Our own Rick Edgerton is in to wrap Game II of #Origin and looks ahead to the decider in a fortnight...
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This season was a history making one for Brisbane but unfortunately for
supporters, it won't be a fondly remembered chapter. 2010 saw the
Broncos' proud finals record come to a crashing halt as, for the first
time in nineteen seasons, the club failed to qualify for September
A rollercoaster year can best be described as consistently inconsistent. It wasn't without its highs (think crashing Melbourne's AAMI Park opening party and the Round 21 dousing of St George at Suncorp) but also featured some crushing lows including late season thrashings at the hands of Newcastle and New Zealand when a top eight spot was within reach.
Patchy performances and defensive issues can largely be attributed to a rookie roster - the Broncos boasted the youngest NRL squad in 2010 - but somewhat paradoxically, the same talented youth has fans viewing 2010 with a sense of optimism.
Brisbane kick started their season in style thanks to Denan Kemp, whose stunning sideline dash snatched a late 30-24 win over North Queensland in the annual Queensland opening derby. Unfortunately, the euphoria was temporary - a rather lacklustre two month period followed, with the Broncos only winning one (against fellow strugglers Cronulla) of their next seven. The side dropped to fourteenth position and were in serious danger of a horror year in the doldrums. With a lack of forward muscle attributed as a reason for poor form, the club snared the mid-season services of hulking Wakefield Trinity Wildcats prop Shane Tronc, who debuted in Brisbane colours in Round Seven.
The under siege Broncos then travelled to Melbourne in Round Nine and were expected to be easy pickings for a Storm side celebrating the opening of AAMI Park. Remarkably, Brisbane produced arguably their most polished victory (34-16) of the year, inspiring a five match winning streak. But inconsistency resurfaced - the side alternated wins and losses throughout June and July - leaving the Broncos teetering on the brink of the eight in early August.
With the finals looming, a bumper Suncorp Stadium crowd saw Brisbane return to their determined best in a 10-6 Round 21 shutout of eventual premiers St. George Illawarra. Followed by a strong win over the Cowboys, it had appeared the Broncos had turned the corner at the right moment. But rather than rejoicing, fans were left holding their breath - a rib cartilage complaint threatened to end the season of skipper Darren Lockyer. The injury proved the nail in the coffin of the inspirational five-eighth's season and also spelled the end for the Broncos.
Missing the leadership and composure of Lockyer, Brisbane's fight for finals footy nosedived alarmingly with four consecutive losses. Thrashings on the road against ruthless Newcastle (16-44) and Warriors outfits (4-36) were the lowest points in a forgettable four weeks. However, despite a poor ending, Brisbane locals remained steadfast in support of their team - the home crowd average of 35,032 was the second highest in seven years at Suncorp. And, although results weren't always rosy, a exciting batch of talented rookies left supporters with plenty to cheer about.
The 2009 departure of Karmichael Hunt left the Broncos in the unfamiliar position of looking for a fulltime custodian. However, that search didn't take long to unearth the 22-year old Josh Hoffman. In his first full season in the NRL, he displayed watertight defence at the back and returned the ball with vigour, akin to his AFL-playing predecessor. Hoffman deservedly dominated Brisbane's end of season awards winning Player of the Year, Players' Player and Most Improved.
Second rower Sam Thaiday was undoubtedly the leader of the pack. He combined his trademark bustling surges with increased endurance and routinely played close to 80 minutes. However, as was the case with the rest of the team, Thaiday lost some spark towards the backend of the year.
As mentioned, Hoffman's season at fullback was the highlight but there were also a number of eye catching performances from Broncos' youngsters. In his stunning debut season, Matt Gillett claimed the NRL Rookie of the Year Award. The utility's fringe running and ball playing ability saw him touted as an Origin bolter. Although he didn't earn Queensland selection he looks set to cement a position in the backrow at Brisbane over the coming years after inking a 3-year deal.
The Broncos U20s showed glimpses of brilliance but were also plagued by defensive lapses and finished tenth on the NYC ladder. Nonetheless, four players - Dane Gagai, Gerard Beale, Tariq Sims and Corey Norman - represented the Junior Kangaroos post-season. Beale (10 games) and playmaker Norman (12 games) both tasted NRL action in 2010, while Sims and Gagai dominated at Under 20 level. Sims claimed the NRL Toyota Cup Player of the Year award and is considered one of the best prop prospects in the game. Unfortunately for the Broncos, Tariq joins older brother Ashton in Cowboys colours in 2011. The elusive Gagai tormented defences from fullback and regularly topped metres gained and tackle breaks - he will press for an NRL berth in 2011.
In a tenth-placed finish, there are inevitably players who fail to live up to expectations and, to be blunt, Ashton Sims was again a disappointment. Brisbane's lack of quality go-forward should have been the catalyst for Sims to step up and fill the void - instead, he spend most of the time languishing in the Queensland Cup. However, whether his non selection was a case of poor attitude or a lack of faith from coach Henjak remains to be seen.
In the playmaking stakes, Peter Wallace failed to deliver quality creativeness especially when, in the absence of Lockyer, it was needed the most. The halfback has proven to be a solid distributor but with curtains starting to draw on the Lockyer era he needs to take more responsibility.
Brisbane enter next season with a more settled top seventeen compared to recent campaigns, with the club focusing on youth development over signing imports.Notably, Israel Folau has left to embark on an AFL odyssey but his departure will be offset by the comeback of Justin Hodges, who missed the entirety of 2010 with an achilles injury. Antonio Winterstein and Sims are heading to Townsville, while devout Mormon Lagi Setu is leaving to undertake a missionary stint. Former Bronco Ben Hannant is the one big name signing - he returns from Belmore, giving a needed boost to the club's front row. But most importantly, Brisbane's rookies will be one year wiser and determined not to miss a top eight berth two seasons in succession.
2011 best lineup
1. Josh Hoffman 2. Denan Kemp 3. Alex Glenn 4. Justin Hodges 5. Jharal Yow Yeh 6. Darren Lockyer (c) 7. Peter Wallace 8. Ben Hannant 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Shane Tronc 11. Ben Te'o 12. Sam Thaiday 13. Corey Parker
Interchange: 14. Ben Hunt 15. Matt Gillett 16. Scott Anderson 17. Nick Kenny
Coach: Ivan Henjak
The vital stats
Played: 24 matches (2 byes)
Won: 11 matches
Lost: 13 matches
Points for: 508 points
Points against: 535 points
Points differential: -27
Top pointscorer: Corey Parker (lock) - 142 points [1 try, 69 goals]
Top tryscorer: Israel Folau (centre) - 20 tries
Club player of the year
Josh Hoffman (fullback)