Brisbane Broncos season preview
Their performance against Wigan in the World Club Series showed us what we already knew about the defence of the Broncos but fans have every right to be even more pumped up for the season ahead after an exhilarating attacking display.
New recruit James Roberts may have been fairly quiet but the inclusions of Kodi Nikorima and Greg Eden brought extra energy along with the calming head of Darius Boyd and electricity of five-eighth Anthony Milford.
The forwards have also got in on the act, promising to use the ball more and test defences that will be stretched by the reduction in interchanges from 10 to eight per game.
They are perfectly positioned to go one better than last year's runner-up finish; perhaps only the rugby league gods can get in their way of a seventh first grade title.
Gains and losses
Gains: James Roberts (Gold Coast Titans), Carlin Anderson (Ipswich Jets), Caleb Timu (Mormon mission), Herman Ese'ese (Bulldogs), Salesi Funaki (Wests Tigers), Sam Scarlett (Penrith Panthers), Marion Seve (Wests Tigers)
Losses: Justin Hodges (retirement), Dale Copley (Sydney Roosters), Todd Lowrie (retirement), Ashley Taylor (Gold Coast Titans), Mitch Garbutt (Leeds Rhinos), Matt Parcell (Manly Sea Eagles), Mitchell Dodds (Warrington), Jayden Nikorima (Roosters), David Stagg (retirement), Jordan Drew (Cronulla Sharks), Daniel Vidot (Salford)
What we know
A fit roster that should revel in the changes to the interchange rules and introduction of the shot clock, the Broncos will start 2016 as the Telstra Premiership favourites and deservedly so. The loss of Justin Hodges has been offset by the arrival of James Roberts, the halves pairing of Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford have a far greater understanding of each other's games and Darius Boyd will be at the back from the get-go. Injuries to Jack Reed and Lachlan Maranta will open the door for some new faces to start in the outside backs which will only serve to strengthen their depth as the season progresses. They've also got a good coach.
Early indicators are good but we are unlikely to know just how James Roberts will fit into the Broncos' way of playing football until a month or so into the season. Defensively he can be suspect which will undoubtedly have been an area Bennett has addressed since he joined the club in early December. The captain is yet to be announced but with such a good core group of leaders at the club Bennett could name any one of six candidates and be confident that they would do the job well.
An excellent group of under-20s players is now pushing into the top grade and keeping the senior Broncos on their toes. 25-year-old Englishman Greg Eden is in line to make his NRL debut in Round 1 and powerful back-rower Caleb Timu is back at Brisbane after completing his two-year Mormon mission. During the Origin period look for workhorse back-rower Jai Arrow to make his NRL debut and to impress when he does so.
The Broncos have undoubtedly lost more senior players in the off-season than they have been able to entice and are placing their faith in the crop of youngsters who have graduated from the under-20s. The top 17 looks very settled barring injuries but it will be important that the likes of Francis Molo, Aaron Whitchurch, Joe Boyce and Tom Opacic excel in the Intrust Super Cup and take their chances when they arrive.
He doesn't come cheap but Corey Parker ($559,000) comes with an iron-clad guarantee of tackles, hit-ups, offloads and goals that makes him an NRL Fantasy darling. Kodi Nikorima's likely to have more of an influence in 2016 which makes his $135,000 price tag a bargain buy and a greater focus on developing his kicking game makes tackling-machine Andrew McCullough ($499,000) one of the best performed hookers. At $130,000 Greg Eden is one of the best buys of players destined to be starting in Round 1 after his exciting display against Wigan.
Expect it to be as entertaining as always as master coach Wayne Bennett begins what could be his penultimate season as a head coach. The only pressure will come from within as he endeavours to take largely the same squad one step further than their runner-up finish last season which was considered an over-achievement by many.
A top four finish appears as much as a certainty as there can be in this crazy modern world and whether they can make up the 10-second difference that separated heartbreak from disaster last season will again be in the lap of the rugby league gods. Ben Hunt will finish top three in Dally M voting, Corey Parker will sign on for one more season and Darius Boyd will produce the most complete season of his career. Future looks very rosy in Brisbane's fortune-telling.