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Brisbane enter 2011 in the wake of a stunning decision to drop the axe
on head coach Ivan Henjak three weeks before the start of the season.
After just two years in the top job, the Broncos' board decided
yesterday to punt the rookie mentor and appoint assistant coach Anthony
Griffin for the remainder of 2011.
The timing of the announcement poses many unanswered questions. Henjak has spent the pre-season gearing the club for an assault on the premiership; why sack him at this point? And what has transpired over the off-season to make now the appropriate time?
It remains to be seen just how Henjak's ousting will effect Brisbane's onfield performance. Rumours of player unrest have been floating around Red Hill for a number of months but new CEO Paul White has taken the safe diplomatic line, saying it wasn't a player lead revolt. From the outside looking in, and for a club that has built success on stability, it can only be unsettling. However, if it was the players themselves pushing for change then they have absolutely no excuse not to perform in Ivan's absence.
White also made the claim that no coach has been approached for 2012. However, most punters would bet on Brisbane hiding a big-name ace up their sleeve, especially considering Mal Meninga's desire to return to an NRL club and Wayne Bennett's contract expiring at season end.
Last season Henjak oversaw 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 footy. The side looked set to make a last season surge for the finals but their campaign fell to pieces in without skipper Darren Lockyer, who succumbed to a rib cartilage injury in Round 21.
The Broncos now face the unfamiliar task of rebounding from a tenth-placed finish. Their recruitment drive has taken on the adage of quality over quantity - international prop Ben Hannant is the only big name signing. The 26-year old's return to Brisbane will add some much needed go forward to a pack that struggled to make metres up the middle in 2010.
Aside from Hannant, the Broncos have put their faith in their collection of talented youngsters. Fullback Josh Hoffman and second-rower Matt Gillett burst onto the scene last year and need to carry the same enthusiasm into this season, while the likes of Jharal Yow Yeh, Alex Glenn and Andrew McCullough are reaching a stage of their career where they need to shoulder more responsibility.
Brisbane's lynchpin is without doubt the masterful Darren Lockyer. The side was a shambles without their five-eighth in 2010, which is testament to the skipper's influence but also the short comings of his halves partner Peter Wallace. Wallace lacked leadership in Lockyer's absence and, with Corey Norman and Ben Hunt snapping at his heels, needs to lift his game for the Broncos to prosper.
Player to Watch - Justin Hodges
Having not played first grade rugby league since September 26th 2009, all eyes will be on Justin Hodges when he makes his expected comeback to the NRL next month. A ruptured achilles tendon kept Hodges on the sideline for the entirety of 2010 and the champion centre is reportedly keener than mustard to return to the field. And don't the Broncos need him more than ever this season. Hodges' physical presence and experience is crucial in a young backline, while his combination with Lockyer will again be the side's pet play. However, his often fiery temper must be kept in check, the last thing the Broncos need is a fit Hodges spending time on the sideline suspended.
Rookie to Watch - Jack Reed
The departure of AFL-bound Israel Folau means the other centre berth is well and truly up for grabs in 2011. Outside back utility Gerard Beale and Under 20s centre Dale Copley would, at this stage, appear to be the front runners but there is no clear indication as to who will be favoured come round one. The bolter could be red-headed Norths Devils product Jack Reed, who has been given an opportunity at both centre and wing in two trials against the Titans and Cowboys. The 21-year old touched down for two tries against North Queensland and is said to be the strongest option defense-wise. Reed may even leapfrog speedster Denan Kemp for a slot on the wing.
Signings: Ben Hannant (Bulldogs), Dane Carlaw (Dragons, ESL)
Losses: Israel Folau (GWS AFL), Lagi Setu (Mormon Mission), Antonio Winterstein (Cowboys), Tariq Sims (Cowboys), Ashton Sims (Cowboys), Korbin Sims (Knights), Andrew Clayton (Sharks)
Predicted 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
Bye (Round 11)
State of Origin I
Sea Eagles (A)
State of Origin II
State of Origin III
Bye (Round 18)
Sea Eagles (H)