The Broncos were always a bit off the pace in 2013, so it was no real surprise when their hopes of advancing beyond the regular season finally disintegrated with back-to-back losses to the Panthers (28-12) and Knights (26-18) in Runds 24 and 25. But at least they finished with a rousing positive, beating the finals-bound Bulldogs 16-11 at Suncorp Stadium in the final round. As it turned out, the 12th-placed Broncos would have needed two more wins to make the finals. Their total of 25 points, from 10 wins, 13 losses and a draw, was three points behind the eighth-placed Cowboys, and finishing level with the Cowboys wouldn't have been enough because the Cowboys had a far superior points for-and-against differential.
The fact is the Broncos still haven't even begun to recover from the retirement of superstar five-eighth and captain Darren Lockyer at the end of the 2011 season. They only just made the finals last season, having slipped to eighth, and this season the downward spiral simply continued. They have struggled to find the right mix in the key positions of fullback, five-eighth and halfback, and the old are on the way out with Scott Prince having retired and Peter Wallace squeezed out to Penrith. The Broncos have signed Ben Barba from the Bulldogs and are hoping to sign Anthony Milford from the Raiders. Barba is a pretty good start, and if they got Milford as well it would provide a potentially very good solution to much of their problems. But that is all in the future.
This season, the Broncos were in trouble from the start, losing three of their first four games. Their only win during that period came against one of the four teams they ended up finishing ahead of, the Dragons, and the losses came against three teams that ended up in the top four – the Sea Eagles, Roosters and Storm. So it was a tough start to the season, and the Broncos did recover to win their next three games against the Titans, Cowboys and Tigers to post a win-loss record of 4-3 after seven rounds. But then the rot set in. The Broncos won just two and lost eight of their next 10 games. Corey Norman, who started the season at fullback and later signed with the Eels for 2014, was eventually banished to the Queensland Cup, and Wallace was relegated to the bench. There was a revival that saw a four-game run of wins over the Cowboys, Dragons and Eels and a draw against the Knights, but they couldn't go on with it. There was a lot of criticism from the outside of coach Anthony Griffin as their season petered out, but he appears set to continue into next season. The pressure will be on once the season starts, though.
Where They Excelled: Josh Hoffman and Corey Parker were the shining lights. Hoffman started the season on the wing, but ended up at fullback. He played in all 24 games and was easily the team's leading try-scorer, with 15. The tries didn't come as often after Hoffman went to fullback, but he continued to be a very dangerous runner of the ball. Hoffman ran for over 100 metres in 15 games, including six over 150. Veteran lock Parker was the lifeblood of the team. He, more than anyone, kept it going well enough to at least still be a chance of making the finals entering the last few rounds. Parker played 22 games, and after running for under 100 metres in his first two games he ran for more than 100 in the next 20. Plus, Parker made 40 or more tackles 14 times, including twice over 50.
Where They Struggled: They just couldn't get what they needed from enough of the "spine" positions. Norman didn't work out at fullback. Hoffman was a success there, but in the meantime they fiddled around in the halves and couldn't come up with the right recipe. Ben Hunt did reasonably well at halfback towards the end of the season, but it remains to be seen what the Broncos do with the 6 and 7 jumpers next season.
Missing In Action: The loss of centre Justin Hodges for the rest of the season after he ruptured an Achilles tendon in the Round 22 win over the Dragons was a killer. Hodges is not only a great player, but a real inspiration to his teammates with the determined way he plays (64 tackle busts and 33 offloads in just 14 games). The Broncos won again the following week without him, but only against the hapless Eels. They really missed Hodges in the subsequent losses to the Panthers and Knights, which cruelled their season.
Turning Point: It's a big arc, but that 10-game run of two wins and eight losses from Round 8 to 18 told the Broncos where they really stood. The State of Origin period obviously didn't help them, but they aren't the only team that has to try to cope with that.
Best Games: The last-round win over the Bulldogs stood out. The Broncos couldn't make the finals, but they still had very good reason to perform well with Prince playing his 300th game and retiring, David Stagg playing his 200th game and Wallace playing his last game for the club. Plus, there had been a lot of criticism from the outside of coach Griffin and the club in the wake of the failed season. The Broncos honoured all three players and showed their support for Griffin as well, with the win. A winning double against their nearest neighbours, the Titans, was pretty handy as well – 32-12 in Round 5 and 32-6 in Round 10.
Worst Games: Two stood out. The 56-18 loss to the Warriors at Suncorp Stadium in Round 12, and the 32-0 loss to the Storm at AAMI Park in Round 17. The Broncos were without their Origin stars against a Warriors side unaffected by Origin, but that didn't make it any easier to take. It was the first time the Broncos had conceded 50 points or more in an NRL game in Queensland. Getting shut out against the Storm, one of the Broncos' biggest rivals, was obviously no fun either. It showed the gulf in class between the Broncos and the top teams – one they hope to start reducing next season.
Hold Your Head High: Jack Reed has clearly learned a lot from fellow centre Justin Hodges. The way that Reed runs at gaps and, if caught, still tries to power his way a few extra metres and get a quick play-the-ball is a style Hodges perfected a long time ago. The fact the Broncos struggled all season to find the right halves combination meant Reed didn't have nearly as many opportunities via quality ball to show his wares as he would like, but he still came up with seven tries and nine line-breaks, as well as running for over 100 metres in eight games. He did a pretty good job under the circumstances.
Conclusion: The Broncos aren't used to missing the finals, so finishing 12th will cause a lot of examination from within. The addition of Barba, if he finds his best form, will be great for the club. If Milford comes as well, it may turn out to be an even bigger gain, because that kid is an absolute gun. It's been a poor year by Broncos standards, there's no escaping that. Halfback Wallace has already been a casualty, and the coaching staff and players will be aware that if better results don't come next season there will be more blood-letting.
Home Record: 6 wins, 6 losses
Away Record: 4 wins, 7 losses, 1 draw
Longest Winning Streak: 3 (Rounds 5-7)
Longest Losing Streak: 3 – twice (Rounds 11-13, 16-18)
Players Used: 28
Tries Scored (after 26 rounds): 71 (=11th)
Tries Conceded (after 26 rounds): 76 (9th)