Home Record: 10 wins, 2 losses (=2nd)
Away Record: 8 wins, 4 losses (2nd)
Longest Winning Streak: 8 (Round 21-Finals Week 2)
Longest Losing Streak: 3 (Rounds 9-12)
Players Used: 28
Player of the Year: Darren Lockyer
Tries Scored (after 26 rounds): 89 (=4th)
Tries Conceded (after 26 rounds): 65 (4th)
It wasn’t supposed to finish this way. When Brisbane overcame their forgettable 2010 season to roar back into the top four 12 months later, then demolished the Warriors 40-10 in Week 1 of the finals, it seemed as though the stars were aligning to send iconic captain Darren Lockyer out with a bang. Well, he got one but it wasn’t quite the bang he had no doubt envisioned. A sickening collision with team-mate Gerard Beale during the Broncos’ thrilling win over St George Illawarra proved to be the moment that officially ended Lockyer’s 17-season NRL career – the great man unable to recover in time for the grand final qualifier against Manly a week later after having three titanium plates inserted in his fractured cheekbone.
Without him, Brisbane was but a shadow of their usual selves and bowed out with a whimper against the in-form Sea Eagles.
The irony is that it was Lockyer who had kicked the winning field-goal to keep Brisbane’s season alive against the Dragons – defying the pain of his injury to play the hero for the umpteenth time in his career. Yet after 355 games, this would be his final moment. It’s fitting that his farewell touch was a winning one.
Still, as the Lockyer bandwagon rolled on through his farewell tour it was grand final glory that Broncos fans had dreamed of. It is inevitable that Brisbane will feel that they fell short of their true goal in 2011 but the fact is that few sides can overcome the loss of their key playmaker so deep into the season, let alone one of the game’s greats.
The reality is that Brisbane took giant strides this year after missing the finals 12 months ago and safely negotiating the sacking of coach Ivan Henjak with just weeks to go before the new season. Despite having little time and little experience, new mentor Anthony Griffin did a wonderful job of uniting his squad. After losing their opening game, the Broncos embarked on a seven-game winning streak that set a solid base for their strong run home.
Griffin also won plenty of admirers with his controversial decision to rest his representative players during the early stages of the rep season. Although some questioned his strategy at the time, it worked wonders during the latter rounds as the Broncos went on an eight-game winning streak that only came to an end when Lockyer was ruled out of the grand final qualifier.
Along the way, Brisbane’s latest crop of young stars shone. Beale, for all his disappointment about his stray knee, was irresistible out wide and quickly filled the boots of Josh Hoffman when the fullback suffered a season-ending injury late in the year. Centre Jack Reed also stood out as a player of the future with a series of powerful performances while Jharal Yow Yeh’s ongoing development continued with winning Test and Origin debuts.
In the end, Brisbane will be lamenting the one that got away, but you can’t help bad luck. Lockyer’s unfortunate departure aside, the Broncos couldn’t have asked for much more in 2011.
Where They Excelled… Brisbane has always provided a seemingly endless supply of impressive young backs and that proved to be the case again in 2011 as the latest batch showed their wares. The first to put their hand up was flame-haired centre Jack Reed, who scored a powerful try against North Queensland in Round 1 and finished the season with 11 more to his name.
Winger Dale Copley also impressed with eight tries in 17 games while Gerard Beale was superb with 12 line-breaks, 10 tries and a whopping 3561 metres at 132 per game. With fullback Josh Hoffman to return from injury next season they won’t be lacking for class out wide.
Where They Struggled… Brisbane’s long kicking game let them down at times. In fact, they ranked second last in the NRL when it came to the accuracy of their long kicks (ahead of only Canberra) at just 47.9 per cent accuracy. Of the 194 long kicks that Brisbane produced in 2011, just 93 found open space with 101 hitting the winger or fullback. Ironically, their short kicking game was among the best in the competition – no side scored as many tries from kicks during the regular season as Brisbane’s 25.
Missing In Action… The Broncos only used 28 players in 2011 but they didn’t escape the wrath of Lady Luck. Certainly Lockyer’s absence from their biggest game of the year proved to be the killer blow and a huge anti-climax; however they also missed injury-prone centre Justin Hodges (15 regular season games), back-rowers Matt Gillett (17) and Ben Te’o (12) and fullback Josh Hoffman (16) at various stages of the year. The Broncos’ depth was tested early when experienced prop Shane Tronc was forced to retire with a neck injury while Nick Kenny and Dane Carlaw spent long stints on the sideline. Brisbane’s great strength in 2011 was that they were, for the most part, able to cover for their losses.
Turning Point… A hard-fought 20-4 win over Canberra – their first in the nation’s capital since 2005 – in Round 2 saw Brisbane record their first result of the season and kick-started a run of seven consecutive wins. It was also the first of a number of gritty victories that set up their strong season. In the coming weeks the Broncos followed up with a 14-8 win over the Gold Coast, an 18-10 result against Penrith and a 17-6 victory over Newcastle.
Best Games… Two wins over the Warriors in 2011, both of them at Suncorp Stadium, proved to be among the Broncos’ most satisfying wins – albeit for very different reasons. Their Round 22 clash was one of the games of the season as the two sides traded moments of brilliance before Peter Wallace snapped a 79th-minute field-goal to secure a 21-20 win. Five weeks later they met again in Week 1 of the finals but this time the home side blew the Warriors off the park with a scintillating attacking performance. Brisbane scored seven tries in a 40-10 win.
Worst Games… The Broncos were woeful during their Round 10 trip to Penrith – the struggling Panthers completely dominating for a 33-10 win. The Panthers led from the 13th minute and scored six tries to two, while it was a forgettable night all-round for Brisbane who ran for a whopping 417 metres less the home side and were forced to make 71 more tackles. Adding to their woes, Justin Hodges aggravated a groin injury and was forced to leave the field late in the first half.
Hold Your Head High… The Broncos had a number of impressive performers in 2011, but none better than back-rower Corey Parker. Showing that his huge appetite for work is only growing with age, Parker finished the season with an average 138 metres and 42 tackles per game. His 3318 metres gained was the sixth most by any player in the NRL and the second most by any forward behind Cronulla’s Paul Gallen. And his 68 offloads were the second most by a player behind the Warriors’ Feleti Mateo.
Young guns Josh Hoffman and Gerard Beale were also dynamic. Hoffman averaged a massive 159 metres per game before injury halted his season while Beale was superb in his absence and notched 3561 metres from 27 games.
Conclusion… The fairytale finish wasn’t to be for Darren Lockyer, but even though it was injury that ultimately ended his career he can still claim to have left on a high. Memorably, his last touch of the football in a Broncos jersey yielded a match-winning field-goal and his influence on the club’s impressive 2011 season was there for all to see. Overall, Brisbane can be pleased with their efforts on the back of last year’s disappointments, with 2011 the first under a new coach and new CEO. And although the jury is out on how they will cope without Lockyer’s presence next season, they can at least be content in the quality of young talent that has emerged over the past 12 months.
Coach Anthony Griffin says: “The big picture was pretty good… I would have liked to have been there for one more week but I suppose as we review it, we came a fair way. We put some things in place which will hopefully give us a chance to build for the future.
“The one thing I personally wanted to build was a mentally tough club and I think we’re on our way there. As we progressed through the year we all came together pretty well but unfortunately we ran out of a bit of luck late in the year with the Hoffman injury, Thaiday’s suspension… and then Locky.”