Monday 18 December 2017 / 04:41 AM

NRL TITLE CONTENDERS: BRISBANE BRONCOS

After their heartbreaking loss in last year’s grand final, the Broncos started the 2016 season with some serious intent to reverse the result. They won eight of their opening 10 games to lead the competition, but the wheels well and truly fell off during the middle of the season, where they won just two of nine games to drop down to sixth place and started looking like they could miss the playoffs altogether. However, Wayne Bennett’s side has rallied with four straight wins to cement their place in the September action and have another tilt at the title.

Why They Can Win

Balance. The Broncos have a long history of being a well-balanced side, across the park in both attack and defence. They have a good mix of experienced stars and exciting younger players. They have also been a team well-stocked with Test reps, and this year’s outfit is no different, sporting six Australian, four New Zealand, two English and one Tongan Test players. That big-game experience is a huge bonus for the Broncos.

Why They Can’t

Inconsistency in the halves. Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford have produced the most erratic form of any halves in the comp. For the opening 10 weeks they were sublime. They were controlling games and steering their side’s attack around beautifully. It was expected things wouldn’t change during the Origin period when both would be playing against depleted outfits, but it was during this time that their red-hot form went ice cold overnight. It took another 10 weeks for them to finally start recovering their early season form. If Hunt and Milford struggle during the finals, they will not be posing a threat to any of the other sides. Their kicking game and fifth-tackle options still need work, while Hunt’s 2015 grand final horror show could provide a mental roadblock if the Broncos make it that far again.

Key Player

Ben Hunt. When he is playing well, the Broncos generally win. He has a great running game and links with his edge runners beautifully. But he has had a knack this year for going off the boil, hard and fast. If the Broncos forwards can lay a solid platform and provide good momentum then Hunt will be able to play to his best.

Squad Health

The Broncos are without the services of centre Jack Reed due to a shoulder injury which he sustained after the Round 13 clash with the Warriors. It is still unclear when he will resume playing, though rookie Tom Opacic is settling into the role superbly. Utility Kodi Nikorima also has a shoulder injury but is expected to be back in Round 26.

Finals Record

Brisbane have played in 53 finals matches, picking up 28 wins and 25 losses. Last year was the club’s first loss in seven grand final appearances. Since last winning the premiership in 2006, the Broncos have won seven and lost seven in the post-season.

Run Home

The Broncos pulled off a momentous upset of the Melbourne Storm in Round 25, while in the final regular-season round the host a Roosters side who only four weeks ago beat them resoundingly, 32-16. The Broncos can snatch fourth spot if they beat the Roosters and the Cowboys go down to Titans, but a week one sudden-death match-up with the Titans or Tigers at Suncorp looms as the most likely outcome.

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About the author

Andrew Ferguson

A rugby league historian and stats buff – most notably as the brains behind the phenomenal Rugby League Project resource – Melbourne-based Andrew has written extensively for Rugby League Review and the Men of League magazine, and is a valued addition to CBS’s rugby league stable.

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