After a heart-breaking golden-point grand final loss in 2015, Brisbane started the year as premiership favourite – and lived up to that billing with some sizzling early-season form. But a lengthy mid-season slump ruined the Broncos’ top-four hopes, before a late-season rally revived their title hopes. Their campaign ended as the previous one did, however, in an extra-time loss to the Cowboys at the hands of Johnathan Thurston.
The Broncos broke out of their midyear funk to win their last five regular-season games, including tough, high-quality victories over Canterbury and Melbourne, before sweeping aside Gold Coast in the qualifying final. But arguably their best performance was a heroic effort in the semi-final exit in Townsville.
Brisbane shoulders a heavier burden than most during the Origin period, but there was no excuse for two wins in nine matches between Rounds 11 and 21. The defensive steel and goal-line desperation that had become a trademark went missing as the Broncos conceded more than 30 points on five occasions.
Darius Boyd was incredibly consistent, with his 2016 season a brilliant audition for the club captaincy next year. Anthony Milford was breathtaking at the start and end of the season, while Matt Gillett, Corey Parker, Corey Oates and Jordan Kahu all enhanced their reputations.
The acid was on Ben Hunt after his grand final shocker and he failed to deliver. A top-five Dally M Medal finisher in 2014-15, Hunt rarely produced his best this year, with his option-taking and kicking game, in particular, taking a step backwards. Highly-touted centre recruit James Roberts was unable to live up to the hype and also found trouble off the field.
Promise in Store
Robust rookie Tom Opacic looks a real prospect in the centres, while Tevita Pangai Jr could develop into one of the game’s most destructive forwards. Winger Jonus Pearson gave an excellent account of himself in a couple of top-grade outings.
— FOX SPORTS News (@FOXSportsNews) September 22, 2016
The Broncos went to AAMI Park in Round 25 as rank outsiders, but they had a point to prove and did it in emphatic style, outmuscling and outsmarting bogey team the Storm 26-16 to make their rival contenders sit up and take notice.
Their 48-6 loss to the Storm at home in Round 17 was the low point of their slump, leaking eight tries in a dreadful defensive display.
Veteran centre Jack Reed was unsighted after Round 13 due to a shoulder injury that ultimately forced his retirement. Kahu and Andrew McCullough were missing for extended stints midyear, and utility livewire Kodi Nikorima didn’t play after Round 17.
A drunken snafu from serial offender James Roberts caused a stir late in the season, magnifying his underwhelming form on the paddock. Already sacked by Souths and Penrith earlier in his career, the speedster is running out of chances.
Wayne Bennett was unflappable as ever, but it certainly was a much more trying campaign for the 66-year-old than his charmed 2015 return season. He has lost respected assistant Stephen Kearney for next year, while it remains to be seen whether his role with the England Test side has a detrimental effect on the Broncos’ 2017 preparations.
The Broncos came up with the shock signing of the spring by acquiring veteran half Benji Marshall – and it’s still unclear where the Kiwi legend fits in. David Mead and Tautau Moga will shore up the club’s dearth of outside backs, while rugged prop Mitchell Dodds returns after an ill-fated stint in England. Retired great Parker, front-rower Jarrod Wallace and wingers Lachlan Maranta and Greg Eden join Reed on the departures list.
— FOX SPORTS NRL (@FOXNRLLive) October 21, 2016
For all Ben Hunt virtues when he is on song, the Broncos would dearly love a halfback that can control a game – and there’s none better in that department than Cooper Cronk. The clinical Test No.7 would be the ideal foil for Milford’s freewheeling brilliance.
On the surface the Broncos should contend for the crown again, but it does shape as a bit of a crossroads season for the club – particularly with Parker gone. The captaincy issue aside, the Broncos desperately need Hunt to rediscover his best, while Marshall’s arrival could cause more problems than it solves. They’ve made a couple of astute buys, but there appears to be something missing at Red Hill.
5th – Won 15, Lost 9; For 554 (6th), Against 434 (4th).