Position after 13 rounds: 5th
Competition points: 18
The Broncos had so much upheaval during their off-season you could be forgiven for thinking they might struggle in 2011. But despite the fact they had Greg Inglis and then lost him to Souths, and despite the fact they sacked coach Ivan Henjak just a few weeks before Round 1, the Broncos have been one of the teams to beat.
They started the year with a loss, but then with the help of a defensive rampage, they went on a seven-game winning run. Their defensive strength dropped its standard a little, with a few injuries and three consecutive losses, but they may have righted the ship again last weekend with a dominant display against the Sharks.
Also, Darren Lockyer officially announced this would be his final season, adding plenty of emotion to their title assault.
Are Things Going To Plan? While the past month or so has certainly dropped back in standard from the beginning of the year the Broncos would surely be happy with their position at the halfway point. They had a strong start to the season, setting them up nicely for the brutal representative part of the year. If they can continue to negotiate reasonably through the Origin period they’ll be in good shape, particularly with more home games than trips away in the back half of the year.
They’d perhaps like to rank a little higher for offloads (14th) but in a great sign their missed-tackle rate is fourth-fewest, after years of being worst or thereabouts in the stat.
They haven’t always excelled in attack but when they’ve needed to, they’ve generally scored enough to back their defence home. If they can lift their line-breaks and be just that little bit more threatening, their chances of ultimate glory will certainly be boosted.
Injury Front... The Broncos have had a handful of injury worries making their halfway standing all the more impressive. Justin Hodges, Shane Tronc, Matt Gillett, Josh Hoffman, Ben Hunt, Josh McGuire and Ben Te’o are just some Broncos to be felled by injuries already this season.
While some of them have returned, others have the dreaded ‘indefinitely’ listed next to their ailments. If the side can get healthy and back on the park it will be a huge boost for the team.
If Only… The side had maintained their defensive strength right through the first half of the year. After six matches the team had conceded just 50 points – and it was still just 80 through eight games at an average of 10 a game. The past four, three of which they’ve lost, have seen them average 28 points conceded. Overall, they now rank fourth, leaking 16 points a game.
As far as games they could have won but didn’t – the opening round two-point loss to the Cowboys at home was a game they could have easily stolen. They came home with the running but Corey Parker missed a late conversion that would have tied it up. The loss to the Storm in Round 9 was also a ‘good’ loss, if there is such a thing. Without most of their Test stars they took it to Melbourne but ultimately fell seven points short.
Who’s Flying… Justin Hodges has been great… when he’s made it onto the field. In his seven matches Hodges has averaged 123 metres gained and has been threatening on the right side. Winger Jharal Yow Yeh has blossomed into a Test and Origin player, Corey Parker is as solid as a rock, Jack Reed has exceeded expectations and Alex Glenn (handed the captaincy in Lockyer’s and Parker’s absence) has been a tower of strength in the second row.
Then of course there is the mercurial Lockyer. The veteran has put on the odd master class; and seriously, if you can get out to his games, do so because before you blink it will all be over and a legend will be done.
Needs To Lift… Perhaps Sam Thaiday might feel a little hard done by to be mentioned here but he isn’t quite playing to the high standards we have come to expect. At his best he is one of the most damaging forwards in the game and so far this season those ‘get out of my way’ charges haven’t come quite so often. If he gets agro after Origin and the rest of the Broncos go with him… look out.
Coach Anthony Griffin tells NRL.com… “We have put ourselves in a good position. Injury-wise we are struggling a bit with medium-term injuries but with a bit of luck in that department we’ll be in good shape. We have a good base for improvement, we just need to stay healthy.”
Predicted Finish… With more home games than away fixtures to come, and half of their matches against teams currently outside the top eight, a place in the finals should be assured for the Broncos. That is, providing injuries don’t completely hammer them. Winning just half their games from here on out will see them finish somewhere in the 6, 7, 8 region. If they jag more, they could be top four.
Under-20s… The baby Broncos sit just inside the finals zone at the halfway mark with a 6-6 record. Currently eighth, the side has the benefit of an impressive positive differential of 94. Kurt Baptiste, Dale Copley, Dane Gagai and Corey Norman have all had some NRL time, showing the side has plenty of talent. Don’t count this bunch out of this title fight.