Broncos 2015 season review
Regardless of the result, the 2015 Grand Final between the Broncos and Cowboys will best be remembered as a battle for the ages.
In a pulsating contest played at an exhilarating speed, the Broncos looked on course to snare a long overdue seventh premiership and deliver a fairytale ending to the career of skipper Justin Hodges.
That was until some desperation from Johnathan Thurston, magic from Michael Morgan and cool finishing by Kyle Feldt turned the Broncos' dreams into the stuff of nightmares.
From that point all it took was a simple mistake and the final chapter of Thurston's book of rugby league immortality was complete.
The cruel manner of Brisbane's 17-16 golden point grand final defeat will take some time to overcome, but the Broncos can be extremely proud of what they've achieved this season.
Expectations were lifted around Red Hill with the return of Wayne Bennett and an improvement on the eighth-placed finished achieved in 2014 under previous coach Anthony Griffin was expected.
However, after their opening round 30-point thrashing against defending premiers South Sydney, even the most ardent of Broncos supporters wouldn't have expected the amount of progress made in 2015.
The Broncos quickly brushed aside their Round 1 loss with five straight wins, which included the scalps of the Cowboys, an away win against the Warriors and a golden point victory over the Roosters.
Brisbane won two of their next four games before embarking upon an eight-match undefeated run through the Origin period that placed them on top of the ladder.
Back-to-back losses against the Sea Eagles and Bulldogs bucked the Broncos' minor premiership charge with the Roosters gaining the ultimate ascendancy in the race for the JJ Giltinan Shield with their 12-10 win over Brisbane in Round 24.
Despite letting first placed slip against the Roosters, the Broncos finally confirmed themselves as genuine premiership contenders when they atoned for the Round 1 defeat by flogging the Rabbitohs 47-12 at Allianz Stadium.
That victory gave the Broncos much needed belief and confidence heading into the business end of the season, while the eight-tries-to-two win also assured a top-two finish courtesy of a superior points difference over the third-placed Cowboys.
Despite a Round 26 loss to the Storm minus influential halfback Ben Hunt, the Broncos accounted for their Queensland rivals in Week One of the finals before sweeping the Roosters aside in Week Three to make their first grand final since 2006.
Where they excelled: Defence wins premierships and for 79 minutes and 59 seconds that notion rang true for the Broncos during their last-gasp grand final loss to the Cowboys.
Outstanding and desperate goal-line defence underpinned Brisbane's season and this was the main catalyst for their success.
The Broncos only conceded 72 tries all season (including finals) with 48 of those leaked inside their final 20 – the lowest total in the competition for tries conceded inside the red zone. They finished the regular season with the third best defensive record behind the Storm and Roosters.
Where they struggled: While their impregnable goal-line defence kept most opposition attacks at bay, there were occasions where Brisbane conceded cheap metres in defence due to a lack of line speed.
This defensive pressure close to the line occasionally took its toll on Brisbane's attack; although the brilliance of Hunt and Milford often saw the Broncos escape their red zone in a blink of an eye.
The only statistic of concern for Brisbane was the 16 games during the season where they had to defend more tackles inside their own 20 than their opposition.
Missing in Action: Off-season recruit Darius Boyd didn't make his return from an Achilles injury until their Round 9 win over the Panthers. However, they didn't miss him too much during the opening two months of the season, recording six wins and two losses.
It was mostly plain sailing on the injury front over the Origin period until Josh McGuire fell to the Suncorp Stadium turf in innocuous circumstances during the club's Round 16 win over the Knights with what turned out to be a season-ending Achilles injury.
Turning Point: You could name a number of turning points during Brisbane's season – Boyd's return from injury, their breakthrough victory against the Storm at AAMI Park in Round 15 or their undefeated run throughout the Origin period.
However when Wayne Bennett says the five days the Broncos spent in Sydney between matches against the Roosters and Rabbitohs was the turning point of their season, it's hard to ignore the words of the master coach.
The Broncos pushed the Roosters all the way during their 12-10 Round-24 defeat at Allianz Stadium, but what truly put them on the map as a genuine premiership threat was their 47-12 flogging of defending premiers South Sydney the following weekend.
Hold Your Head High: Watching Ben Hunt break down in tears after dropping the kick-off in golden point made for difficult viewing during the premiership decider, but let's hope he can put his grand final nightmare behind him and lead Brisbane to a title in the near future.
Hunt saved his worst until last in the decider but if it wasn't for his heroics during the season the Broncos may have not found themselves in the big dance at all.
Forming a lethal duo with halves partner Anthony Milford, Hunt finished the season with 12 tries, 16 try assists, 15 line-break assists and 10 line breaks.
Hunt has made considerable progress as a halfback under Bennett and assistant coaches Kevin Walters and Allan Langer, and there are bigger and better things to come for the 25-year-old.
2016 Crystal Ball: Veterans Justin Hodges and David Stagg have now hung up the boots and take 457 games of NRL experience out of Brisbane's side.
Jordan Kahu will have first crack at the right centre position vacated by Hodges with Dale Copley also likely to come into calculations for a place in an otherwise unchanged backline for season 2016.
Interchange prop Mitchell Dodds leaves for the Super League, although the Broncos will have a handy replacement when Josh McGuire returns to full fitness.
Brisbane will hope the rejuvenated form of Adam Blair and Sam Thaiday continues, with fellow inspirational workhorse Corey Parker leading from the front as always.
Based on their 2015 campaign, a top-two finish would be the ideal outcome in order to press for another shot at grand final glory next season.
Conclusion: Not only did Brisbane defy expectations in 2015, they did so by coupling some desperate and dogged defence with some scintillating attack led by Hunt and Milford.
Understandably the disappointment of their 17-16 golden point defeat in the decider will take some time to overcome, but having Wayne Bennett at the helm will ensure any psychological scars are quickly healed and the focus turns toward going one better in 2016.
SEASON STATISTICS (including finals)
Position: Second, Grand Finalists
Home Record: 11-3
Away Record: 8-5
Longest Winning Streak: 8 matches (Rd 11-20)
Longest Losing Streak: 2 (Rd 21-22)
Players Used: 29
Tries Scored: 111
Tries Conceded: 72