Broncos' loss highlights importance of Hunt
It was always going to be a struggle without their chief playmaker but Wayne Bennett was pleased with how his side performed against the Storm in the absence of Ben Hunt on Thursday night.
Although ending the regular season with a 15-8 loss wasn't ideal, Bennett suspected his side would struggle from the moment rookie halfback Ashley Taylor came off the field with a sickening finger injury just shy of the half-hour mark.
Brisbane's decision to rest Hunt with a minor cork of the thigh handed the Titans-bound Taylor his NRL debut, but the 20-year-old lasted only 29 minutes before suffering a suspected compound fracture and dislocated finger while attempting to tackle Storm back-rower Tohu Harris.
Despite his opening kick coming within inches of going out on the full, Taylor showed glimpses of what the Titans can expect in 2016 during his brief stint at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night.
While not disappointed with the loss, Bennett highlighted Hunt's importance after the halfback missed his first game for the club since Round 2, 2013.
"Obviously we missed Ben Hunt. He's played two years without missing a game for the club in that position – a vital position," Bennett said.
"I'm still not disappointed in what we did and the way the boys tried without him, I thought they were tremendous and we missed him, but we expected that."
Hunt had played 55 consecutive games in the No.7 prior to the Storm clash since making the position his own at the back end of 2013.
Brisbane had the luxury of replacing Taylor with former under-20s half Kodi Nikorima, but having a pivotal figure such as Hunt missing form their line-up meant the Broncos lacked the direction and leadership they'd become accustomed to according to Bennett.
"I thought [Taylor] was going good for us and that [injury] didn't help our situation with organisation with him gone," he said.
"I thought our kicking game really struggled without any recognised kickers. But at the end of the day they didn't drop their bundle and they kept at it.
"The [forwards] were looking for a bit of direction from one another and they thought they could all ball-play because there wasn't a dominant player there.
"Poor old Andrew [McCullough] was getting too many calls coming in but that what happens when a player like Ben is not in the team and that's why [halfbacks] are so valuable to us.
"We didn't have a two or three game lead-in to get that position right we just had 24 hours – [Wednesday] we made that decision he wasn't going to play."
Brisbane's fifth-play options struggled without a recognised kicker as Anthony Milford (seven kicks), Taylor (five), Nikorima (five) and Darius Boyd, Matt Gillett and McCullough (one each) all took turns in booting the Steeden.
Several of Milford's kicks were poor and resulted in seven-tackle sets to the Storm with one of those sets eventually leading to their opening try through Kurt Mann.
Prior to Round 26 Hunt had made 319 kicks in play for Brisbane – the most in the NRL and 71 kicks more than North Queensland's Johnathan Thurston.
Out of the 422 kicks Hunt, Milford and McCullough have produced this season, Hunt has made 76 percent of those to further emphasis his importance.
The Broncos will have Hunt back on deck for next weekend's qualifying final against the Cowboys, while they'll also welcome back Alex Glenn, who missed the Storm match because of suspension.
Bennett remained upbeat despite the loss and was pleased with how his side has performed throughout the season to finish in second place after running eighth in 2014 under former coach Anthony Griffin.
"I'm really pleased with what they've done and where they've finished. Nothing can take the number two spot from them and that's quite an achievement in itself," he said.
"We'll enjoy the night knowing we've had a tremendous home and away season and look forward to the next game we play which will be the Cowboys."