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Is this the end of the road in 2010 for the Brisbane Broncos?<br><br>For the best part of 20 years, Brisbane has been the one club you never write off – a fact evidenced by their remarkable run of 18 consecutive semi-final appearances. But for the first time since their maiden premiership season in 1992 they look genuinely vulnerable.<br><br>They’ve had tough times before, of course. In 1999 they lost their first five games; in 2007 they lost seven of their first 10 and even last season they were in serious danger of missing the finals after being thrashed 56-0 by Canberra in Round 21.<br><br>However, for the first time it’s hard to see a road back. Already hit hard by the departures of Karmichael Hunt, Dave Taylor, Tonie Carroll and Joel Clinton, a season-ending injury to strike centre Justin Hodges and, in the last week, the loss of Corey Parker and Israel Folau for the next month has the Broncos reeling.<br><br>The fear now is that Sunday’s second-half capitulation against the Warriors could be a pre-cursor to what will follow in the coming weeks.<br><br>“They’ve lost a lot of firepower so I’m not surprised to see what has happened,” offers former NSW and Test halfback Greg Alexander. “That combination between Lockyer and Karmichael Hunt was so important when it came to getting them across the tryline.<br><br>“Obviously there is some talent there but to try and get consistency out of young players is a difficult thing.<br><br>“I thought at the start of the season that they were in for a tough season and nothing has changed. You’re loathe to write them off because Darren Lockyer is such a good player and Peter Wallace is pretty handy too, but Locky is another year older and those players (Hunt and Hodges) that he has used so well in the past aren’t there.”<br><br>Certainly the opening three rounds of the Telstra Premiership have thrown up more questions than answers and while Brisbane are starting to slide, others are also struggling to live up to their reputations.<br>Parramatta is one.<br><br>Hyped as premiership favourites at the start of the season, the Eels have lost two out of three and needed a miracle second-half comeback, aided by a shocking refereeing error, to steal their solitary win against Manly in Round 2.<br><br>Their starts are a real concern. In three games Parramatta has scored just six first-half points and have trailed 12-0, 20-0 and 15-0 respectively in games against St George Illawarra, Manly and Wests Tigers.<br><br>There does, however, seem to be some light at the end of the tunnel and their slow start to the season is unlikely to have their rivals taking them any less seriously.<br><br>“I still think they’re one of the sides to beat,” three-time premiership winner Laurie Daley says..<br><br>“Maybe they’re struggling a little bit with the expectation and are going through the motions rather than knuckling down.<br><br>“The fact is that last year when they had to win, they won, so when their backs are against the wall they usually fight their way out of trouble.<br><br>“It’s nothing new to them really – if you look back over the past 10 years or so they’ve never won more than two of their first four.<br><br>“Given the style that Parramatta play – they like to be more adventurous with their footy – those sorts of sides tend to take longer to gel.<br><br>“Last year they relied heavily on second-phase play and if they want to get that back into their game it could take a while to get right.”<br><br>Alexander agrees, insisting the Eels could very easily have run over the top of the Tigers last Friday night… and very nearly did but for one pushed pass from Feleti Mateo with his side storming home.<br><br>Asked if there were any major areas for concern, Alexander told “No, not really. I mean, let’s look at last year – they were poor for nearly half the season.<br><br>“The question marks coming in this season were: a) Will Jarryd Hayne be as dominant and b) Are the halves good enough?<br><br>“If you keep Jarryd Hayne just a touch quieter than he was last year then all of a sudden there is pressure on your other positions. He took on everyone’s role last year.<br><br>“When he did most of the damage he was getting the ball one-off the ruck, so he was playing the role of fullback, halfback – throw anything else into the mix.<br><br>“But they’ve had periods already where they have shown what they can do, it’s just that the swing of the game has gone against them.”<br><br>So if Brisbane are gone and the Eels are destined to get it back together, what about Penrith?<br><br>Inconsistency has been the bane of the Panthers in recent years, but with the likes of Michael Jennings, Frank Pritchard and Luke Lewis hitting career best form – and a forward pack among the most impressive in the NRL – they were expected to seriously challenge for a top-four berth in 2010.<br><br>Despite this, they’re already reverting to their old ways, with 120 minutes of brilliant rugby league to start the season followed by 120 minutes of, in club favourite Alexander’s words, ‘ineptness’.<br><br>“It’s the only word I can use to describe that performance against Melbourne on the weekend,” he says. “That was the most inept performance I’ve seen from them in three years – and Melbourne did everything in their powers to hand them the game.<br><br>“Penrith lacked any sort of co-ordination and although it’s not time to start panicking just yet, the next few performances need to be a whole lot better than what they’ve offered in the second half against the Cowboys and then last weekend.”<br><br>Daley said he still holds high hopes for the mountain men in 2010.<br><br>“They had a few players out the other night. Luke Walsh has only played a few games there and Luke Lewis is better suited to the back row, so they’ve got plenty of improvement in them,” he offered.<br><br>“There was a lot of hype at the start of the year about them.<br><br>“I see a lot of potential there – the key for them is learning how to finish the deal.”<br><br>The saving grace is that Penrith can be a very good side and will warmly welcome back Pritchard, Trent Waterhouse and Nathan Smith in the coming weeks.<br><br>But the jury is still out.<br><br>We may be only three rounds into the season but for some of these sides a pattern is already emerging that needs to be arrested.
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