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2014 Brisbane Broncos Season Preview
Worst season ever. If the infamous 'Comic Book Guy' from The Simpson's was asked to sum up Brisbane's 2013 performance he could do so in those three simple words.
To put it bluntly, the numbers from 2013 weren't pretty for the Broncos. They missed the finals for just the second time in the club's 26 year history, a twelfth place finish was their lowest of all time and they recorded the fewest number (10) of victories in a regular season.
For the Brisbane fans, it's probably better that a line was drawn in the sand. And looking ahead to 2014, the winds of change have swept through the club.
Brisbane's management has decided to shake things up with some significant changes in the playing roster. There has been a mass exodus in the playmaking ranks with Corey Norman, Peter Wallace and Scott Prince all leaving. Fringe forwards Dunamis Lui, Scott Anderson and late-season ring in Lama Tasi all also off to different pastures.
No doubt the biggest drawcard for the Broncos is the arrival of little Ben Barba. Back and home and surrounded by family and friends, one hopes that off field issues are no longer a concern. Everyone in the rugby league world wants to see a clear-headed Barba tearing up the footy field as he did on his way to the Dally M Medal in 2012.
The addition of Martin Kennedy, who is on the cusp of Origin selection for Queensland, from Sydney adds another quality big man to the pack.
However, question marks exist of the quality of the other recruits. Daniel Vidot, Stewart Mills and Jon Green have been unable to regularly crack NRL footy at their respective clubs and Todd Lowrie (although he racks up massive tackle counts) doesn't really offer much strike.
Only time will tell whether those recruitments have been an inspired move or whether the 'newbies' are simply squad fillers.
The other massive news to emerge in the washup of 2013 was the decision by Sam Thaiday to step down from captaincy duties. Such a dramatic changing of the guard captaincy-wise is quite an un-Bronco-like move.
The reins have now been handed to veterans Corey Parker and Justin Hodges, with Griffin obviously looking to find a balance between composure and "passion". He has also flagged a return to the backrow for Thaiday – a welcome move as he was too often used as a battering ram in 2013.
Hodges' injury is one other concern. In recent years, Brisbane has looked a little lost for options without their gun centre – they'll be in the position where they have to start 2014 without the 31-year-old.
Where they can win it
It is going to take something pretty special for Brisbane to take home the title in 2014. As much as the phrase irks, the side is in somewhat of a 'rebuilding phase' – especially in the playmaking ranks. Good halves don't grow on trees and it could take some years for the rookies to find their feet. The strength of the side is their forward pack and if Barba can be given space off the back of offloads, then Brisbane will be dangerous.
Where they may struggle
Halves and inexperience. For starters, Brisbane is without a standout option for the five-eighth position. And when you add in the relative inexperience of Hunt, the starting six and seven will be a combination that, on paper, won't strike fear into the heart of too many opposition coaches. Barba aside, the backline appears solid without being spectacular and one feels they're still missing the blinding speed of someone like Jharal Yow Yeh in full flight.
Ben Hunt. He's not one of the big names in the top seventeen but his contribution will probably be the tipping point in many contests. The Broncos will get plenty of attacking opportunities but it will be up to Hunt to ice the cake through a try assist or astute fifth tackle play. The way he handles the transition from interchange hooker and occasional playmaker to starting half will be crucial.
Rookies to watch
This writer remembers watching Zach Strasser running around for the Redcliffe Dolphins' Colts side a few years ago and thinking he was a class above. Since then, he has played a mixture of Intrust Super Cup and Under 20s footy and could be a smokey for the five-eighth position. The21-year-old's best asset is his strong running game. Another one to keep an eye on is Corey Oates, who made his NRL debut in Round 17 last year. Usually a wide running back rower, the Baralaba junior was thrown in on the wing against the Storm before going on to score eight tries in nine games. The fact that he was able to shine despite being out of position means he gets a massive green tick. Oates should be a big chance of gaining an interchange spot as early as Round One.
The Big Plays
Who will be thrown the number six jersey? Can Anthony Griffin channel Craig Bellamy and turn his new recruits into consistent first grade players? Will a few early season losses see the knives sharpened for the coach? And does he have the tactical nous to drive the club forward? Will the level headed Corey Parker lead to a more composed footy side? Is there a Plan B in attack without Justin Hodges?
There are many questions hovering around the Broncos in 2014. It's up to the club to let their footy do the talking.
Likely Team – Round One
1. Ben Barba 2. Josh Hoffman 3. Jack Reed 4. Dale Copley 5. Daniel Vidot 6. Zach Strasser 7. Ben Hunt 8. Josh McGuire 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Ben Hannant 11. Alex Glenn 12. Sam Thaiday 13. Corey Parker (c)
Interchange: 14. Jake Granville 15. Matt Gillett 16. Martin Kennedy 17. Dave Hala