Mid-season Report Card
Position after 13 rounds: 4th
Points diff: +16
If new coach Ivan Henjak’s task wasn’t tough enough this season – being only the second man to ever coach the Brisbane Broncos following the end of Wayne Bennett’s 21-year reign – the loss of so many key players had many questioning whether the club’s amazing finals run was also on life support.
Bennett’s departure to St George Illawarra, along with salary cap restraints, saw a flood of players head elsewhere for 2009 including five key members of their forward pack in Tonie Carroll (retired), Ben Hannant, Michael Ennis, Greg Eastwood and David Stagg (all to the Bulldogs). Yet Henjak quickly showed that he wouldn’t be affected by such pressures.
Buoyed by the addition of Test star Israel Folau to the backline and still boasting stars Darren Lockyer, Karmichael Hunt, Justin Hodges and Peter Wallace, Brisbane launched into their new era with three straight wins – including a one-point thriller over North Queensland and a 16-14 upset of Melbourne.
Midway through the year they sit comfortably among a group of four teams on 18 points and vying for top spot on the NRL ladder. Quite clearly they remain one of the NRL’s marquee clubs.
Are Things Going To Plan? They were – until they were rocked by a 48-4 thrashing at the hands of Melbourne in Round 13. It’s difficult to know just how much to read into that loss.
The Broncos have typically struggled during the State of Origin period and again had six players involved in the opening Origin clash two days earlier – but Melbourne also had four Queenslanders in their ranks and premiership sides rarely lose by 40-odd points.
Nonetheless, Henjak would be pleased with where the side sits on the NRL ladder and would expect them to feature prominently come September.
Injury Front… The Broncos have enjoyed a good run with injuries this season but will be without the services of Queensland centre Justin Hodges after he suffered medial ligament damage in the Origin opener.
That shouldn’t be of any great concern to Henjak who has shown a willingness to give the club’s youngsters their opportunity this season and has been rewarded with some five-star performances from the likes of Antonio Winterstein, Andrew McCullough and Alex Glenn.
If Only… Brisbane must be ruing taking the foot off the pedal in their Round 9 clash with Manly. The Sea Eagles were struggling to find form and Brisbane took full advantage to cruise to an early 16-0 lead, but the match took a dramatic turn in the second half as the visitors came back to win 22-20. A missed conversion attempt by Corey Parker in the final seconds denied Brisbane a chance to steal the points back but by then they must have already been wondering how they had let the game slip.
Who’s Flying… Israel Folau has certainly lived up to his reputation as a one-man wrecking ball out wide. Folau is a genuine game-breaker and it didn’t take Brisbane long to clue onto the fact that he is a defender’s nightmare in any one-on-one situation. He currently tops the NRL tryscorers list this season with 11 including a four-try effort against the Gold Coast in Round 10.
Needs To Lift… He may be heading to South Sydney next season, but 20-year-old prop Dave Taylor boasts plenty of talent and has the opportunity to leave the club with a premiership ring at the end of the season. Unfortunately his form hasn’t matched his potential in 2009 and he has played just seven games in the top grade this season. The Broncos could do with his damaging runs, given only forwards Sam Thaiday and Nick Kenny are topping 100 metres a game.
Ivan Henjak Tells NRL.com… “We’re sitting in a good position. In terms of what happened to us at the end of last year, we lost eight of our starting 17 to the club and had to blood a lot of new players this season so I think we’ve done quite well. That was always going to be a concern – I didn’t know how the team was going to come together. We’ve got a lot of inexperienced players and a lot of inexperienced forwards. We’ve shown that at times during the year too but we’ve been able to conjure up some wins. Last week wasn’t a good result but until then we were the leading try-scoring team in the competition and that has been pleasing. We always pride ourselves on being a good attacking team.”
Predicted Finish… The Broncos should be aiming for a top-four finish and are well-placed to do so.
Under-20s… Brisbane reached the Toyota Cup grand final last year but the loss of so many young stars to the NRL squad has presented a challenge in 2009. The Broncos currently find themselves one point out of the top eight in ninth and are one of six clubs fighting for the last two finals spots at this stage of the season. Still, the Broncos have high hopes for a number of their young stars, particularly five-eighth Ben Hunt.