing up about Cameron Smith’s grand final suspension – was circumspect.
“It could have been. He’s an Origin player too so I don’t know if that comes into it so you’d have to ask the people who targeted him, I suppose.”
Bellamy confirmed Xavier Coates had undergone surgery on his ankle injury from Origin I and was looking at 8-9 weeks before making a return.