BRISBANE BRONCOS - 2009 Season Preview

<p>A NEW dawn … a new era. Forget 2009AD, in Brisbane it is 1 AW (After Wayne).</p><p> For the first time in their 22-year history the Broncos will enter a season without Wayne Bennett at the helm as coach. Instead, it is rookie head coach Ivan Henjak who has been promoted from assistant to take the reins.</p><p> Consequently the vibe out at Red Hill is one of mixed emotions. </p><p> The safety net of Bennett is gone. The man who seemed to somehow always pull his men together in a way that basically guaranteed success has disappeared – and with that comes a little fear.</p><p> But change also fosters excitement. Amongst the playing group there is freshness and the determination to succeed hasn’t waned. </p><p> The upshot of it all is the Broncos’ every move will be even more heavily scrutinised than usual, with the local media ready to pounce on any scrap provided.</p><p> They finished last season amidst off-field dramas, with the unwanted label of a club battling an alcohol culture doing its best to stick. But firm management since seems to have settled things down since then.</p><p> <strong>How They’ll Play It</strong></p> We are yet to see the style Ivan Henjak will bring to the side but you can safely assume he won’t steer too far away from what has worked for a very long time.</p><p> The Broncos will field a truly formidable backline when at full strength so you will certainly see some expansive football in the attacking zones. Darren Lockyer, Justin Hodges, Israel Folau, Karmichael Hunt and Peter Wallace lead a dynamite attack which also has the likes of Sam Thaiday and Corey Parker in the pack.</p><p> It will be up to Thaiday, Parker and also big boppers like Joel Clinton and Dave Taylor to provide a platform for the multi-talented backs to exploit.</p><p> <strong>Keep An Eye On</strong></p> Ashton Sims. The former Dragon had a solid season for the Broncos in 2008, playing every game. But sadly he was remembered for just one thing… dropping the ball in the dying stages of their crucial semi-final against Melbourne.</p><p> The error allowed the Storm to score a last-ditch try and take the match, ending the Broncos’ season and creating intense fan ‘dislike’ for the luckless Sims.</p><p> But rather than bury himself in a corner, Sims came out during the World Cup and played sensationally for tournament surprise packets Fiji. The strong second-row forward provided punishing hits and pulsating runs and should he take that form into the premiership he’ll win the fans back in no time.</p><p> <strong>They’ll Really Miss</strong></p> Apart from Wayne Bennett they’ll miss Tonie Carroll and David Stagg. Carroll and Stagg were the defensive clean-up men for the Broncos and even more importantly, Carroll was the protector of Darren Lockyer.</p><p> Lockyer is always targeted heavily by opposition attacks intent on wearing the maestro out; such spotting sees the star miss several tackles a match.</p><p> It was Carroll’s job to shadow his skipper and take on most of the workload. Someone else will need to step up to fill the void.</p><p> <strong>It’s Time To Stand Up</strong></p> Joel Clinton. Word has it big Joel has bulked up over the off-season in an effort to be more damaging when hitting the line in both attack and defence. Clinton averaged a reasonable 96 metres gained a game in 2008 but he’ll want to be more involved and get his average well into triple figures.</p><p> Maybe we expect too much from Clinton but as a former Test player it’s obvious what he is capable of and a little more quality and quantity shouldn’t be beyond him.</p><p> <strong>Coach Watch</strong></p> Ivan Henjak enters his first NRL season in the unenviable position of being the “man after Wayne” but the former scheming half remains full of confidence.</p><p> Henjak still has a world-class roster at his disposal and should be able to take the Broncos to an unprecedented 18th straight finals series. Should he fail to do so, questions will no doubt be asked as those north of the border expect success these days.</p><p> There isn’t much scuttlebutt around in regards to pressure, but Henjak knows he has to hit the ground running in his coaching career if he wants to get anywhere near the longevity in the game of his predecessor. </p><p> <strong>They’re All The Better For</strong></p> Israel Folau. Adding Folau to an already impressive backline makes the Broncos super dangerous. They already had speed, size and skill out wide but now they have vertical leap as well. Folau will give the Broncos the one element they have lacked over the years: the ability to score from kicks.</p><p> The 19-year-old could still play Toyota Cup but instead he is an established Test and Origin star. Enough said.</p><p> <strong>Predicted Finish</strong></p> The Broncos have arguably the best backline in the competition and as such they’ll be good enough to make the finals barring major injuries. It will be surprising if they don’t consolidate at least a top-six spot.</p><p> <strong>Under-20s</strong></p> The Broncos’ Toyota Cup side was unlucky not to win it all in 2008, going down in the grand final to Canberra. With last year’s Toyota Cup Player of the Year Ben Hunt plus Gerard Beale, Andrew McCullough and Josh McGuire now eligible from the top squad, they’ll have to rely on a largely inexperienced and quite young side.</p><p> Keep an eye on the likes of five-eighth Corey Norman and Ashton Sims’ brother Tariq.</p><p> <strong>New Breed</strong></p> Baby Bronco Jharal Yow Yeh can’t believe the luck he’s been dealt in pursuing his apprenticeship at Brisbane – the 19-year-old winger is living any boy’s dream, training with the fulltime NRL squad at the most popular and successful Queensland club in rugby league.</p><p> Keep an eye out for more on Jamal Yow Yeh when NRL.com brings you New Breed profiles in the coming weeks.</p>