Brisbane Broncos 2014 Season Review
Oh, what might have been... Brisbane's 2014 season will be remembered as a year of missed chances, cruel luck, slow starts, poor finishes, the odd refereeing blunder and the emergence of Ben Hunt.
Limping into the finals with a 12-12 record and by virtue of other results and a superior for-and-against, the Broncos crashed out in Week One at the hands of the Cowboys after having to walk the sudden-death finals tightrope since Round 22.
However Brisbane's season might have been a whole lot different had they been able to find some consistency in their performances.
Drifting in and out of games throughout the opening three months of the season, it took coach Anthony Griffin until Round 12 in the wake of Brisbane's 36-10 win over Manly to declare that he had seen a full 80-minute performance from his side.
The 2014 highlights reel will show some sensational results including that big win over the Sea Eagles and equally impressive thrashings of the Bulldogs and Knights, but it will also feature the five matches where Brisbane threw away match-winning leads heading into the final 10 minutes.
Finishing the season on 28 competitions points, Brisbane surrendered 10 points from winning positions during the season, which almost caused them to miss the finals in consecutive seasons for first time in 25 years.
Off the field the Broncos were in the headlines for unwanted reasons. In May, a salary cap scandal broke out that would only be rectified one week before the finals thanks to a mystery $300,000 repayment.
In July, Anthony Griffin was told that his services would not be required beyond 2014, with former coach Wayne Bennett returning to Red Hill on a three-year deal starting in 2015.
However, perhaps the story of Brisbane's season belongs to the emergence of halfback Ben Hunt. After five seasons playing as an interchange utility, Hunt became Brisbane's undisputed playmaker during 2014 and is without a doubt their great beacon of hope heading into 2015.
Where They Excelled
Statistically, the Broncos had a better season than their eighth-place finish suggests. They ranked fifth for points scored with 549 and ranked equal seventh alongside the Storm for the least amount of points conceded (488).
Their for-and-against ledger was the fifth-highest in the NRL on +93, while they also ranked fifth for tries scored with 103 (including finals) at an average of just over four per game.
They were third best in the comp for all-run metres, averaging a distance of 1,470 metres per game and managed to top the NRL in try-saves with 63.
Where They Struggled
It's no secret that the Broncos struggled to close out games when in a match-winning position. Brisbane let leads slip in five occasions during the season when in front heading into the final 10 minutes:
• Round 3 v Roosters at Suncorp Stadium – Locked up at 12-all at half-time, the Broncos led 26-18 heading into the final five minutes only to be steamrolled by the Roosters who scored two tries in the final four minutes;
• Round 5 v Eels at Suncorp Stadium – Leading 18-16 just shy of the 70th-minute mark, the Broncos gave up another match-winning lead courtesy of a try to Eels' hooker Nathan Peats. Halfback Chris Sandow sealed the 25-18 result minutes later by booting a penalty and field goal;
• Round 6 v Titans at Cbus Super Stadium – Holding onto a slender 8-6 lead with seven minutes to go, Ben Barba lets a high ball bounce allowing Aidan Sezer to pounce and grab the match-winner;
• Round 8 v Rabbitohs at Suncorp Stadium – A Jack Reed try in the 68th minute gave the Broncos a 26-22 lead before a late try and penalty goal saw the Bunnies win 28-26.
• Round 16 v Sharks at Suncorp Stadium – Perhaps the turning point of Brisbane's season. The Broncos blew a 22-0 lead early in the second half only to be pipped 24-22 by the lowly Sharks in the 74th minute.
Another area where the Broncos struggled was their slow starts to matches. Out of their 25 games this season, Brisbane only led at the 20-minute mark on nine occasions.
Missing In Action
Although Brisbane were never short on troops – their 24 total players used was the fewest in the NRL – they had to cope with injuries to four of their international reps with Justin Hodges, Sam Thaiday, Corey Parker and Josh Hoffman all missing three or more weeks during the season.
Hodges would miss the opening four rounds of the season as he recovered from an Achilles injury while Thaiday injured his calf in Round 6 against the Titans, forcing him out of the mid-year Test, State of Origin I and five club games. Parker was then ruled out of Origin II with a fractured eye socket sustained against the Raiders in Round 13, although he would only miss two matches for Brisbane due to their favourable bye schedule during the Origin period.
An ankle injury sustained by Josh Hoffman against the Rabbitohs in Round 23 forced Hodges to reprise his role at fullback, something he hadn't done since the beginning of 2007, while a dislocated shoulder to Jack Reed ended his season in Round 26.
This season will also mark the end of the career of Jharal Yow Yeh who despite returning to play in two trial games was eventually forced to retire in March after failing to fully recover from an horrific ankle injury suffered two years earlier.
The Round 16 loss at home to the Sharks would prove to be a crucial juncture in Brisbane's season.
Sitting in sixth spot heading into the match, a win over the Sharks and the bye they were due to receive the following weekend could have seen the Broncos sitting comfortably in fifth spot after Round 17.
Leading 16-0 at half-time, a try to David Hala in the 42nd minute handed the Broncos a 22-0 lead.
The Broncos looked headed for a cricket score, but took their foot off the gas allowing the struggling Sharks to score four unanswered (and converted) tries to stun the hosts by two points.
Following that match the Broncos began to slip, winning only one of their next four games to fall down to 10th on the ladder.
In Round 12, the Broncos jumped out to a 20-0 lead after 27 minutes against the Sea Eagles and from that point they never looked back, running away with 36-10 victory in their only Sunday afternoon game of the season.
Brisbane's other standout games came in the latter stages of their season in sudden-death encounters against the Bulldogs in Round 22 and Knights in Round 24.
Despite conceding the first try against the 'Dogs, the Broncos piled on four unanswered tries to head into the sheds leading 20-6. A try early in the second half to Canterbury narrowed the score to 20-10, but that was as close as the visitors would come as the Broncos scored a further three tries in the second half to seal a 41-10 victory.
Facing another do-or-die clash two weeks later against an improving Knights side, the Broncos had some nervy moments when Newcastle scored just after the break, but six tries in 23 minutes – including a 11-minute Ben Barba hat trick – ensured the Broncos would run away with a comfortable 48-6 victory.
After winning three out of their first four games, the Broncos hosted 2013 wooden spooners Parramatta and slumped to a 25-18 loss. Slow out of the blocks in the first half, the Broncos crossed for their opening try on the stroke of half-time to trail 10-6 at the break.
Brisbane managed to draw level with the Eels in the 51st minute, but a combination of poor ball handling (72 per cent set completion), 42 missed tackles and 13 errors handed the Chris Sandow and Jarryd Hayne-inspired Eels to an unlikely victory.
Hold Your Head High
Ben Hunt was hands-down Brisbane's best player in 2014 and when you look at his stats it's pretty obvious as to why.
The 24-year-old played in all 25 games for a return of 13 tries, 21 goals, 20 line breaks, 19 try assists and 19 line-break assists.
His outstanding form earned him a call-up to the Maroons' squad for Origin II as injury cover to Daly Cherry-Evans and also saw him picked for the Kangaroos' train-on squad for the end of season Four Nations tournament.
An honourable mention must also go to Dale Copley who, after sitting out the entire 2013 season due to a knee injury suffered in pre-season, finished as the Broncos leading try-scorer with 16 tries from 25 games.
Conclusion: The Broncos had their fair share of bad luck throughout the season, but most of that was down to a lack of consistency and execution. The return of master coach Wayne Bennett is an obvious boost and if he can get the best out of Ben Barba and new arrival Anthony Milford, while at the same time furthering nurturing the development of Hunt and Andrew McCullough, the Broncos will have one of the most formidable 'spines' in the comp.
2015 Comings and Goings:
Gains: Anthony Milford (Raiders), Greg Eden (Hull KR), Mitch Garbutt (Storm).
Losses: Jake Granville (Cowboys), Jharal Yow Yeh (retired).
SEASON STATISTICS (Regular Season)
Home Record: 7 wins, 5 losses (equal 4th)
Away Record: 5 wins, 7 losses (equal 4th)
Longest Winning Streak: 4 (Rounds 10-13)
Longest Losing Streak: 3 (Rounds 15-18)
Players Used: 24
Tries Scored (after 26 rounds): 99 (5th)
Tries Conceded (after 26 rounds): 78 (9th)