COCK A HOOP | The Sydney Roosters re-entered the winners circle last night, while the Broncos' form ...
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Racing back into contention after a forgettable 2010 season, the Brisbane Broncos went within a whisker of writing the perfect finale to one of the game's greatest players Darren Lockyer. The finals were shaping nicely for the Broncos until Lockyer sustained a fractured cheek bone in a dramatic golden point victory against the Dragons in the Semi Final. Lockyer was unable to recover in time for the Prelim Final and his absence had an obvious affect on his club's performance as they bombed out against eventual premiers Manly. The result was difficult to swallow but overall the season was considered a success as the relatively inexperienced side surpassed the expectations placed on them at the start of the season.
Heading into season 2011 the club was in total disarray. Star signing Greg Inglis ended up snubbing the Broncos, opting to sign with South Sydney, and furthermore struggling coach Ivan Henjak was given his marching orders two weeks before the season launched. Debates raged on the state of the club and whether or not their reign as a top-seeded club was over. In contrast to public perception the Broncos resumed under the control of Anthony Griffin without ever batting an eyelid and amassed an impressive seven wins from eight matches to secure top spot on the ladder in the early part of the season.
What followed became a defining moment in the Broncos season. Traditionally, the Broncos have opened the season impressively only to fade once the representative season comes around. Coach Griffin took it upon himself to combat that hoodoo by resting his Test and Origin stars when normally they would have 'backed up' after such games. This polarised supporters and when the decision triggered a three game losing streak, you could understand why. But when the representative season wore on, the 'Baby Broncos' seemingly lifted and two tight victories against Canberra and Parramatta gave the Broncos the lift they needed as they prepared themselves for the finals.
It was during this march into the finals where the Broncos charge turned into the Lockyer farewell tour. Almost every week was a celebration of his career in some fashion - last game in Sydney, record equalling game, record breaking game and official farewell game and the Broncos celebrated by winning each game with their trademark brand of conservative football.
This style of football was very reminiscent of the style Bennett employed almost a decade ago. The Broncos dropped all the flashy set-plays Henjak loved and in their stead was this reliance on field position and percentage plays. The cross-field kick became a pet play of sorts as Lockyer formed a reliable aerial combination with his fellow outside backs Jack Reed and Jharal Yow Yeh who were deadly in the air. Due to the success of this particular move Lockyer was able to record his highest ever tally of try assists in a season.
As effective as that style was during the home and away season, fans were worried as to whether or not the Broncos had another gear in the lead up to the finals. With Hoffman (injury) and Thaiday (suspension) ruled out for the opening week of the finals, fan concern grew but ultimately it was for naught as the Broncos turned it on in their two best displays of the season. Unfortunately, it just wasn't enough to send Lockyer out a winner.
Even with the departure of arguably their greatest player the future still looks bright at the Broncos. Petero Civoniceiva surprised everybody when he announced he was returning home after a falling out at Penrith. His return will bolster an already strong forward pack that includes Ben Hannant, Sam Thaiday and Corey Parker and it's hoped his influence will have a positive effect on Josh McGuire, David Hala and Dunamis Lui.
The only concern heading into season 2012 is determining the heir to Lockyer's position. Promising youngster Corey Norman appears to be the leading candidate but with former NYC Player of the Year Ben Hunt also vying for the position, Norman will have to be at his absolute best if he wishes to retain his position in the starting side. Either way, whoever has that role will have the support of a very strong backline, forward pack and will have the support of former Origin half Peter Wallace who showed promising signs in Lockyer's absence.
If nothing else, 2011 will be remembered as a launching pad of a new generation for the Broncos and with so many potential stars on their books the once cloudy future of the Broncos appears brighter than ever.
Best Match: Semi Final vs. St. George Illawarra Dragons
Considered by many to be the match of the season the Broncos and Dragons staged a high quality contest that made both sets of fans proud. In the end, the game was decided in golden point by the courageous Darren Lockyer who picked himself up after sustaining a serious injury to slot the decisive field goal. It was Lockyer's last ever play in the NRL and will be remembered forever.
Worst Match: Round 10 vs. Penrith Panthers
The Panthers were buoyed by Gould's appointment as General Manager and treated him to a brilliant performance...at the Broncos expense. The Broncos simply never showed up and were embarrassed to the tune of 33-10.
Best Player: Corey Parker
Darren Lockyer may have collected his third Paul Morgan medal but fans on LU appointed Corey Parker the Broncos player of the year. The