The Broncos are facing the lowest State of Origin representation in the club’s history as a recruitment strategy focused on retaining the best young talent in the game and the fallout from COVID-19 has brought the NRL’s flagship team back to the field.
After triumphing in their opening two matches of the season against the Cowboys and Rabbitohs, Brisbane are winless since the Telstra Premiership resumed five weeks ago and in danger of missing the finals for just the fifth time since the club was founded in 1988.
Fans booed the players after last Saturday’s 30-12 defeat by Gold Coast Titans and critics have taken aim at coach Anthony Seibold, while the shortcomings of the game’s No.1 club are being analysed in fine detail.
Unless there is a dramatic turn-around in form, only NSW prop Payne Haas and Queensland second-rower David Fifita could expect to retain their State of Origin jerseys in November, with Joe Ofahengaue another possible Maroons selection.
Winger Corey Oates was already facing stiff competition from Valentine Holmes and if he misses out the Broncos are likely to have their smallest ever Queensland contingent, with the club’s lowest representation being in 2010 when Darren Lockyer, Israel Folau and Sam Thaiday played for the Maroons.
Seibold believes he is the man to guide Broncos out of form slump
An editorial in Monday’s Courier-Mail newspaper, which is owned by Brisbane’s major shareholder New Corp, labelled the Broncos as “perhaps the worst team in the club’s proud history” and asked questions about the role of chairman Karl Morris and CEO Paul White, as well as Seibold.
Privately, questioned are also being asked about the effectiveness of programs that the club's performance staff issued players during the five weeks suspension of training due to COVID-19 restrictions.
It’s a position the Broncos aren’t used to being in but former premiership winning halfback and one of the game’s leading analysts, Brett Kimmorley, believes many of Brisbane’s problems are of their own making and has called for patience.
“You can certainly say this is the darkest year in their history, given the fact they are sitting 15th and have suffered five losses in a row,” Kimmorley said.
“The Broncos were a powerhouse for so long, they were the No.1 branded club, they always had success, were always near the top and always had star studded sides. They are a club that is never meant to rebuild.”
As the only team in Brisbane, the Broncos have come under intense scrutiny and players have felt the need to use social media to respond to criticism, with captain Alex Glenn raising mental health concerns and declaring: “We ain’t quitting on nothing”.
With the Queensland capital expected to be home to a second NRL team from 2022 or 2023, Brisbane Bombers bid director Nick Livermore said the competition would help lift the Broncos but also ease some of the pressure on the club.
“What it would do is take all of the focus off the Broncos when they are down,” Livermore said. “They would not be carrying the expectations of four million people in the south-east corner [of Queensland] to start with.”
Half of 2018 squad gone
Of the 33 seasons since the Broncos were established, Wayne Bennett was coach for 25 years and besides 1988 and 1991 the only other times Brisbane did not feature in the finals were under Ivan Henjak in 2010 and Anthony Griffin in 2013.
Seibold is the fourth coach in the club’s history, replacing Bennett after his second stint in a 25-year association with the club that ended in acrimonious circumstances at the end of the 2018 season.
Since then he has turned the club on its head, with 15 of the 28 players who played for the Broncos in Bennett’s last season having departed.
In defence of Issac Luke
Only Cronulla, who have had to restructure their roster after salary cap breaches, and Newcastle have had a higher turnover of players in the past 18 months and Kimmorley believes Brisbane are suffering from a lack of experience as they have focused on keeping young stars.
Among those no longer playing for Brisbane are Cowboys lock Josh McGuire, Rabbitohs trio James Roberts, Jayden Su’A and Patrick Mago, Warriors playmaker Kodi Nikorima, Dragons forward Korbin Sims, Knights pair Andrew McCullough and Gehamat Shibasaki, Matt Gillett and Sam Thaiday (both retired).
“I feel like they have the best crop of kids that they maybe have ever had but unfortunately they don’t have senior players in the key positions, being 1, 6, 7 and 9,” Kimmorley said.
“If you could have had two of those four key positions being senior players then this team is probably going close to winning the comp.
“They don’t have a [specialist] hooker and while I think [halfback] Tom Dearden is going to become a very good player you are asking a young kid to manage a Broncos team, which is pressure enough, with other young kids.
“In the old days he could come in and play alongside a guy like Darren Lockyer with Gorden Tallis or Shane Webcke and that type of thing but they don’t have the senior players helping the kids. They have got kids helping kids.”
No substitute for experience
Fifita and Haas are arguably the two best young forwards in the game but neither will celebrate their 21st birthdays this season, while lock Thomas Flegler and centre Herbie Farnworth are also 20 and Dearden and winger Xavier Coates are just 19.
While Fifita is off conract and eagerly sought by rival clubs, Kimmorley said the Broncos need to spend the money from former captain Darius Boyd’s retirement at the end of the season to sign some experienced backs.
Every try from round 7
“I think they were left in a situation where they let some senior players go and they are unfortunately going to have to suffer some pain from their own success because they are going to have to let one of these good young kids go to get the system right,” Kimmorley said.
“Maybe they had to let all of their senior players go to keep the kids but now they have fallen in a hole. If Dearden is the kid who is going to be there for a while you are going to need to get a good 6 or a good 9 to play with him.
“I think Seibold is a wonderful coach but he is a technical coach and he is a coach who probably needs some players who are a bit more experienced and can play his systems and play the style that he wants to play.
“By the time he gets to the end of his five years, if they don’t pull the trigger, the kids are all going to be 60-to-100 game first-graders and I think they will have a wonderful side.”
Cross-town rivals coming
Seibold is contracted until the end of the 2023 season and the Broncos are expected to have a cross-town rival by then, with the Bombers one of four franchises vying to become the NRL’s second Brisbane team, along with Redcliffe Dolphins, South-West Corridor bid and Easts Tigers.
Livermore said a second team in Brisbane would reduce the pressure on the Broncos to be successful every season.
Match Highlights: Broncos v Titans
Without another NRL team in Brisbane, disillusioned fans could start following the Lions AFL team or another code.
“There are about 10,000 transient supporters in Brisbane who will follow whichever team is going well at the moment,” Livermore said. “Because the Broncos aren’t going well it is just a natural transition for them to move towards AFL.
“If we had another team here we wouldn’t be in this position in the south-east corner [of Queensland] if the Broncos are struggling the way they are.
“It’s not just bums on seats, it’s sponsorship and branding, and moving into 2020 it becomes digital content and social so whatever is popular drives dollars as well.
“For the good of rugby league you want the Broncos going well because they are a flagship team. It is not good for the game when fans are booing a club.”
The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARLC, NRL clubs or state associations.