Broncos' mid-season review
A fourth win in succession on Monday night in Canberra, giving them their best progressive away record since 2006, has Anthony Griffin's men well within reach of a top-four finish.
Ladder position: 6th.
Overview: The Broncos have endured mixed results heading beyond the halfway point of 2014. Seemingly written off before the season started due to two heavy trial losses against the Cowboys and Warriors, a runner-up finish at the Auckland Nines provided one positive for the Broncos to take into their Round 1 opener against the Bulldogs.
After three wins from their opening four games, including an impressive 36-20 away win over the Dragons in Wollongong, the Broncos slipped up against the Eels in Round 5. Despite another eye-catching win on the road against the Knights in Round 7, Brisbane worryingly dropped four out of five matches between Rounds 5 to 9.
With arguably their worst performance of the year to date coming against the Cowboys in their 27-14 Round 9 loss in Townsville, the Broncos bounced back to record four straight victories in conjunction with the beginning of the Origin period – a time of the season where they notoriously struggle.
Over the next four weeks the Broncos will receive two byes and play the Warriors (away) and the Sharks at home – two teams who are currently outside the top eight. If they can continue their new-found momentum and avoid injury to key personnel over the remainder of the Origin period, a top-four finish is certainly within their grasp.
Positives: There's no doubt that the progression of halfback Ben Hunt has been the Broncos' No.1 highlight so far. In addition to Hunt's remarkable rise, the real reason why Brisbane has exceeded expectations is the strength of their unbreakable spine that consists of Hunt, Ben Barba, Josh Hoffman and Andrew McCullough.
This quartet has played together in every game for the Broncos this year except for when Hoffman missed the 28-26 Round 8 loss to the Rabbitohs due to injury. Because they are not affected by Origin commitments (although this could change depending on the Maroons' deepening injury crisis), the Broncos' playmaking fluidity has remained untouched, allowing the contrasting styles of all four members of the spine to continually develop their unique on-field characteristics.
So far in 2014, the Broncos spine has contributed 12 out of the 48 tries Brisbane has scored (25 per cent), while all four have also combined for a total of 19 try assists. Hunt's personal contribution is 48 points (seven tries, 10 goals) and if you consider his nine try assists, the Broncos' chief playmaker has had a hand in 84 of Brisbane's 268 points this season, 31 per cent of their total points scored over 12 Rounds.
Negatives: There are three main negatives. The first has been their inability to perform for the full 80 minutes; this weakness had significant bearing in the close losses against the Roosters, Titans and Rabbitohs – where they lost all three games by four points or less.
The second negative has been the indifferent form of big-money recruit Martin Kennedy, with the former Roosters prop struggling since his arrival at Red Hill. He has been sent back to the Ipswich Jets in recent weeks in order to find some form as he battles for a bench spot with the less fashionable names of Jarrod Wallace, Todd Lowrie and Corey Oates.
The third is another player that has yet to live up to expectation – Ben Barba. The 2012 Dally M Medal winner has been a shadow of his former self after moving to Brisbane. After 12 matches this season, Barba has made just two line breaks and scored two tries - with one each achieved in the win over Canberra. Also the normally secure hands of Barba have made 20 errors, including a game-changing blunder against the Titans in Round 6. If there are some positives to take out of a series of negatives for Barba, it's the 14 try saves he has made this season and the fact that he actually hasn't hit his peak form in the Broncos jersey yet.
Biggest Moment: It took them almost three months, but the Broncos were finally able to produce a full 80-minute performance against bogy side Manly in Round 12 when they clipped the Sea Eagles' wings with a commanding 36-10 victory underneath the sunshine at Suncorp Stadium.
NRL.com Prediction: A month of footy between Round 20 and 23 will determine whether the Broncos enter the finals flying high or fighting for the hotly contested bottom half of the top eight. Brisbane host the Storm in Round 20, travel to Brookvale to face the Sea Eagles in Round 21, return home to play the Bulldogs and then head back to Sydney to play the Rabbitohs in the Thursday night opener to Round 23. How they fare against those four powerhouses will determine their fate. Having consulted the ladder predictor we'll take a punt and suggest they'll finish 5th or 6th.