Ben Hunt will be expected to step up a gear as Brisbane's first-choice halfback in 2014. Credit: NRL Photos Copyright: NRL Photos
They struggled last season but there are some good signs that Brisbane can return to finals football in 2014.
1. New Barba's in town
It's the most talked about signing of the off-season but the great question still being posed by Broncos fans is exactly which Ben Barba their club has signed. Is it the dazzling, gravity-defying free spirit of 2012 who made carefully constructed defences look like hastily put-together walls of Lego? Or the distracted talent of 2013 who was unable to break free of the scrutiny that followed a pre-season club-imposed suspension?
An ankle injury suffered in his final game as a Bulldog has kept Barba from full training with his new club until recently but the open style of the Auckland Nines in February may be just what he needs to reignite the types of performances we came to expect from him. It will take time for Barba to return to his best and coach Anthony Griffin still has the positional equation to solve that sees him with two quality fullbacks and no recognised halves pairing but if the 2012 Dally M medallist is happy, he'll invariably bring smiles to those in the stands.
2. Great expectations
You don't finish a campaign with the tag of the 'worst Broncos in history' in a one-team town such as Brisbane without serious ripples reverberating throughout the entire organisation. Broncos fans – spread far and wide throughout Australia – have come to expect that they will be watching their team late into September and a repeat of their 12th-place finish next year would almost surely bring to an end the coaching tenure of Anthony Griffin.
In addition to the high-profile signature of Ben Barba the Broncos have made some very handy acquisitions in Martin Kennedy, Todd Lowrie and Daniel Vidot which adds depth to some key areas. The halves pairing still remains something of a mystery but the Broncos will be much improved in 2014... because they have to be.
3. Hunt may finally be over
When you are signed to a club such as the Broncos on a scholarship at the age of 13, plenty of good judges must believe that you have what it takes to make it at the highest level. But for some reason, ever since being named the inaugural National Youth Competition Player of the Year in 2008 Ben Hunt has struggled to assert himself as the first-choice No.7.
That may be about to change. With the retirement of Scott Prince and the departure of Peter Wallace to Penrith the Broncos are without a half with significant first-grade experience. But what may be perceived as a weakness could possibly become a strength. When Hunt was handed the reins towards the end of the 2013 season he started to deliver on the talent that was first spotted by the great Cyril Connell back in 2003. And with coach Anthony Griffin devoid of many other options, giving Hunt the stability to know he is the club's go-to man may be exactly what he needs to express his skills at the highest level.
4. Boys to men
When the Broncos qualified for the 2008 NYC Grand Final, many felt that the future of the proud club was in good hands. Halfback Ben Hunt was the player of the year, Jharal Yow Yeh was second only to Ben Barba in the list of top tryscorers and the likes of Josh Hoffman, Josh McGuire, Alex Glenn and Andrew McCullough were the heirs apparent in their respective positions. Add in team-mates from that side Brendon Gibb and Mitchell Dodds and the 2014 Broncos have club culture coursing through their veins.
The majority have become regular first-graders over the past five years with Glenn, Yow Yeh and Hoffman each playing international football but it is now time for these former prodigies to lead their club out of the doldrums. Glenn and McCullough have each played more than 100 NRL games while Hoffman and Hunt are poised to record that milestone in 2014. They are perfectly placed to step out of the shadows of that 2008 youth team and become the players that future generations of Broncos players will discuss in revered tones.
5. Tighter around the middle
It would seem somewhat contradictory that a team with two workhorses in the form of Corey Parker and Andrew McCullough would have a soft underbelly but there was no poorer performing team in the 2013 competition for missed tackles than the Broncos. McCullough made 994 tackles and Parker 926 but they and their team-mates missed a total of 757 tackles across the course of the season.
The fortunate addition of Lowrie, who has returned to Australia from the Warriors on compassionate grounds, provides some much-needed back-row support for Parker while the 122-kilogram presence of Kennedy will cover for the loss of Dunamis Lui to Manly and complement Ben Hannant, providing the sheer size that the Broncos lacked up front in 2013. David Hala was restricted to 13 games last season but if he is able to enjoy an injury-free 2014 then coach Anthony Griffin will have the soldiers at his disposal capable of building a premiership-winning defence.