The old adage that a rugby league team must have a strong spine in order to be a competitive force couldn’t have been more accurate for the Broncos on Friday night as they came from behind to defeat the Cowboys 16-12 at Suncorp Stadium.
Over the years success on the football field is usually derived by having a robust backbone of players capable of sparking a side to life or providing a solid platform on which to stand.
In football terms, this backbone or spine – or any other anatomical term you wish to use – consists of four very important ‘vertebra’ – fullback, halfback, five-eighth and hooker.
All of these positions are crucial in holding a team together; they direct and dictate the play and are often the first players picked when a coach runs his eye over the team sheet.
On Friday night it was the Broncos' developing spine of Ben Barba, Ben Hunt, Josh Hoffman and Andrew McCullough that stood up when needed and helped guide the Broncos to a gutsy and determined win.
All four players had a hand in propelling the Broncos over the line against the Cowboys. Firstly Barba set up Matt Gillett for the opener, Hoffman rolled a perfectly timed grubber for Daniel Vidot and then Hunt delivered the game-changing pass that eventually led to McCullough’s match-winning try.
We’ve seen in recent times how a successful spine can lead to great success; the Melbourne Storm backbone of Cameron Smith, Billy Slater, Cooper Cronk and the now departed Gareth Widdop are a prime example.
However, for the Broncos, it was McCullough who was particularly impressive for the second week running, completing another 80-minute performance and getting through a mountain of defensive work, pleasing his coach Anthony Griffin.
“He’s going well. He is maturing and again his defensive work tonight in the middle was very good,” Griffin said.
“He backed up for that try and he’s doing what he needs to do in order to play 80 minutes.
“He is getting older and more seasoned, so he’s able to handle that [playing 80 minutes].
“[But] that might change, as you saw the pace of the game is super-fast and we might change that tactic over the next few weeks in order to freshen him up.”
With the Broncos highly publicised interest in Cameron Smith now dead and buried after the Storm skipper inked a new four-year deal to stay in Melbourne, McCullough now looks like the real deal in the No.9.
The newest member of the Broncos spine, five-eighth Josh Hoffman, praised the professionalism shown by McCullough throughout the long and drawn out Cameron Smith saga.
“Andrew pushed all that stuff aside and focussed on himself,” Hoffman said.
“Nothing like that brings him down. He keeps about himself and concentrates on his football and it really showed tonight.
“He steered the boys around and he’s a great player to have in the team.”
Hoffman had a promising game in his second start at five-eighth, displaying quick thinking and vision to roll a grubber towards Daniel Vidot for Brisbane’s second try.
Although still a work in progress, Hoffman recognises that there is still plenty of work ahead as he adjusts to his new position.
“It’s still a learning curve for me. I’m still working on a lot of things,” he said.
“It’s great having Benny Hunt there, he’s got a lot of talk in him and has more experience than I do and having boys like Andrew McCullough helping me out is really good and comforting.”
Speaking from experience, Hoffman also highlighted the importance of having someone such as Barba patrolling Brisbane’s backline.
“You can see he brings that x-factor,” he said. “He’s got a good voice and a lot of talk in him. It’s great to have someone like that behind you at the back.
“The forwards need a lot of talk from the fullback so it’s good to have that type of player behind you.”