In a nutshell…
By any other measure, 2015 was an unequivocal success – second in the minor premiership after three years finishing eighth or lower; the club’s first grand final in nine years; the development of several promising youngsters into genuine stars of our game. But a gut-wrenching grand final loss in golden point changes all perception of what equates to a successful year, and how the Broncos deal with that disappointment is the key to living up to their 2016 title favouritism.
Gains: Carlin Anderson (Ipswich Jets), Caleb Timu (Mormon mission), Salesi Funaki (Wests Tigers), James Roberts (Gold Coast Titans), Sam Scarlett (Penrith Panthers), Tevita Pangai (Canberra Raiders)
Losses: Justin Hodges (retirement), Dale Copley (Sydney Roosters), Todd Lowrie (Newcastle Knights), Ashley Taylor (Gold Coast Titans), Mitch Garbutt (Leeds Rhinos), Matt Parcell (Manly Sea Eagles), Mitchell Dodds (Warrington), Jayden Nikorima (Roosters), David Stagg (retirement), Jordan Drew (Cronulla Sharks), Daniel Vidot (Salford)
James Roberts comes in as the perfect replacement for the retired Justin Hodges – although they did have to give up Dale Copley – while Carlin Anderson will push hard for a wing spot. Forward pack and backline depth has taken a hit overall.
With Anderson, Lachlan Maranta and Jack Reed injured for the time being, Englishman Greg Eden has claimed an early-season wing spot as Jordan Kahu moves into the centres to accompany Roberts. Darius Boyd steps up as backline leader with Hodges gone. The Broncos backs’ versatility is a big plus, with most able to cover wing, centre and fullback.
Dubbed the best Broncos pairing since Langer and Walters, Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford could be the club’s halves duo for a decade. Wayne Bennett enjoys the luxury of having the incumbent New Zealand Test No.7, Kodi Nikorima, as the back-up.
A superb balance of skilful, mobile performers with big engines. Sam Thaiday, Adam Blair, Josh McGuire, Jo Ofahengaue and Jarrod Wallace are a well-rounded front-row rotation, while Corey Parker, Matt Gillett and Alex Glenn are in the top bracket of backrow trios. Nikorima provides dummy-half spark off the bench as deputy to workhorse hooker Andrew McCullough.
Anthony Milford: After taking a few weeks to adjust to the five-eighth role, Milford was a spectacular acquisition for the Broncos, scoring 13 tries and tallying 14 try assists. The electrifying playmaker deserved the Churchill Medal and should only go to another level in 2016.
Corey Parker: The 33-year-old is playing as well as at any stage of his career and will flourish after regaining the captaincy. An offloading machine who racks up massive numbers on both sides of the ball, Parker is deservedly entrenched at lock in the Australian and Queensland teams.
Darius Boyd: Brought the stability and poise to the back that the Broncos have unwittingly missed since Karmichael Hunt switched codes. The veteran rep winger immediately assumed a leadership role after returning to Brisbane, and at 28, the fullback’s best football may still lay ahead of him.
Under the pump
Ben Hunt: A lamentable performance in last year’s grand final, highlighted – but not restricted to – his tragic fumble of the extra-time kick-off, has undeniably put the brilliant halfback under the microscope. While his performances were integral to the Broncos’ success, his big-game temperament will – fairly or not – be questioned until he produces the goods in a decider. Those is the know are backing Hunt, who has finished in the Dally M Medal top five for two years running, to bounce back better than ever.
— Bleacher Report AUS (@BR_Aus) November 30, 2015
James Roberts: The Dally M Centre of the Year’s signing was hailed as the coup of the off-season, but playing with the Broncos entails more pressure than being a shining light in a lowly Titans outfit – particularly when you’re replacing one of the great modern centres.
Adam Blair: Based purely on averages of 29.4 tackles and 94.1 metres per game, it would be difficult to tell if Blair had improved on his troubled three-season stint with the Tigers. But his renaissance was one of the great stories of 2015. Blair’s stinging defence and deft touch added an extra element to the Broncos’ armoury, while he regained a spot in the New Zealand Test side.
Matt Gillett: A superbly skilled backrower capable of busting a game wide open, Gillett brings an unquenchable thirst for work to the table, averaging just shy of 40 tackles and 100 metres per game in 2015.
Josh McGuire: The forgotten man of the Broncos’ charge to the grand final, the aggressive prop had finally broken into the Queensland Origin side when a knee injury ended his season. McGuire’s return will be the only change to the Broncos’ grand final forward contingent, slotting in for overseas-bound Mitchell Dodds – and no player will be hungrier for the club to reach the big dance again in 2016.
The pressure of favouritism. Nine out of every 10 experts are tipping the Broncos to win the comp, so whatever the opposite of flying under the radar is, that’s what this side will have to contend with all year.
2015 Stats Leaders
Tries: Lachlan Maranta – 15
Try Assists: Ben Hunt – 16
Line-breaks: Anthony Milford, Corey Oates – 13
Tackle-breaks: Anthony Milford – 91
Average metres: Darius Boyd – 142.9
Average tackles: Andrew McCullough – 49
Parker has kicked 541 career goals at a 73.21% success rate – solid enough by modern standards. Kahu, who booted 22 from 32 (68.75%) last year, appears to be the No.1 deputy, while Hunt (25 from 36 at 69.44% in his career) and Milford (6 from 10) are also capable.
Although his streak of seven grand finals without a loss came to an end, the Broncos’ instant rebirth ranks among Wayne Bennett’s greatest achievements. Entering his 30th straight season as a first-grade coach, any inkling that the 66-year-old’s passion for the job may be waning was quashed when he took on the England Test coach position.
— LeagueHQ (@LeagueHQ1) March 1, 2016
Parker, co-captain with Hodges in 2014 and a regular fill-in in Darren Lockyer’s absence, was handed the reins last week. No great surprise there, although Boyd, Hunt, Thaiday, McCullough and Glenn were all mooted as potential skippers.
The Broncos will no doubt bear a heavy load again, with Parker, Thaiday, Gillett and Boyd Queensland certainties if fit, and Roberts in line for a NSW debut. Hunt and Milford blew any chance of a maiden Queensland call-up in 2016 by breaking curfew in Emerging Maroons camp.
The Broncos’ draw is rated fifth-hardest in the NRL based on last year’s finishing positions. They play each of their fellow finalists twice except for the Sharks, while they play all three of the bottom three just once.
— DanielBMckenna (@DanBMckenna_82) December 16, 2015
The massive Queensland derby takes on extra significance as a grand final replay – and it’s on Good Friday at Suncorp Stadium to boot. Expect a sell-out and an absolute belter of a contest.
1.Darius Boyd, 2. Corey Oates, 3. James Roberts, 4. Jack Reed, 5. Jordan Kahu, 6. Anthony Milford, 7.Ben Hunt, 8. Adam Blair, 9. Andrew McCullough, 10. Sam Thaiday, 11. Alex Glenn, 12. Matt Gillett, 13. Corey Parker. Int: 14. Josh McGuire, 15. Jo Ofahengaue, 16. Jarrod Wallace, 17. Kodi Nikorima.
What the bookies think
Premiers: $5 (favourites)
Top 4: $1.75
Top 8: $1.15
Wooden Spoon: $151
CBS experts’ prediction
Will – 1st
Drew – 1st
Telly – 1st
Nick – 2nd
Andrew – 1st