Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin believes the club is set to reap the rewards of his controversial decision to rest his representative stars during the State of Origin period with the Broncos better prepared than ever to launch a late premiership surge.
Widely criticised for fielding a weakened side in games at the start of the Origin series, Griffin could instead have the last laugh after watching his players come through unscathed.
The Broncos have typically struggled during the annual representative season but after recording two wins from four on either side of the Origins find themselves sitting pretty in fifth spot and part of a five-team breakaway group to have all but cemented a finals berth.
“I understand that everyone had different opinions about the approach we took but it was something that we planned and something that within our own club we were confident about,” Griffin told NRL.com ahead of tonight’s clash with the Gold Coast at Suncorp.
“We wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t think it was the right thing for us. I don’t think that we had to prove anything to anyone or vindicate the decision to anyone else other than that we knew what we were doing.
“We’ve still got eight rounds to go and at the end of the day I guess we’ll find out [if it was the right decision]… but it wasn’t a week-to-week thing where we were making decisions on the run. We had a plan on how we would manage ourselves through that period.
“We’ve had some success on the field and physically our guys are in pretty good shape so within ourselves we’re quite happy with how we’re sitting at the moment.”
Griffin said that his sextet of Queensland stars – Darren Lockyer, Ben Hannant, Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker, Justin Hodges and Jharal Yow Yeh – had all survived the Origin period relatively unscathed and predicted a big finish to Lockyer’s farewell year.
“They’re all good – as good as they can be,” he said. “Everyone at this time of year has a bump or a bruise somewhere but they’re all fit and ready to go.”
Currently sitting four points behind competition leaders Melbourne, Brisbane could potentially move as high as second after this week’s round should they beat the struggling Titans and other results go their way.
Crucially, two of the sides above them on the ladder – North Queensland and St George Illawarra – have significant injury concerns in key positions while Griffin said he was pleased with the Broncos’ plight.
“I’m comfortable that we’ve given ourselves a chance now if we’re good enough,” he said.
“That’s what we’re going to find out in the next eight weeks – are we good enough? Mathematically we could still miss the play-offs or we could finish higher on the ladder than we are at the moment. One way or the other we’re going to find out a bit about ourselves over the next eight weeks. But what we’ve done up until now has put us in a position whereby we’ve given ourselves a chance.
“Overall I thought we moved forward as a club [during the rep season]. The way that we finished off that period in the game against Parramatta (a 16-12 win in Round 17), we took a little step forward.”
Griffin also dismissed any concerns that the ‘farewell tour’ of retiring captain Lockyer could prove a distraction as the finale approaches.
“I don’t think that will be an issue,” he said. “I think it’s more of an issue for the media and the public. As you saw with the State of Origin build-up throughout the series, that’s going to happen and we know that it’s going to happen.
“A lot will be spoken and written and people will be intrigued about how Darren Lockyer’s career is going to come to an end, and all of that sort of stuff. But for us, we’ve been dealing with that all year and it certainly won’t be a distraction or a focus for us.
“Darren is the main leader in that area in that he doesn’t want any extra attention on himself or the team, so it’s business as usual for us.”
Brisbane’s finals run kicks off tonight against the last-placed Gold Coast, with Griffin agreeing it was the perfect opportunity to kick-start a strong finish to the year.
And he insisted he would be surprised if his players slackened off against a side they are heavily favoured to beat now that the pressure of Origin is over.
“I’d hope not,” he said. “We’ve had a good week at training and our focus is very much on what I was speaking about before – whether we can progress deep into the competition.
“This is our first game post-Origin and an opportunity for us to do that. The messages we’ve been giving this week to the players and the way they’ve been training I’d like to think that we’re ready to play to our best. I don’t think that whoever we’re playing has a real bearing on that if we’re doing our job properly.”
Late NRL News:
• Prop Scott Anderson is a late withdrawal from the Broncos’ squad due to asthma, with Mitchell Dodds or Dunamis Lui his likely replacement;
• North Queensland is expected to welcome back injured duo Aaron Payne (finger) and Willie Tonga (ribs) from injury for tomorrow night’s clash with Wests Tigers;
• Canberra fullback Josh Dugan is a confirmed starter to make his long-awaited return from an ankle injury when the Raiders host Melbourne on Sunday.