Broncos Mid-Season Review
Three months ago Broncos coach Wayne Bennett described the side he inherited from Anthony Griffin as "predictable at being unpredictable" following their disastrous 36-6 opening round flogging at the hands of Souths.
Since then the mastercoach has turned the Broncos into the most consistent side in the competition and their position at the top of the Telstra Premiership ladder reflects this at the midway point of the season.
That unpredictability was evident this time last year when the club struggled to close out matches and perform for the full 80 minutes.
Although Bennett still insists the Broncos are a work in progress, their progression since Round 1 has suddenly brought the feel-good factor back to Red Hill and a deep run into September, and hopefully the first Sunday in October, looks on the cards if they can build on their positive start to the season.
The run home: Timely byes in rounds 14 and 17 mean Brisbane's 31-18 win over Newcastle prior to Origin I was the only occasion this season where they'll need to field a 'Baby Broncos' side.
However, it won't be easy after the Origin period, with six out of their nine remaining games coming against sides currently in the top eight.
Home and away fixtures against the Bulldogs and Storm await the current ladder-leaders along with consecutive trips to Sydney in rounds 24 and 25 to take on the Roosters and Rabbitohs respectively.
Game to remember: Brisbane's 44-point efforts against the Cowboys and Sea Eagles headline the club's most memorable victories so far this season. Their match against the Cowboys was expected to be a tight affair with the past six clashes between the sides at Suncorp Stadium having been decided by six points or less. However, the contest was over by half-time with Broncos leading 32-6 on route to their 44-22 victory. An honourable mention also goes to Ben Hunt after his matching-winning try during Brisbane's 22-18 golden-point win over the Roosters in Round 6.
The one that got away: There aren't many losses to choose from but it's tough to go past the loss to the Dragons at Jubilee Oval in Round 7. Ahead 10-6 following Sam Thaiday's 54th-minute try, the Broncos would eventually crack to lose 12-10 courtesy of prop Mike Cooper's try 12 minutes from full-time and some impregnable Dragons defence.
The Broncos had a number of obstacles they had to deal that night including having their fifth-choice fullback Kodi Nikorima fill in for fourth-choice custodian Justin Hodges, who failed to return for the second half due to a tight hamstring.
MVP: The performance of the team as a whole has far outweighed any individual displays during the opening half of the season although there have been a number of standouts.
After a slow start to the year halfback Ben Hunt has four tries, four line breaks, seven try assists and nine line-break assists, and his combination with Anthony Milford continues to blossom with his 20-year-old halves partner scoring seven tries and making five line breaks and 42 tackle busts.
Milford is Brisbane's equal highest try-scorer alongside winger Lachlan Maranta with Jack Reed and Jordan Kahu not far behind on five tries each.
In the forwards, Josh McGuire earned himself a Queensland Origin jersey on the back of averaging 133 metres and 33 tackles per match with Alex Glenn the other standout averaging 138 metres and 27 tackles out on Brisbane's potent left edge.
Stats that matter: For someone who described Ben Hunt as a "nightmare" to coach during his previous stint at the helm of the Broncos, Wayne Bennett must now be having pleasant dreams about his chief playmaker.
Bennett recently highlighted Hunt's drastically improved kicking game after the 25-year-old had the ball on a string during Brisbane's recent spanking of the Sea Eagles. Hunt has more kicks in play this season than other player in the competition with 182, 37 more than Johnathan Thurston.
However, should Hunt succumb to injury at any stage of the season the Broncos will find themselves short of fifth-tackle options and forced to call upon part-time kickers Milford and Andrew McCullough to share the load.
'Milf' and 'Macca' only have 55 kicks in play between them this year, meaning Hunt kicks the Steeden more than three quarters of the time for the Broncos.
Fantasy stud: Andrew McCullough is the top-scoring player in NRL Fantasy after 13 rounds with 747 points, 15 ahead of Warriors captain Simon Mannering, 26 more than Storm skipper Cameron Smith and 33 points better off than teammate Ben Hunt. Brisbane's future captain has played in all of their 13 matches, averaging 71 minutes, 48 tackles and 79 running metres with three line-break assists and two try assists.
Injury report: The Broncos have had a fortunate run with injuries so far in 2015. Darius Boyd's ruptured left achilles was the main injury concern heading into opening half of the year but Brisbane's prized off-season recruit returned to the playing field more than a month ahead of schedule in Round 9 against Penrith. Props James Gavet (ACL – season) and Mitchell Dodds (knee – two weeks) remain sidelined alongside rookie utility Kodi Nikorima (knee – three weeks).
What they are saying: "We've got a lot of challenges in front of us [because] we have a lot of the top teams to come – Canterbury twice, Roosters, Rabbitohs and the Storm twice. So we're on a bit of a journey at the moment and we'll see where it all takes us… No one is getting too exited or carried away, when we get to the playoffs we have to play all those teams again." – Wayne Bennett.
Predicted finish: It all depends how the Broncos can finish their season with a very tough run of fixtures looming in their final four games. Matches against the Dragons (home), Roosters (away), Rabbitohs (away) and Storm (home) will decided Brisbane's fate although they should definitely seal a top-four finish. We'll take a punt and predict the Broncos to finish in second place.