Record: 16 wins, 8 losses
Ladder Position: 3rd
Player of the Year: Matt Gillett
With hot sweat dripping off his face, one that was hanging in anguish in accepting a reality that Shane Webcke avoided 10 years prior, Corey Parker had to finish his career without a premiership to savour as the Broncos crashed out of the 2016 Premiership; one they were hot favourites to win. From that moment the Brisbane Broncos have been an underdog in many scenarios, with critics not giving them much of a chance in 2017 and not recognising who was still at the helm, and how good he really was at his job.
Wayne Bennett’s off season moves proved to be vital in Brisbane’s attempt to re-enter the top four in 2017, with the likes of Benji Marshall, Korbin Sims and David Mead adding much needed depth and lending their hand in Brisbane’s attempt at success in 2017. Young forwards such as Tevita Pangai Jr., Herman Essese and Jai Arrow aided the Broncos good form, and they stood aside the big guns of the team to form a threatening 17 on both sides of the ball.
Attacking football became the winning formula early on, with great ball players like Kodi Nikorima and Captain Darius Boyd filling out the spine. The running game of the forwards was among the best in the competition, with Josh McGuire’s adjustment to lock fitting like a glove, and Matt Gillett stepping up as arguably the best second rower in the game. It was all falling into place as round 26 and the finals drew closer and closer.
Big wins over the Titans, Sharks and Cowboys late in the season helped lay a strong foundation for the club to succeed in the post season. But injuries to Boyd and Sims, as well as a sloppy performance in Week One of the Finals put the Broncos in the worst possible position, with a matchup against the Storm in Melbourne to qualify for the Grand Final. A heavy loss ended Brisbane’s season, and Ben Hunt was unable to finish his Brisbane tenure with success.
Bennett proves the doubters wrong
Any Wayne Bennett coached side is a threat in the competition, but with a number of struggles in 2016 and losing two key players, Bennett’s men were expected to scrape into the post season at best. However with 16 wins and eight losses, and four of their losses decided by three points or less, the Broncos were a strong side throughout the season.
Ever since their loss to the Cowboys in the Grand Final in 2015, Brisbane’s defence has been shaky at times and consistency has been a huge issue. 2017 was similar, but on the other side of the ball Brisbane’s great spine, as well as their athleticism helped create one of the best attacking sides in the competition.
On their day the Broncos lethal backline with the likes of Boyd, Moga, Roberts, and Oates being chaperoned by the side’s various halves pairings were a consistent threat to any defensive line. From this, Bennett was able to prove to the public that coaching class is permanent, no matter the age.
A halves pairing to stick with
Brisbane’s big win over the Rooster in round seven saw Ben Hunt pick up a hamstring injury, and sit out for a couple of weeks. Kiwi international Kodi Nikorima, often used as a utility back off the bench was given the nod to start in the halves alongside Anthony Milford, a combo that has since blossomed.
Milford and Nikorima already have a chemistry built from when they were young, playing together since the age of 13. Statistically Brisbane enjoyed their best form with Nikorima starting at halfback, gaining 11 wins out of 13 games, and the only two losses coming against the Eels in Round 25 and the Storm in the Finals Series.
At times since 2015, it seemed the combination of Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford struggled to take off based off a mini power struggle between them over who was the better and preferred first receiver. Now with a less experienced Nikorima joining the halves, Milford will have more experience and class to take charge and escort the backline.
James Roberts finally finds his form with the Broncos
Matt Gillett was Brisbane’s best player in 2017, but their most improved player can be found on the right edge, acting as a consistent nightmare for opposing defences. James Roberts first season with Brisbane in 2016 had a few bright moments, but otherwise was a letdown. The speeding centre had no real impact on games, and aside from his performance against the Cowboys in round four, 2016 was a year he would have happily put behind him.
2017 was a different story though, with Roberts rediscovering his terrific pace and tackle breaking ability. Roberts had a career year in terms of tries scored and average running metres per game, with 18 and 124 respectively, as well as equaling a personal best in line breaks with 15.
Just by the eye test, Roberts’s defensive work improved. He handled the opposition well with hard hits and good line speed, as well as getting a lot of help defence from his fellow right edge players like Jordan Kahu and Matt Gillett. Roberts also gained a 4 year contract extension with Brisbane during the season to reward his good work, adding to his 2017 accolades that can springboard him into another positive campaign in 2018.
Departing players leave some worrying holes in the squad
Often the futures of players are not an issue until the off season, but Brisbane was unfortunately graced with multiple players signing contracts elsewhere before September rolled around. Ben Hunt’s decision to leave the club for the Dragons early on was a tough one for any fan to take. But losing inform players such as Tautau Moga, Herman Essese, Jai Arrow and Benji Marshall made the scenario tougher to swallow.
Jack Bird is a terrific addition to Brisbane’s backline, as he can play in the halves or in the centres, and Andre Savelio has had a promising couple of years in the Super league with St Helens and Warrington making him a solid pickup. But adding forwards who are capable of chewing up metres, and more depth to a side losing a lot is vital in the off season. If that cannot be done, the Broncos can already expect a tough 2018 campaign.
2018 Gains and Losses:
Gains: Jack Bird (Sharks), Andre Savelio (Warrington Wolves)
Losses: Ben Hunt (Dragons), Benji Marshall (Wests Tigers), Tautau Moga (Knights), Jai Arrow (Titans), Herman Ese’ese (Knights), Francis Molo (released)