Nigel Wall,, NRL.com
Gains: Scott Prince (Titans), David Stagg (Bulldogs), Denan Kemp (Dragons).
Losses: Gerard Beale (Dragons), Ben Te’o (Rabbitohs), Petero Civoniceva (retired), Mitchell Frei (Knights), Lagi Setu (Storm).
After encountering plenty of potholes on their premiership road without Darren Locker in 2012 and battling to scrape into the finals, the Broncos will be aiming for a much smoother ride and higher finish in 2013 – although they’ll need to make improvements in some key areas if they are to trouble the Telstra Premiership heavyweights.
Minus Lockyer, playmaking stood out as a deficiency last season; however, coach Anthony Griffin and management moved swiftly to combat this over the off-season, snaring proven performer Scott Prince who will be leaned on to deliver more options with the ball in hand – and more points.
Jumping out of the blocks and building confidence will be crucial. Traditionally fast starters, they looked minor premiership contenders for the first half of last season before spiralling downward after the Origin period. Incredibly, they won just three of their final 11 games, crashing from second place to hobble into the playoffs.
Their player roster has taken a jolt; consequently plugging holes will be important. The pack has lost some sting with Ben Te’o’s shift to Souths, and the backs a chunk of potency with Gerard Beale’s exit to the Dragons. Not to mention the retirement of veteran Petero Civoniceva. Clearly the Broncos need their new combination to hit the ground at full gallop.
Prince’s arrival is a huge positive given continued uncertainty surrounding Test winger Jharal Yow Yeh’s comeback from injury; it could see Corey Norman, who performed admirably in the No.6 throughout a tough year, revert to fullback, with Josh Hoffman a candidate to move to the wing, at least short-term.
And expect more headlines devoted to Sam Thaiday over the coming months than were generated during his maiden captaincy year. Big Sam’s revelation over the off-season that he felt massive pressure in 2012 does explain the dip in his form – but with more back-up from the senior members he should be able to turn things around and return to his menacing best.
All in all Brisbane have the cattle to press deep into the business end of proceedings – although depth in key positions could be a problem should injuries strike.
How They’ll Play It
Having finished third in the NRL for metres gained in 2013 (with 1406.1 per game), we don’t anticipate any great changes to the Brisbane game plan. Clearly they gained plenty of good field position last season; they just had difficulties converting it into points.
More supports and more set plays are likely after last season’s attacking hiccups that resulted in the Broncos managing just the ninth-most tries (3.5 per game) and the sixth-fewest line-breaks (4.2 per match).
Their kicking game will be overhauled, too. Last year the Broncos went to the air more than any team other than Newcastle, bombing opposition lines 81 times. But without Lockyer’s pinpoint boot, and his uncanny combination with the injured Jharal Yow Yeh, Brisbane managed just 19 tries from kicks – the seventh fewest by any team. Overall they managed just the ninth-most metres off the boot around the park. Clearly this contributed to their attacking woes; it will largely fall to Prince to improve these stats.
Expect HUGE Things From
Scott Prince – we’re predicting a late-career resurgence from the 33-year-old. Prince will thrive amid the pace and enthusiasm of the young Broncos backline. And if the Brisbane forwards are able to lay a platform, he’ll have a field day dictating out wide behind a dominant pack.
With Yow Yeah still sidelined and Prince in the fold, Corey Norman could get the chance to make the No.1 jersey his own. Josh Hoffman is a devastating ball runner who averaged 150 metres a match last season – but Norman (128 metres) wasn’t far behind him. Hoffman’s at-times questionable defence (he made just 32 tackles in total in 2012 but missed 21) may prompt coach Griffin to take a punt at some stage and slot the Kiwi onto the wing (as he did late last season when injuries struck). Given latitude, Norman could develop into one of the headline acts of the season; he’s bound to improve on his team-high 14 try assists and 14 line-break assists from 2012.
David Stagg’s return will bolster the Broncos’ defence, which lost its structure at times in 2012 – particularly during the second half of the season. Stagg’s incredible technique and ethic (just 21 missed tackles from 27 games) helped his former club Canterbury record the fourth-best tackling efficiency in their minor premiership year.
Andrew McCullough has matured over the past couple of years and posted his best season in the No.9 in 2012 (he ranked second to Cameron Smith for try assists by a hooker, with eight). His unpredictability out of dummy-half will be an asset – providing he continues to show he is able to pick the right moment to dish out something off the cuff.
Ex-Eels mentor and current New Zealand coach Stephen Kearney’s recruitment as Griffin’s assistant provides another level head.
The Question Marks
Their ‘big boppers’ could be cause for concern. Brisbane have traditionally boasted firepower up front but they’ll need every ounce of sweat and application from their extended roster if they’re to leave a sizeable footprint in 2013.
Truth is, the Broncos’ bookends are a little low on experience and proven grunt beyond the likes of Ben Hannant and Josh McGuire. With emerging talent Mitchell Frei snared by ex-mentor Wayne Bennett, Griffin will likely have to find places in the 17 for one or two members of their fringe roster that comprises Dunamis Lui (just nine games in 2012), Mitchell Dodds (10 games), David Hala (one game) and Scott Anderson. Wide-running under-20s star Caleb Timu is a work in progress and may only gain a handful of appearances. Of course Sam Thaiday can move to prop – but more likely someone from the above-mentioned group needs to step up, otherwise pressure on Hannant and McGuire will grow.
Who Needs To Lift?
Without being too harsh, skipper Sam Thaiday. The Kangaroos back-rower wasn’t nearly as effective in attack in 2012 as he was in previous seasons. He managed just 83 metres a match and 23 tackle busts, compared to 108 metres and 48 tackle busts in 2011. His average runs were down too, from 15 to 11.
However countering that, Thaiday threw himself into his defence, coming up with 36 tackles a game – the most he’s averaged in a season in his career. If the captain can find a better balance between his offensive and defensive workloads, the Broncos will thrive.
Also, Peter Wallace needs to provide more in the No.7 after contributing just 13 try assists, ranking him 10th in his position in 2012.
How’s Their Depth?
Arguably they have less depth than in 2012. Beale’s departure deprives them of speed and guile out wide but, as mentioned, a backline reshuffle following Scott Prince’s arrival could negate that. This reshuffle is even more likely given Dale Copley’s season-ending knee injury, although Denan Kemp’s good trial form could snare him a spot on the wing.
Ben Te’o led the Broncos for line-breaks in 2012 (with 12); David Stagg is a tireless defender but he simply won’t bring the same venom to the camp that Te’o provided. Consequently, more responsibility will fall on Matt Gillett and Alex Glenn.
As is always the case, the Broncos will be ravaged during Origin. They will need to come up with a cohesive unit throughout this period.
Dream Team Bankers
Despite an injury-interrupted 2012, workhorse Corey Parker still managed 62ppg to rank second-highest second-rower in the league; he’ll again be an anchor for plenty despite his prohibitive $467,100 price tag.
Andrew McCullough (50.79ppg) wasn’t far off the best rakes and could prove excellent value – especially if he is given more minutes than the average 60 he accrued last season. His price is $399,600.
Corey Norman ($300,300) will offer versatility in dual positions (halfback and fullback/wing) and should build on his 38.17ppg.
Anthony Griffin’s main task will be to make sure he slots the right individuals into the right positions, as well as nurture the next generation of big forwards. However, with two semi-finals finishes in his first two years in control, his tenure doesn’t appear in any danger. Indeed, it would take a near-bottom-of-the-rung finish to see the blowtorch applied.
If the baby Broncos can improve their defence they should climb higher than their 12-place finish last year when they leaked the fourth-most points overall.
Much will fall on the shoulders of crafty former Australian Schoolboys halfback Cameron Cullen who led the side for try assists (20) and line-break assists (14) in 2012.
Rookie coach Craig Hodges will look to towering prop Francis Molo (105 metres average plus 29 offloads) to help lay the groundwork for his three-quarters, which include the elusive Kurt Capewell (127 metres average), cousin of first-grader Luke.
Jo Ofahengaue is an interesting squad member – he’s the nephew of former Wallaby cult hero Willie.
If the Broncos jump out of the blocks as expected they should linger around the top four for the first half of the season. Their final finishing position will then depend on how they adapt during and after the Origin period – something that found them out in 2012. With the knowledge of what could occur, coach Griffin will have them better prepared this time around.
If he can mould the forwards into a cohesive force, with the big men combining with the mobile back-rowers, then they will be capable of contending for the title. Bracket them 4th to 6th after 26 rounds.
*Statistics: NRL Stats