Season review: Brisbane Broncos
Home Record: 7 wins, 5 losses (8th)
Away Record: 8 wins, 4 losses (=9th)
Longest Winning Streak: 6 (Rounds 3-8)
Longest Losing Streak: 6 (Rounds 20-25)
Players Used: 29
Tries Scored (after 26 rounds): 85 (9th)
Tries Conceded (after 26 rounds): 79 (7th)
Earlier in the season you would have been laughed out of town for suggesting that the Broncos would need to win a Round 26 arm wrestle against the Panthers to scrape into the top eight.
But that old, demanding friend Origin made sure that it was so – obliterating the Broncos’ stocks midway through the year and tipping them on a downward spiral that they would never recover from.
A total of seven Broncos leant their services to the gruelling three-match series – by far the highest number in the NRL. So drained was the squad after Origin that Brisbane won just three matches from their final 11, slumping from second to eighth in the process.
The differences were stark compared to their earlier form that had many pundits placing premiership favouritism on the gold and maroon.
But the hype surrounding the Broncos’ chances might have been just that. In an early season six-match winning streak, the Broncos knocked off just two top-eight sides and were unable to even compete with the Warriors when they travelled across the Tasman.
It is perhaps the case that the Broncos were a fringe-of-the-finals side all year but were bolstered early by a favourable draw.
They played just one top-four side over the opening nine rounds.
The elephant in the room of course, was the absence of Darren Lockyer. His talent alone may well have lifted the Broncos from their post-Origin doldrums.
His boots were filled admirably by the youthful Corey Norman who impressed coach Anthony Griffin and was unpredictable if not a little inconsistent. The Broncos’ 2012 season will have done the Keebra Park graduate wonders.
There was also the shocking injury to talented international outside back Jharal Yow Yeh. He played just three and a bit games for the Broncos before breaking his lower leg in a sickening fall from an attempted try – sorely missed in more ways than one.
It was an unfamiliar season in many ways for the Broncos. ‘Fortress Suncorp’ began to show some cracks that had previously been hidden by some of the game’s greatest players.
They lost home games to Parramatta in Round 21 and to Cronulla for the first time in nine seasons.
Though metres came easily enough (ranked third in the NRL), the Broncos couldn’t find the white stripe and were ranked ninth for points scored (20 per game).
In all it was a mediocre season… just. Anthony Griffin wouldn’t commit to a rating out of 10 but one feels something around the six mark would be fair.
Had the season been just 13 Rounds long, the Broncos would have been near the top of the class. Instead their report card demands improvement.
Where They Excelled… The Broncos were led commendably from the rear with fullback Josh Hoffman (146 metres per game) and centre Justin Hodges (139.8 metres) by far the biggest territory eaters for the Broncos. Hodges was also ranked third in the NRL for offloads with 50.
Defensively it was the usual suspect Corey Parker (41.9 tackles per game) doing the most work for the Broncos, while Andrew McCullough was somewhat of a revelation for coach Griffin, making 41.6 tackles per game, along with eight try assists and 33 tackle-breaks overall.
And despite an ultimately disappointing season, the Broncos were the third-most disciplined team in the competition with just 10.2 errors per game.
Where They Struggled… Far from abysmal, the Broncos came in around the middle of the pack in most key categories. The most worrying trend for the coaching staff was likely the fact that the Broncos made plenty of metres without converting position into points. The Broncos were third in the NRL for metres gained (1406.1 per game) but came in at ninth for tries scored (3.5 per game). There was at times a feeling of restricted ball-playing from the Broncos, who limped to 11th place in the line-breaks category with 4.2 per match.
And a further indicator to their struggles was borne out by veteran Petero Civoniceva’s meagre 85-metre average gain per match – his lowest return on the paddock in a decade.
Missing In Action… The Broncos were forced to use 29 players in a season that at times left the club looking like a field surgery. Only the hapless Panthers used more. An unlucky bunch in 2012, just three players remained fit for all 25 of the Broncos’ games. The most serious of course, was Jharal Yow Yeh’s compound fracture in Round 4 that would rule the winger out for the rest of 2012. Even the tireless Corey Parker felt the strain this year and missed eight weeks through, first, a broken thumb and then a laceration suffered in Origin II, and a medial ligament strain in Round 22.
Turning Point: It’s an early Christmas on the calendar for most of Queensland but this year’s State of Origin series wrought havoc on the Broncos, turning their season from one of potential into one of impotence. After the series wrapped up the Broncos would win just two of their remaining games – tight victories over the Warriors and Panthers at home. The Broncos got beaten in the back half of the season by the Titans and towelled up by wooden spooners Parramatta.
Best Games… The Broncos never looked more dangerous than they did in Round 5 against the Dragons at Suncorp Stadium. An attacking master class, the Broncos raced to a 24-0 lead before the halftime siren through classy work from halves Peter Wallace and Corey Norman. The Dragons came roaring back into the game in the second half but a stylish try to Matt Gillett playing on the right edge sealed a memorable win for the Broncos. A 26-12 victory over the Rabbitohs in Round 16 was another good day for the Broncos, one of their last solid defensive displays of the year.
Worst Games… It was a Monday night at Suncorp Stadium and the Broncos were totally embarrassed. Entering the Round 21 clash desperate for form, the Broncos could do nothing right and entered the sheds down 30-6 against cellar-dwellers Parramatta. Injuries had played their part in selecting the Broncos side that night but no excuses can be made for the 42-22 carve-up. The Broncos were also pretty ordinary in Round 9 against the Warriors. The 30-20 scoreline flattered Brisbane, with the confident Warriors running rings around their embattled opponents.
Hold Your Head High… Corey Norman deserves a bucket of praise for the way he handled himself in a year of pressure following Darren Lockyer’s departure. Wearing the famous No.6 jersey mostly (21 of 25 appearances), Norman didn’t miss a game for the Broncos – making 14 try assists and 14 line-break assists. Hooker Andrew McCullough played brilliantly and was often doing the work of two forwards. His 1041 tackles (41.6 per game) ranked him third in the NRL, while a greatly improved kicking game saw McCullough bag four 40/20s. Only Cooper Cronk kicked more.
Coach Anthony Griffin says: “Overall it was disappointing to go out the way we did but there were definitely some positives for the side this year. I thought Corey Norman did a great job and considering the injuries we had, it was by no means a disaster.
“It was certainly challenging for me this year but I learnt a lot. We had patches of momentum but it’s very difficult to pull yourselves out when things aren’t going to plan.”
Conclusion… It was a strange season for the gold and maroon who were at times brilliant and at times woeful. Their early brand of football had many putting the Broncos up there with Melbourne and Canterbury in terms of premiership favouritism. But as has been the case on many occasions in the club’s history, the arrival of Origin spelt disaster. The squad was simply too tired in the end, they ran out of gas and let their weaknesses show. The biggest positive is the fact that a host of new young talent was blooded and things are looking brighter for 2013 and beyond.
* Statistics: NRL Stats