The Brisbane Broncos have a massive flaw in the balance of their player roster that they must rectify in the months ahead to become a premiership force.
After the humiliating 58-0 loss to the Eels in Sunday’s elimination final it is also a flaw that will become an immediate focus for the club’s retention and recruitment committee.
In successful teams, think the Roosters and Storm for a start, the highest-paid players are also those that deliver the most on the field consistently and in the big games.
The Roosters know they can depend on James Tedesco and Cooper Cronk to set the benchmark, as the Storm do with Cameron Smith and Cameron Munster.
At the Broncos the best performers this year have been Payne Haas, David Fifita and Kotoni Staggs. None of them are in the top six on the club's pay scale and none of them play in the crucial spine positions.
Brisbane’s highest-paid players include Anthony Milford, Darius Boyd, Andrew McCullough and Matt Gillett. All four have had underwhelming seasons in varying degrees but take up a large chunk of the cap. That three of that quartet are in the spine creates a dilemma for Brisbane now and into the future.
It is a problem the Broncos hierarchy know must be solved and fixing it will require several tough calls. Milford, Boyd and McCullough are contracted until the end of 2020 and have player options for 2021.
Match Highlights: Eels v Broncos
Brisbane’s spine has lacked cohesion, direction and strike for the majority of the season. Against the Eels it was dysfunctional. The Broncos will need to persist with the above-mentioned trio or encourage them to find new clubs, before their deals expire.
If the former option is taken, there is a fear Brisbane will only get more of the same into the immediate future.
The Broncos have young halves Cory Paix and Tom Dearden on their books long-term but those two rookies need to be learning off a Cronk or a Munster, not leading the club on their own.
Brisbane’s powerbrokers may not say it publicly but they recognise that at least two proven big-game performers at hooker, in the halves or at fullback will be needed to fix the mess they are in.
Those are the positions they need to spend big money on but their cap is already stretched to the limit. Upgrades and new deals for Fifita and Staggs, both off contract at the end of 2020, will not come cheap.
The Broncos were torn apart by Mitchell Moses on Sunday, a natural halfback who was in their sights a few years ago. For whatever reason, they failed to go hard for Moses when he was last off contract just as the Anthony Griffin-coached Broncos failed to go hard at Johnathan Thurston when he met the club as a free agent.
Broncos CEO Paul White, in a message to members and supporters, said on Monday there was "a lot of hurt" within the club at the side’s loss to the Eels and acknowledged fans would be feeling the same way.
White: We are all hurting
He promised there would be a review and the club would come back stronger in 2020.
It was telling that, when asked what happens next, White said after the review the club would be in a position "to make some decisions about not only next year but beyond next year".
You can take it as a given that the make-up of the roster, and what to do about the club’s under performing big names, will be on the agenda.
To secure proven big-name halves and match-winners in the short term will not be easy but the Broncos have all the resources at their disposal to achieve that mission.
The successful clubs, like the Roosters, make it happen. They went and secured Cronk and Tedesco after the disappointing preliminary final loss to the Cowboys in 2017, just as they lured Sonny Bill Williams back to rugby league in 2013.
The Broncos will need to be brave and ruthless, as they have been in the past when chasing premiership glory.
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.