Broncos 2016 season review
After falling just short of grand final glory in 2015, 2016 was always going to be about going one better for the Broncos.
The odds-on favourite to start the year, Brisbane appeared to be the team to beat after 10 rounds – sitting pretty at the top of the table.
But injury and suspension created an outside back shortage at Red Hill, and when this was accompanied by a brutal State of Origin period, the Broncos began to tumble down the ladder.
Halves Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford struggled to stand up and take control in this middle part of the season, and the loss of hooker Andrew McCullough to two separate injuries only placed more pressure on the two.
A late run into the finals gave the side some confidence, but it was a premiership charge left too late as Brisbane missed the top four and inevitably exited the competition.
But the Broncos have plenty of positives to take out of the year, and their fans have now seen a glimpse of the future with the club having six NRL debutants on show this year.
It's a case of out with the old and in with the new in Brisbane, with captain Corey Parker calling time on his illustrious career. It wasn't the fairy-tale finish that Parker would have liked, but he can hold his head high after a superb career that began in 2001.
England international Jack Reed's career also came to an end, and the Broncos missed the bulky centre dearly. Reed missed over half the season with a career-ending shoulder injury and his exploits in defence were always going to be hard to replace. Although rookie Tom Opacic did his best, he was ultimately found out in Brisbane's 26-20 semi-final loss to the Cowboys.
Where they excelled: The Broncos are typically known as a well-oiled defensive machine, but in 2016 it was all about attack. Brisbane finished the season with 106 tries scored, the second most in the competition. Hunt set up 21 of these, with the 26-year-old having the most success when he ran the ball. Winger Corey Oates finished as leading try-scorer with 18 tries for the season, scoring some freakish four-pointers that would look good on any highlight reel. Oates's 85m effort on Friday night was almost enough to get his side the win over North Queensland.
Where they struggled: It's the story of Brisbane since they entered the competition – the State of Origin slump. The Broncos had one of their worst Origin slumps this year, losing seven from nine between Round 11 and Round 21. A 48-6 smashing at the hands of the Melbourne Storm was the low point, with that loss being Brisbane's worst-ever defeat at Suncorp Stadium. A 40-14 loss to the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs the week before compounded the result, with the Broncos' for-and-against taking a major hit that ultimately prevented them from making the top four.
Missing in action: McCullough and Reed were two one of many to suffer an injury or suspension that had disastrous effects on the make-up of Brisbane's team sheet. New Zealand international Jordan Kahu missed six games with a pectoral injury, while wingers Lachlan Maranta and Greg Eden only made sporadic appearances in a Broncos jersey because of ongoing injury concerns. Corey Oates failed to finish a match on four occasions, leaving Brisbane one short on the bench, with 174cm utility Kodi Nikorima at one stage forced to replace Oates on the wing. That was against the Storm, a match where Nikorima's season ended after not once, but twice dislocating his shoulder. Australian international Matt Gillett had a season plagued with injury, with a troublesome shoulder bothering the 28-year-old throughout 2016. It meant that the Broncos were down three international forwards when they faced the Roosters, with Josh McGuire and Sam Thaiday also missing through suspension. This is just scraping the surface of a year where injury cruelled any chances Brisbane had of putting together a successful premiership charge.
Turning point: A wet and windy night at WIN Stadium proved to ultimately turn the Broncos' season around. After losing four of their last five, Brisbane's Round 22 clash against the Dragons was their last chance. A loss that night would have seen the Broncos' top eight hopes in tatters. They came away with an ugly 12-8 win that impressed few, but it was the win the club needed. The players described it as a tough and gritty win that would give them confidence. That it did. Brisbane then went on to win six in a row before Friday night's devastating season-ending loss.
Hold your head high: Josh McGuire. The 26-year-old had his best season to date for the Broncos and he was rewarded for it with an Australian Kangaroos jersey. McGuire also played all three matches of this year's State of Origin series, stamping himself as the Maroons' newest enforcer. He averaged 142m per game and 33 tackles for the year, overtaking retiring captain Parker as Brisbane's most damaging forward. He will need to go to another level in 2017 without Parker in the side, but after an outstanding season the Broncos have full confidence that their workhorse prop will do just that.
2017 crystal ball: Where to now for Brisbane? The Broncos will be wondering where it all went wrong after such a successful start to the season. Making the semi-finals is an achievement in itself, but for Brisbane it will be a failure after making the grand final in 2015. Losing Parker (retired), Reed (retired) and Wallace (Titans) will hurt, but the addition of David Mead will add some much-needed depth to the Broncos' backline. Their spine is good enough to get them to the top four next year, but the biggest test will be keeping up with a new breed of stars at clubs such as the Penrith Panthers and Canberra Raiders.
Conclusion: Brisbane will be rueing a number of chances wasted. Missing the top four was a critical error and three one-point losses throughout the year ultimately cost them a chance at putting together a dangerous premiership charge. 2016 will be remembered as one with so much potential that just didn't live up to the hype. It most certainly was a season of missed opportunities.
Position: 5th (Eliminated in Finals Week 2)
Home Record: 9-3
Away Record: 6-6
Longest Winning Streak: 6 (Round 21- Finals Week 1)
Longest Losing Streak: 3 (Round 11-13)
Players Used: 26
Tries Scored: 106
Tries Conceded: 83