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Broncos half Brodie Croft.

It's hard to remember now – after being handed their first ever wooden spoon, with one coach axed and a new one on the way – that the Broncos spent more than a couple of months on top of the NRL ladder this year.

Granted, those months came between rounds two and three – when the game went on a COVID-19-enforced hiatus – and Brisbane were just one of six teams sharing the competition lead. But after winning their opening two games few could have predicted the disastrous campaign that was about to unfold.

It began with a 34-6 home thrashing at the hands of the Eels – the team that had ended Brisbane's previous season with an embarrassing 58-0 drubbing in the opening week of the 2019 finals.

A week later the Broncos lost 59-0 to the Roosters, also at Suncorp Stadium, and alarm bells were ringing.

Momentum in rugby league can build up over the course of a game but also over the course of a season, especially when injuries hit hard.

Just two years ago that Parramatta side (which has finished inside the top five in three of the past four seasons) made a poor start to the year, struggled with injuries, lost confidence and finished in last place. This year that was the Broncos' fate.

Broncos' top five tries of 2020

Plenty of fair criticism has been levelled at the club but there was no shortage of bad luck as well.

After veteran hooker Andrew McCullough was let go to allow rising star Jake Turpin to make the No.9 jersey his own, Turpin almost immediately copped an eight-week injury.

David Fifita, Kotoni Staggs, Matthew Lodge and new Origin winger Xavier Coates all had significant time on the sidelines, while backline star Jack Bird missed the entire year with an ACL injury.

No NRL team faces more scrutiny than the Broncos so when the losses came a mountain of pressure was placed on the young team, and a relatively young coach in Anthony Seibold – a recent Dally M Coach of the Year but one who had only two years of experience as an NRL head coach.

In the end that pressure was too much, with Kevin Walters anointed the man to make Brisbane a contender again starting in 2021.

Home & Away record

Remarkably after making a 2-0 start to the season the Broncos triumphed just once in their final 18 games, over the 15th-placed Bulldogs in round nine.

After the resumption Brisbane had two blockbuster fixtures on their home turf and conceded a combined 93 points, erasing any chance that Suncorp Stadium would be a fortress for them this season.

The only positive thing that could be said about the Broncos' home record in 2020 was that it was twice as good as their away record.

Run metres differential

For a team boasting what many considered to be one of the most talented forward packs in the competition, the Broncos were dire when it came to the territorial battle in 2020.

Payne Haas was a tireless workhorse in the middle – earning 175 metres per game and leading the club in tackle breaks and post-contact metres – but the team in general was outgunned with and without the ball.

Ranking last in both metres gained and metres conceded, the Broncos too rarely found themselves in try-scoring positions.

Try scoring – game time

For all the criticism levelled at Seibold, the Broncos were actually at their best immediately after hearing from their coach – either before kick-off or immediately after half-time.

This was the case in defence (see below) but especially in attack, with the team striking early with 19 tries in the opening 20 minutes of matches and 15 times early in the second half.

But whether due to poor fitness, poor concentration or some other factor, the team had a habit of fading badly late in each half.

Just five tries were scored in the final 20 minutes of matches all season – meaning even late consolation tries against opponents who had taken the foot off the pedal were a rarity.  

Tries conceded – game time

These aren't good numbers for Brisbane across the board but especially in the final 20 minutes of each half, with a combined 66 tries conceded.

The new six-again rule introduced before round three meant the game was immediately faster and busier when the season resumed, and while some teams thrived under the new system the Broncos clearly weren't one of them.

Tries scored from six-agains

For a team that struggled in attack generally it's no surprise to see the Broncos rated poorly – equal worst in the league – when it came to scoring tries after receiving a six-again from a ruck infringement.

Brisbane were in the middle of the pack when it came to conceding six-agains, but the more frenzied style of game the new rule introduced and the increase of time the ball was in play appears to have contributed to the Broncos being sapped of energy late in matches.

Metres gained from offloads

No Broncos ranked inside the league's top 15 for offloads thrown but Tevita Pangai jnr was the closest, earning more than 250 metres in extra metres gained from his offloads this season.

Payne Haas and Anthony Milford were the next most prolific.

Considering the team had easily the least amount of possession of any club this year – with 45% across the course of the season (the Titans' 48.3% was the next worst; Penrith's 55.6% the league's best) they were fairly effective in offloading with the eighth most of any club.

Goal-kicking accuracy

Brisbane were the ninth-best goal-kicking team in the league according to the percentages, with Kotoni Staggs replacing Jamayne Isaako's as the team's sharpshooter midway through the season.

Staggs (18/23, 78%) finished with a slightly better record than Isaako (16/22, 73%) in the end, giving the club the handy bonus of at least two NRL-quality goal-kickers in their ranks.

A perfect three-from-three from Herbie Farnworth and the arrival of an experienced goal-kicker in Issac Luke didn't hurt either.

Players used

This is always a key statistic when dissecting an NRL club's season, and never more so than in a 2020 campaign that wasn't interrupted by a mid-year State of Origin series.

Any team is going to struggle when they call on 32 players across the course of a season, with Brisbane's tally equal the most in the league.

Only the Warriors (who were so short-handed they were forced to loan players from other clubs) and the Raiders and Storm (who practically rested their entire first-choice teams in round 20) used as many players as Brisbane.

For all the finger-pointing at who was to blame for the Broncos' disastrous season, if they can simply have more of their key players fit for the entire year they'll be an improved outfit in 2021.

Try-saver tackles

For a team with the worst defensive record in the league, in terms of points conceded – Brisbane leaked 624 points, with the Cowboys' 520 the next worst – Seibold's team actually had fairly solid numbers when it came to tackle effectiveness.

Nine clubs actually finished with more missed tackles than the Broncos, even with Brisbane spending more time defending than any other team.

Of course missed tackles isn't the only barometer of a team's defence, and one clue to the Broncos' frailty when it came to defending their own goal-line was a lack of try-saving tackles.

They ranked last in that statistic, despite spending more time defending and camped in their own half than any other club.

Errors differential

Perhaps it was bad luck, perhaps it was a lack of defensive pressure, but teams simply didn't make many mistakes with the ball when they were playing against Brisbane in 2020.

Despite ranking sixth in the league when it came to handling errors the Broncos still had a negative "errors differential", with their opponents making just 199 errors compared to their own 214.

Forcing turnovers is a great way to get into attacking positions quickly, but Brisbane rarely had that luxury and finished with the worst attacking record in the league.