Part 5 of Daniel Boss’ 16-part preview of the 2014 NRL season takes us north of the border, as he analyses the chances of the Brisbane Broncos. Following a highly disappointing 2013 season, the Broncos will be looking to bounce back with a vengeance in 2014.
For only the second time in 22 years, the Broncos missed the finals in 2013. The last time they missed the finals, their coach was sacked pretty soon after. However, this time Anthony Griffin has avoided the axe and he will be under pressure to coach a side that performs well in 2014. One thing that is in Griffin’s favour is the finish to the season from Brisbane, as they won 4 of their last 7 games plus one draw away against Newcastle. They will be looking to build on the momentum built from this late season run but it will be more difficult without Anthony Milford who decided to see out his contract in Canberra instead of joining Brisbane a year early.
Over the past couple of seasons, Brisbane has possessed one of the best defences in the league or a defence that is statistically better than average. This is one thing that Griffin can point to as I believe that the coach does have an influence on a team’s defensive ability as a coach does have an influence on their team’s mentality. If a team has a good mentality then their defence will be better. However, the issue for the Broncos in recent years is their attack. In 2012, their attack was on par with the rest of the league but in 2013, their attack dropped off as they scored more than 2 points fewer per game than the average points scored across the league. Brisbane are hoping that their big recruit Ben Barba can help them score more points in 2014.
Obviously, the big signing is Barba who has played mostly fullback in his time in first grade. However, some reports are suggesting that he will start at five-eight, which I think would be the best move for the club. If Barba is not at fullback, then I guess Brisbane will have to resort to playing the New Zealand fullback at fullback. I am a big fan of Josh Hoffman and fullback is his best position. One of the reasons for Brisbane’s late season good form was the move of Hoffman from wing to fullback. The wing positions are up for grabs and there are quite a few contenders for these positions, but if Hoffman is playing fullback then I believe that the best options are Corey Oates and signing Daniel Vidot. Oates was very impressive in his debut season last year, while Vidot will be looking to return to his form in his first two seasons in Canberra that saw him selected in an extended Queensland squad in early 2011. The starting centres will be Jack Reed and Justin Hodges, however Hodges will miss the majority of the season due to injury. The loss of Hodges is a huge blow as he is the Broncos most potent attacking players, even with Barba now in the side. Reed is an above average centre who hasn’t been as dynamic since Darren Lockyer left the club. To fill the void left by Hodges and to provide depth to the backline, Brisbane has Lachlan Maranta, Jordan Kahu and signing Stewart Mills. Jharal You Yeh is still in the squad but another first grade game sadly looks out of the question.
The starting halfback will be Ben Hunt, who was dynamic in this position in the Under 20s and showed plenty of promise towards the back end of 2013. For the Broncos to do well in 2014, they will need Hunt to build upon these performances and provide leadership and direction. As for the starting five-eight, this is the big issue for the Broncos. This is a result of the departures of Scott Prince, Peter Wallace and Corey Norman. As mentioned above, I think the best option is to play Barba at five-eight. He starred at that position in the Under 20s but has primarily played at fullback in his first grade career. If Barba can make a similar impact on a game at five-eight as he did at fullback then Brisbane will have a very good year. Other options in the halves include Hoffman, Kahu and signing Marmin Barba.
Brisbane was reasonably well served in the front row, especially in their starting front row comprising of props Ben Hannant and Josh McGuire and hooker Andrew McCullough. The Broncos have lost Scott Anderson and Dunamis Lui but they have picked up Martin Kennedy. He is a big signing as this means that Sam Thaiday no longer has to play in the front row and he can play on the edges as an attacking ball runner where he is best suited. There were reports during the off-season that Kennedy would be handed an infraction notice by ASADA. I’m just assuming that this is just speculation here. The Broncos also have David Hala and Mitchell Dodds who can play at prop. The Broncos have lost Kurt Baptiste which means that they have no recognised hooker to back up McCullough. However, they do have a few players with enough versatility to cover if needed.
The Broncos have one of the best, if not the best back rows in the competition. The projected starting back row consists of Sam Thaiday, Matt Gillett and Corey Parker. Parker is the workhorse of the team; Thaiday is a damaging edge runner and strong defender, while Gillett is also a strong edge runner but also has some ball playing ability. All three complement each other very well. On top of this, Brisbane has NZ representative Alex Glenn coming off the bench. In addition to this, the Broncos have added Todd Lowrie, who will cover for the starters when they are missing as a result of State of Origin. Lowrie is a strong player in his own right too, who is nearing the end of his career but still has a high work rate. In addition to these players, Brisbane also has David Stagg who will probably be mainly used to cover for the Origin players.
Last season, the Broncos mainly went with a bench comprised of one hooker, a back rower and two props. I think that the Broncos will go with two back rowers and two front rowers on the bench as there is no recognised backup hooker in the squad now that Ben Hunt is at halfback and that they have Alex Glenn who is quite versatile and can cover a number of positions. They may look at putting a back on the bench to provide 20 minutes of input, like Jordan Kahu, but I can’t see them doing this, at least not early on in the season.
Anthony Griffin came into the NRL with a bang by taking the Broncos from outside of the top 8 to a top 4 finish. Had Darren Lockyer not been injured in the semi-final against the Dragons, then he may be a premiership winning coach. However, in the two years since Lockyer’s retirement, the Broncos have finished 8th and 12th respectively. 2014 is a make or break year for Griffin. There is enough talent in the squad to make a push for the finals but it will require some work due to a lack of experience in the halves. This will truly test his coaching ability.
- Josh Hoffman
- Corey Oates
- Jack Reed
- Justin Hodges
- Daniel Vidot
- Ben Barba
- Ben Hunt
- Josh McGuire
- Andrew McCullough
- Ben Hannant
- Matt Gillett
- Sam Thaiday
- Corey Parker
- Alex Glenn
- Todd Lowrie
- David Hala
- Martin Kennedy
12th. This is a particularly low prediction for a club with this much talent. There are two big concerns that I have with this team. The first is the lack of first grade experience of the halves. Sure, Barba on his day is one of the most dynamic ball runners in the competition, I’m just not sold on his ball-playing ability. As for Hunt, he needs to take control of this team and direct them around the field. From what I’ve seen, he is more of a ball runner than an organiser but Brisbane can’t have two ball running halves if there is no leader to direct the team around the field in attack. The other concern is the injury to Justin Hodges. Hodges makes such a difference to this Broncos team and has been for the decade that he has been at the club. I don’t think that Brisbane will be able to cover his all-but inevitable loss.
2014 Ladder Prediction