Nigel Wall, NRL.com
Position after 13 rounds: 2nd
Competition points: 18
Plenty of doomsayers predicted the apocalypse for the Broncos in 2012, the first season in 18 years they’ve embarked on a premiership campaign without superstar five-eighth and captain Darren Lockyer.
Well, they were about as wrong as they could be.
With tungsten-tough Sam Thaiday taking on the captaincy without so much as a hiccup in his own game and Corey Norman immediately making a name for himself in the No.6, Brisbane are on track not just for the semi-finals berth but are well in the hunt for an all-important top-two spot rounding the midpoint of the scheduled rounds.
They may have stumbled a little over the past month, losing consecutive matches to the Warriors, Sea Eagles and Storm but there’s no shame in bowing to sides of that calibre.
Despite no Darren Lockyer the Brisbane game plan has changed little – although Peter Wallace has taken on more of the playmaking responsibilities, allowing Norman to add his personal stamp in attack. It’s working too; Norman is proving himself a confident and dangerous runner of the football. Whereas Lockyer averaged just six runs a game for 38 metres in 2011, Norman is averaging almost 10 runs a game for nearly 80 metres. He leads all No.6s for line-breaks (with eight) and ranks second for tackle-breaks (with 42). He’s playing his part as a provider as well: Lockyer contributed 26 try assists in 2011 – Norman has tallied 10 so far with half of the 2012 season to play.
The coming six weeks looms as the cruch period, with Brisbane contributing five players to the Queensland State of Origin squad. Already coach Anthony Griffin has shown he’s prepared to sacrifice short-term pain for long-term gain, resting three players from club duties after Game One; it’s a strategy he will employ again in Round 15 against the Cowboys in Townsville. He’ll also be without a full-strength unit against the Roosters in Round 14, and Sharks in Round 17. (Fortunately the side rests up with their second bye the week after Origin III.)
Are Things Going to Plan? Pretty much, although their three consecutive losses from Round 9 revealed vulnerability and must have dented their confidence.
Coach Griffin would be pleased with the stats that show his side is making more territory each week than they did in 2012 (1423 metres to 1374 metres), with impovement in their running game (leading tackle busts with 38.6 a game compared to just the fifth most last year).
Also, their defensive structures have improved yet again. Two years ago the Broncos missed the second-most tackles of all sides (37). Last year they achieved a massive turnaround, missing the fourth-fewest tackles (31). They’ve gotten even better, ranking second best behind the Storm, missing just 26.3 tackles a game (they were ranked No.1 in the category prior to their below-average effort against the Knights in Round 13).
Injury Front… The Broncos have used 25 individuals to date – the fifth most.
They were dealt a major blow when Jharal Yow Yeh suffered a sickening, season-ending broken ankle midway through their Round 4 win over the Rabbitohs. Dale Copley has filled in for the Maroons and Aussie rep since, but has scored just two tries in his eight games since.
Emerging prop David Hala’s season is over, too, after he ruptured his ACL in Round 12.
Corey Parker has missed three games with a thumb ligament injjury, Peter Wallace was sidelined for a week on two occasions with a hamstring strain, and Justin Hodges has missed two games – but aside from that all their troops are fit and well.
If Only… They had managed to repel the last-ditch raids of the Cowboys and Sea Eagles, who each snatched victory in the final seconds of their games. The Broncos had the win all but sewn up leading 26-22 against North Queensland in Round 2 before Matthew Bowen picked the ball up at lock and sliced through untouched under the posts for a shock two-point victory. And it was a similar story against the Sea Eagles in Round 10: Brisbane led 22-20 with a minute to go before allowing the Sea Eagles to travel 90 metres in two plays to seize the win. Had they won those nail-biters they’d be pushing the Storm for top honours.
Who’s Flying… The usual suspects including Sam Thaiday, Ben Hannant, Justin Hodges, Peter Wallace and Corey Parker are all playing their part. Thaiday averages 13 runs with 93 metres and has made four line-breaks, not far off his 15 runs, 109 metres and four line-breaks in total when he wasn’t saddled with the captaincy last year. Hodges has been a prolific promoter of second phase down their right edge, with his 29 offloads the second most behind Paul Gallen’s 35 to date. Hannant is making 112 metres a game up front, Wallace has gone to the air more often than any other player in the comp (47 bombs, 41 cross-field kicks), and Parker leads his team-mates for runs (18).
But it’s Josh Hoffman and Corey Norman who have really impressed. Hoffman leads all players for kick-return metres (85) and claws out 161 metres a match with an average five tackle busts a game. While Norman has starred running the ball he’s also been a perfect link to his outside men, tallying nine line-break assists.
Needs To Lift… Petero Civoniceva will want to ramp up his input over the second half of his final NRL season. In his last full year at Penrith in 2011 the Kangaroos stalwart could be relied on for 15 runs and 122 metres, with 22 tackles in 48 minutes every week. However, the 36-year-old has struggled to get into a rhythm this year, making nine runs on average for just 82 metres in 35-minute stints. He may be pacing himself though...
Coach Anthony Griffin tells NRL.com… “We started the season strongly but we’ve lost our way defensively these past three weeks or so. Obviously it will be a real test of the club to see how we can get through the Origin period.
“I don’t want to single anyone out in particular... the team members have been doing a good job but defence at the moment (past four weeks) is a concern – we’re going to have to work hard to get back to where we need to be.”
Predicted Finish… Injuries notwithstanding, we can’t see their saddle shifting. The quantum improvement in their defence, even allowing for a blip over the past month, will hold them in good stead the deeper the season goes. Also, their attack has shown enough variety to suggest they’ll be able to call on hidden depths should the need arise. A top-four finish looks a deserving fit, but whether or not they can challenge for the minor premiership all hinges on their ability to get through the Origin period undefeated, and unscathed.
Under-20s… The Brisbane colts have delivered a mixed bag to date; they sit in 10th spot on the NYC ladder three competition points adrift of the top eight. Defence has been an issue – they have conceded 31 points a game, the fifth most by any side. A highlight of their season was a 46-30 victory over the currently second-placed Wests Tigers back in Round 6. While a spot in the semi-finals isn’t out of the question for coach Kurt Richards’ crew they’ll need to avoid big losses like the 46-18 pasting they were served by the Knights in Round 13. Their best individuals have been strong-running second-rower Caleb Timu who has crossed for 12 tries and leads his position in the comp for line-breaks (14) and tackle-breaks (79).