5 burning questions: Broncos
With a talented squad can master coach Wayne Bennett return the Broncos to the glory days of their past? These five questions may provide the answer.
1. Does Wayne Bennett still possess the magical touch?
The return of Wayne Bennett to Red Hill wasn't universally lauded upon the announcement but there was the sense in his first sighting in Broncos attire since 2008 that something felt incredibly right about it. There was a muted chuckle when Bennett stated in his final game as Knights coach that piloting the club through an emotion-charged season was among his greatest coaching feats but there is no question Newcastle under-performed in the Bennett reign. He took them to within one win of the Grand Final in 2013 but was unable to fully tap into what made the Knights players tick until late in the season. He inherits a roster laden with talent and potential and if the master coach is still at the top of his game the Broncos should figure prominently come September.
2. Who will wear the No.1 jersey and which fullbacks will be left on the outer?
Ben Barba, Josh Hoffman, Justin Hodges, Anthony Milford and – potentially – Darius Boyd; any club would be happy to have either man as their custodian but Bennett gets to pick who he believes to be the best of the bunch. He made it clear in his first press conference that Boyd was his preferred option but if recent reports are accurate the equal greatest try-scorer in Origin history is now hinting at staying in Newcastle. Milford appears certain to partner Ben Hunt in the halves, Josh Hoffman has been given permission to negotiate with other clubs and Barba will need to put in the best pre-season of his career to win Bennett's affections. It's an embarrassment of riches but if Boyd stays put it could become something of a headache instead.
3. In the game of captaincy musical chairs, who will Wayne ask to sit down in the hot seat?
In his final year as Broncos coach Antony Griffin broke with 25 years of tradition and appointed co-captains in Corey Parker and Justin Hodges; Bennett's first order of business as Broncos boss was to emphatically state that one man and one man only would wear the captain's armband in 2015. Parker and Hodges both appeared to do an admirable job this season and would be the logical front-runners but don't be surprised if Bennett uses one of his trademark pre-season torture sessions to decide on the best leader for his team in 2015.
4. Can the halves combination of Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford deliver a seventh Broncos premiership?
Although Hunt was a late arrival in Papua New Guinea to represent the Prime Minister's XIII due to his virtual clean sweep at the Broncos presentation night, spending 80 minutes and a couple of days alongside Milford will have helped to have broken the ice ahead of their new combination in Brisbane. Both have been given a glimpse inside the Maroons' inner sanctum this year and if they can find the right balance between Hunt's control and Milford's flair there will be attacking options on both sides of Brisbane's attack. If they find their groove and get confident early, there's no telling what they could deliver as a pairing.
5. Is there sufficient size to overpower the likes of the Rabbitohs, Bulldogs and Roosters?
They missed out on Russell Packer and let Ben Hannant walk away and until the signing of James Gavet from the Wests Tigers the Broncos were looking a little skinny up front. Martin Kennedy failed to nail down a permanent spot in his first year at the club while David Hala spent the majority of the season with Redcliffe in the Intrust Super Cup. Josh McGuire has established himself as a representative-quality front-rower but Jarrod Wallace still has a way to go to be considered a genuine first-grader. There are some exciting prospects in Francis Molo and Joe Ofahengaue coming up from the under-20s but Brisbane will need at least one big man to have a breakout year if they are to win the all-important battle in the middle.