After imploding at the back end of 2022, Brisbane will be looking to return to the finals in 2023.
Jesse Arthars, Logan Bayliss, Kurt Capewell, Patrick Carrigan, Selwyn Cobbo, Herbie Farnworth, Thomas Flegler, Payne Haas, Kobe Hetherington, Delouise Hoeter, Corey Jensen, Jock Madden, Ezra Mam, Deine Mariner, Blake Mozer, Corey Oates, Cory Paix, Keenan Palasia, Jordan Pereira, Brendan Piakura, Ethan Quai-Ward, Jordan Riki, Adam Reynolds, TC Robati, Kotoni Staggs, Martin Taupau, Reece Walsh, Billy Walters, Xavier Willison, Josh Rogers, Tyson Smoothy. Coach: Kevin Walters. (as at February 11)
1. Reece Walsh, 2. Corey Oates, 3. Kotoni Staggs, 4. Herbie Farnworth, 5. Selwyn Cobbo, 6. Ezra Mam, 7. Adam Reynolds, 8. Tom Flegler, 9. Billy Walters, 10. Payne Haas, 11. Kurt Capewell. 12. Jordan Riki, 13. Patrick Carrigan, 14. Cory Paix, 15. Martin Taupau,16. Keenan Palasia, 17. Corey Jensen.
BEST SIGNING – Reece WalshEmbed from Getty Images
The former Warrior returned to Brisbane for personal reasons (he was part of the Broncos’ development squad in 2021), and he could be crucial. Walsh had a mixed time with the Warriors, playing 38 games for 182 points, not helped by some off-field issues. Will returning home give Walsh some stability and therefore improve his footy? Without the pressure of being “the man” at the Warriors, Walsh will have more time to find his feet, which should help.
KEY PLAYER – Adam ReynoldsEmbed from Getty Images
After being let go by Souths in 2021, Reynolds came to Brisbane with plenty of pressure, but he proved to be worth every cent as the Broncos were in top eight – and even top four – contention for most of the season. He played 20 games for the Broncos, with a surprisingly low 50%-win percentage. His kicking game was his biggest asset: 61 goals (84.72%) and 8,969 kicking metres. If Brisbane are to make the finals for the first time since 2019, then he’ll need to be even better (and injury-free) in 2023.
PLAYER TO WATCH – Herbie FarnworthEmbed from Getty Images
The 23-year-old Lancastrian (born in Burnley, the same town as veteran England pace bowler James Anderson) only played 12 games in 2022, but he was a huge asset, playing in nine of Brisbane’s 13 wins. His try strike rate was excellent, with 10 in his 12 games. Farnworth played four games for England in the Rugby League World Cup, scoring a double in England’s semi-final loss to Samoa. More importantly, he’s likely to stay with Brisbane until 2025, which will give him peace of mind and allow him to focus on footy.
There’s two ways to judge Brisbane’s 2023 season: a) they were a young side who overachieved and ran out of petrol; b) they choked in the final month and threw away a certain finals spot.
The rot for the Broncos started as early as Round 20, with a shock loss to the Wests Tigers at Lang Park. They won just one more game – a scratchy win over Newcastle – and copped horrific home thrashings against Melbourne and Parramatta. A grateful Canberra swooped in to take eighth spot.
How Brisbane rebound in 2023 will say a lot about their temperament as they rebuild from the 2020 wooden spoon.
They don’t have an easy draw, playing six of the 2022 finalists twice (North Queensland, Parramatta, Penrith, South Sydney, Canberra, Melbourne). Though, as usual, they’ve had plenty of love from Channel Nine – four Thursday night games and eight prime-time Friday games. Three of their first four games are Friday night blockbusters against Penrith, North Queensland (Lang Park), and the Dolphins (Lang Park), and a Saturday night home game against St George Illawarra. Like they did to the South Queensland Crushers in the mid-’90s, the Broncos will be keen to dominate the Dolphins (and their former coach Wayne Bennett) and show they’re still the number one in South-East Queensland.
They also play six bottom eight teams once (Canterbury-Bankstown, St George Illawarra, Newcastle, Manly Warringah, NZ Warriors, Wests Tigers), which will be must-wins to make the finals.
The guy under the most pressure is coach Kevin Walters. A Broncos legend and one of the last ’90s larrikins (aside from Fatty), he’s only won 20 from 47 since taking over in 2021. One more poor season and he could be in trouble, which would be shame for someone who’s coveted the Broncos coaching role for a while.
One big issue is the Broncos’ off-field behaviour. They had their fair share of drama last year (with Payne Haas’ contract issues leading him to be booed by Broncos fans) , and more drama surfaced in 2023 with Selwyn Cobbo’s comments about Walters on the Back of the 135 podcast (from October last year) resurfacing. While Cobbo had a fine 2022 (playing 18 games for 15 tries), he’ll be on notice if his form dips.
So, can Brisbane return to the finals for the first time in four years? There were plenty of good signs in 2022, but a lot will rest on Adam Reynolds, Haas, Kurt Capewell, Cobbo, and Corey Oates. Assuming they have a decent Origin representation again, can they keep their stars fresh and avoid another September fadeout? If so, then the bottom part of the finals is a realistic goal.