The next three rounds are set to define the Brisbane Broncos' season and go a long way to determining whether they play finals footy or not.
The ladder at the moment is intriguing, to say the least, after 13 rounds. The Broncos are in ninth on 12 points – the same points tally as the eighth-placed Parramatta, Wests Tigers, North Queensland and St George Illawarra.
I feel like this year 26 points should be enough to get a side into eighth so Brisbane will need to win seven of their remaining 12 games.
That is why the next three matches, which are away from home against the Eels, Knights and Sharks, will set them up one way or the other.
You would think they'd be happy with two wins from those, but that won’t be easy, particularly the trip to Shark Park on July 7, round 16, when they will be without their Origin players.
The Origin and post-Origin period has always been tough for the Broncos. Wayne Bennett used to come into his own at this time of the year and keep everyone upbeat with what he did around the training paddock and in the sheds.
This will be a tough period for coach Anthony Seibold to try to keep the players’ heads in the right place.
Eels v Broncos - Round 14
That is why these three games will be so vital. The Broncos won’t want to be in a position where they have to factor in winning six or seven games from their last nine to make the semis. That's too much pressure for any team.
But with their injuries and the young players they have in the squad, I fear they will struggle.
The Broncos' depth is being tested this year after Kodi Nikorima and James Roberts were both released in the past six weeks. Add the pre-season exits of Josh McGuire and Jordan Kahu and that is a lot of experience gone.
Jack Bird is out for the season and now the Broncos are without Tom Dearden, Joe Ofahengaue and Alex Glenn for the Eels game as well. Dearden will be gone for a month or longer.
The Broncos had an outstanding victory over the Roosters and then a real tough win against the Warriors before losing to the Gold Coast last week. In that loss to the Titans they were in and out of the game, as they have been for much of the season. They need to fix that pretty quickly, which is why the performances of Tevita Pangai Jnr and Anthony Milford will be critical in the coming weeks.
If Matt Lodge isn't selected for NSW in Origin you know he is going to stand up each week but the Broncos need more out of Tevita on a regularly basis. He has a good opportunity here to show his wares as a true Broncos forward leader.
Seibold confident of retaining Pangai Jr
When I played we had a lot of hard working forwards. Terry Matterson was unique but then we had Alan Cann, Andrew Gee, Mark Hohn and guys that gave the same tremendous effort every week.
It would be good for the current forwards to talk to those guys. They were called the ‘pop gun pack’ because they weren’t that big but they always gave 100 per cent. They didn’t drop in and out of games.
I am a big fan of Tevita, we just don’t see his best consistently enough.
Then it's up to Milford to step up in the run home, even if the team is not playing to its best. In my day, we could be struggling across the park and Allan Langer would pull something out of his hat and win games himself. Milford can do it too, he just needs to back himself more, play with confidence and dominate.
To be successful in this period of the season it is all about your mindset, whether you are playing Origin or not. The young forwards have a good attitude but they are just starting their careers and they won’t be at their best each week.
They need to find it now. Bennett always said you need momentum going into a finals series and that is what Seibold will be looking for. It all starts against the Eels at Parramatta on Saturday night. A win there will be a real boost for what will be a testing trifecta of away games for the Broncos before the post-Origin run to the finals.