Broncos 2017 season review
The Brisbane Broncos' 11-year premiership drought will extend into another season, but their fans can have hope for the future after a year in which the club performed above expectations.
A premiership victory may have eluded coach Wayne Bennett, but he knows the team that ended their season – the Melbourne Storm – are going to go down as one of the most dominant NRL sides in history.
With Cooper Cronk departing the Storm and Billy Slater yet to decide on his future, there is an opening for the Broncos in the coming years to bridge the gap, but some of their star players must improve.
The pressure will be on Anthony Milford in 2018 to live up to his price tag after an up-and-down season, while young forwards Tevita Pangai Junior, Joe Ofahengaue and George Fai will be looking to continue in their development.
A man like Bennett will always be judged on premierships, but it would be unfair to call Brisbane's 2017 season a failure.
Injuries hurt the Broncos in key positions and this instability would have derailed a lot of sides, but not Brisbane, who showed plenty of heart to make it to the preliminary finals.
Where they excelled: For a relatively small team, the Broncos did well to make the metres they did. Brisbane finished the year with the most run metres in the competition and a lot of the credit for that can go to centres Tautau Moga and James Roberts. Both averaged over 120 metres per game, with Roberts's elusiveness and amazing speed helping him break 107 tackles – the eighth highest across the competition. Credit must go to lock Josh McGuire for leading the pack for the second year in a row, running for nearly 800 more than any other forward. In fact, the only player to run for more metres than McGuire at the Broncos was Moga, with the departing centre's 3910 run metres the sixth highest across the NRL in 2017.
Where they struggled: Brisbane had a slow start to the year and it cost them in the long run, missing out on a top-two finish by just one victory. After five rounds the Broncos sat ninth with two wins and three losses, with all of those defeats coming by three points or less. Their 10-7 loss to the struggling Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs in Round 5 came as a shock to just about everyone except the Bulldogs faithful, and it will be one Brisbane look back on as a missed opportunity. It was always going to be tough to start well in 2017 with Brisbane facing 2016's top four in the first four rounds, and that imposing challenge proved to be a defining period of their season.
Missing in action: Injuries are unavoidable and it was unfortunate for Brisbane that key players went down during important stages of the season. The Broncos lost captain Darius Boyd for majority of the finals series, with his return in the preliminary final a move that backfired with the inspirational skipper failing to play out the match. Brisbane also lost Korbin Sims to a season-ending arm fracture in Round 25, while hooker Andrew McCullough missed the last eight games with a serious knee injury. Throw in stints on the sideline for Ben Hunt, Jordan Kahu, Anthony Milford and Corey Oates and it is easy to see why the Broncos may have felt like 2017 was never going to be their year.
Turning point: Many believe hooker Andrew McCullough is Brisbane's most valuable player so when he went down in Round 21 it put a significant dint in the Broncos' premiership aspirations. The victim of friendly fire, McCullough injured both his ACL and MCL when teammate Adam Blair collided with him late in Brisbane's loss to the Parramatta Eels. McCullough averaged almost 50 tackles a game in 2017 and the Broncos missed that defensive starch at the back-end of their season. To make matters worse, the loss of McCullough meant first-choice halfback Ben Hunt had to move to hooker, with utility Kodi Nikorima shifting to No.7 to partner Anthony Milford in the halves. As hard as he tried, Nikorima could not replicate the class of Hunt on a regular basis, with Bennett at times using veteran Benji Marshall at halfback in a desperate bid to try and spark some creativity in attack. It often did not work, with Brisbane's 30-0 preliminary final loss to the Melbourne Storm an accurate depiction of the Broncos' struggles in attack with a makeshift spine that could not match it with the best.
Hold your head high: Josh McGuire. There is life at the Broncos without Corey Parker and a lot of that is to do with McGuire's stellar transition to lock. McGuire is a serious contender for Dally M Lock of the Year and an Australian Kangaroos World Cup jersey after becoming Brisbane's most reliable forward. McGuire consistently topped the Broncos for run metres, as he became the enforcer so many clubs would love to have on their side.
2018 crystal ball: With Ben Hunt, Tautau Moga, Benji Marshall, Jai Arrow, Herman Ese'ese and possibly Adam Blair leaving the club at season's end, it becomes hard to predict what lies in store in 2018. It will be a new-look Broncos side and Wayne Bennett will have plenty of tough decisions to make. The inclusion of Jack Bird from the Cronulla Sharks is a huge signing and he will be sure to have a big workload in 2018. Question marks remain around the halves pairing of Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima, but if fullback Darius Boyd and hooker Andrew McCullough can make an impact then there is enough talent there for a top-four finish.
Conclusion: Many 'experts' wrote the Broncos off at the start of the year, with a top-eight finish looking like a stretch if you had believed everything being said in the papers. The Broncos defied those expectations, finishing third to be a serious premiership contender – falling one game short of a grand final appearance. In the end it was injuries that cruelled any chance of a premiership. Not many teams can win a competition without their hooker and starting prop, and the Broncos are no different.
Home Record: 10-3
Away Record: 7-7
Longest Winning Streak: Six Games (Rd 6-11)
Longest Losing Streak: Two Games (Rd 2-3, Rd 12-13)
Players Used: 26
Tries Scored: 109
Tries Conceded: 85