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Jeff Dickinson-Fox looks back at the year that was for the Brisbane Broncos.
As is their custom, Brisbane played finals football again in 2016 and had to win every match in the finals as they had finished fifth. They defeated a weak Gold Coast Titans in a controversial match during week one of the finals. Then in North Queensland their season was ended by a sensational Johnathan Thurston inside pass for a Michael Morgan try during extra-time.
Thurston had also ended Brisbane's 2015 season in more extraordinary circumstances still fresh in the mind of every rugby league fan.
With the legendary JT out injured for most of 2017 and the Cowboys just managing eighth spot on the ladder, optimism was high for the Broncos.
Having finished third on the ladder with 16 wins, eight losses, a healthy 164 points differential, ranked second in points scored and fourth for points against, Brisbane were looking the goods.
During the Origin period they won three matches and lost three. In round 25 against the Parramatta Eels the Broncos lost 52-34 at Suncorp Stadium, as such, they had to try to be the first team in NRL history to win a premiership despite conceding 50 or more points in one match.
Darius Boyd's hamstring injury seconds before half-time in round 26 against the North Queensland Cowboys. You have the right to expect teams to play close to their best if one star player is on the sideline, but with Boyd joining Andrew McCullough on the injured list that's half the spine missing. Personally, I don't know what I'd do with half a spine. Boyd's attempt at a comeback against the Melbourne Storm in the preliminary final looked premature from the opening minutes. Nothing Brisbane could do would trouble the Storm.
Wayne Bennett's decision to sign Benji Marshall. After finishing the 2016 season with the Dragons, the interest in Marshall around the NRL was so insignificant that playing in the Super League seemed like his best option. When Marshall took on Wayne Bennett's challenge to join the Broncos his projected impact was underrated. The coverage he provided during the Origin period and Ben Hunt's relegation was great. Add to that the mentoring he gave Anthony Milford and fellow Kiwi Kodi Nikorima.
Kicking continues to be one of Brisbane's weakest attributes. Forcing line dropouts, scoring tries off kicks, conversions and general kicking is all below average. To address the problem this year the Broncos hired Brisbane Lions great Daniel Merrett as a kicking coach, but there wasn't a noticeable improvement compared to previous seasons. It's hard to believe neither Hunt, McCullough, Milford or Nikorima have quality kicking despite playing together as teenagers. With Jack Bird being the only new addition to the team who might play as a half, Brisbane appear to be without a recognised game-managing kicker and playmaker in 2018.
Once a player that led the NRL in missed tackles, Matt Gillett is now one of Australia's best second-row forwards. For the Broncos he's often the saviour when it comes to stopping a player busting the goal-line defence. Gillett is consistent, poses a strong threat in attack and does well to be available for Brisbane, Queensland and Australia.
An ACL and MCL tear ended the dummy half's season in round 21 but hooker Andrew McCullough consistently showed career best form in 2017. As one of the few 80-minute hooker's left in the NRL his work rate in defence remained high and the improvement came from his involvement in the attack. He receives a small amount of praise publicly and there is no doubt McCullough is an excellent servant of the Broncos. He won Brisbane's player of the year and deserves to be the first person in the Queensland number nine jersey if Cameron Smith decides to retire.
He nominated himself as the person to replace Corey Parker's production at lock - and Josh McGuire delivered. Once again an Origin player this year, he came up with a match changing play in game two which started the Queensland comeback. McGuire's great season has been rewarded with Australian selection at the World Cup. Only having sight through one eye has not slowed him down.
There were too many dumb errors in Adam Blair's appearances. Everyone makes mistakes and most of them can be tolerated, but Blair made blunders you traditionally see from nervous rookies. Who could forget the offload he made 10 seconds into the round 25 match against the Eels?
In 2015 and 2016 he had great seasons, but this year his football was down and leaving for the New Zealand Warriors probably does the Broncos a favour.
Is Ben Hunt's 2015 form ever to be seen again? This year the attack got close to his best but defensively he was off the pace. It's still a reasonable expectation to see Hunt play his best football considering he has more than 150 games of NRL experience, Queensland and Australian representation. Hunt's 2015 form is deserving of the rumoured $6 million contract he picked up with the St George Illawarra Dragons. His new club will have to figure out if his future is playing in the halves or as a hooker. Don't forget Hunt is just 27-years-old, most footballers are their best in their late 20s and early 30s.
The U20s team finished sixth on the ladder and lost 33-12 in the semi-finals against the Penrith Panthers. The Broncos never won a NYC grand final and finished as the runner up in 2008 and 2014.
Redcliffe Dolphins | 2nd on the ladder and eliminated in the preliminary final by the Sunshine Coast Falcons
Souths Logan Magpies: 5th on the ladder and eliminated in week one of the finals by the Sunshine Coast Falcons
Ipswich Jets | 7th
Wynnum Manly Seagulls | 10th
Norths Devils | 11th
Brisbane has kept most of the squad that reached the 2015 grand final and believe they'll be legitimate premiership contenders in 2018. The coaching staff is arguably second in credentials to the Melbourne Storm. Areas of concern are the lack of a game-managing playmaker, kicking and front-row forward depth. Many thought the Broncos lacked front-row depth in 2017, but towards the end of the season the bench forwards were making a stronger impact than the starting props.
Brisbane need to make the finals, they probably finish fifth on the ladder and likely get eliminated in another preliminary final.