Season 2004 promised so much for the Brisbane Broncos. They silenced their critics by beginning the year strongly after their disastrous finish to 2003 (when they lost their final eight matches), and unearthed one of the game?s next superstars in teenage fullback Karmichael Hunt. The world?s best player Darren Lockyer made the switch from fullback to five eighth with consummate ease and the Broncos were right in contention for the minor premiership. But then the post origin curse struck again.
Injuries to representative stars Shaun Berrigan, Tonie Carroll, Shane Webcke and Lockyer led to them missing the last few regular season matches, costing the Broncos momentum. The Broncos entered the finals in the worst form of the top six clubs and bowed out of the premiership race after consecutive defeats to the Melbourne Storm and ?little brothers? the North Queensland Cowboys.
The Broncos are hoping that the same problems will be avoided in 2005. A bye after Origin 3 could address the problem of post origin fatigue which has plagued the club over the last four seasons. The stars should be fresher with an immediate break after the representative season and a chance to ?re-charge the batteries? for the run home to the finals. Coach Wayne Bennett would certainly appreciate better luck with injuries late in the season, but this doesn?t mean all the Broncos troubles are down to ill luck.
The Broncos attack has been limited ever since they released ex hooker Luke Priddis to Penrith three years ago, and they still don?t have a proven replacement for the club?s favourite son Allan Langer at halfback. Both Barry Berrigan (hooker) and Brett Seymour (halfback) appeared to have filled the positions but both sustained season ending knee injuries in May last year. The Broncos must have continuity in these positions to have a serious chance of winning the premiership.
Reactions to the return of two ex-Broncos are mixed. Former Bronco Brad Thorn is readily welcomed back to the fold after a four year stint as an All Black. Thorn?s experience and powerful running will go along to way to making up for the retirement of ?Raging Bull? Gorden Tallis. The re-signing of centre Justin Hodges has not been universally accepted. Hodges for all his natural ability, has failed to convince NRL fans with his attitude and poor performances under pressure during his time at the Sydney Roosters. The Broncos will be hoping that a move to the slower paced lifestyle of Brisbane will help Hodges fully focus on football in 2005.
ONE TO WATCH: Tame Tupou, formerly known as Gary Tupou, could scare a few opposing wingers in 2005. He made a big impact in his first grade debut last season, scoring 2 barnstorming tries for a well beaten Broncos outfit against Penrith. The 110 kilogram, 195 cm tall winger adds more raw power out wide, something that has been missing since powerhouses Lote Tuqiri and Wendell Sailor defected to Rugby Union.
SEASON 2005 CRYSTAL BALL
The Broncos should again perform strongly in the regular season up to origin. It?s how they handle the post Origin period that matters. They may be better equipped in terms of their depth this season, with the likes of Neville Costigan, David Stagg and Tom Learoyd-Lahrs likely to play a bigger role. A lot depends on how these younger players perform and how they cover for the ageing representative stars should injury strike. I am confident they have the talent and the right balance to be premiership contenders, but I see the depth in the halfback and hooker positions as being a weakness. I expect a stronger finish to the season but not strong enough.
PREDICTION: Preliminary Finalists
BRONCOS ? Likely Lineup ?
Michael Allen?s Player Ratings in brackets
10= Superstar 9= Very Good Player 8= Good Player 7= Above Average Player 6= Average Player 5= Unproven / Below Average Player
1- Karmichael Hunt (9) 2- Brent Tate (8) 3- Shaun Berrigan (8) 4- Justin Hodges (7) 5- Tame Tupou (7) 6- Darren Lockyer (10) (Captain) 7- Brett Seymour (7) 8- Shane Webcke (10) 9- Barry Berrigan (7) 10- Petero Civoniceva (9) 11- Dane Carlaw (8) 12- Brad Thorn (8) 13- Tonie Carroll (8)
Interchange: 14- Neville Costigan (7) 15- David Stagg (6) 16- Corey Parker (8) 17- Casey McGuire (7)
Player Rating Average: 7.88-Backs: 8, Forwards: 8.33, Interchange: 7
Brisbane Broncos ? 2005 Player Movement Gains: Justin Hodges (Roosters, 3yrs) , Brad Thorn (Crusaders NZRU, 3yrs), Tim Rangihuna (New Zealand, Canterbury Bulls), Ben Lucas (Terrace High), Derrick Watkins (Cowboys), John-John Te Reo (Wainuiomata, NZ), Aaron Barba (Panthers, 3yrs), Jamie Simpson (St Brendans College, 1yr) Losses: Matthew Harris (retired), Motu Tony (Castleford, UK mid season), Ben Czislowski (Bulldogs, 2yrs), Craig Frawley (Raiders, 3yrs), Michael De Vere (Huddersfield, UK, 2yrs), Carl Webb (Cowboys 2yrs), Daniel Backo (Eels, 2yrs), Germaine Paulson (Souths, 2yrs), Darren Smith (CEO of Easts Tigers), Gorden Tallis (Retirement), Brad Meyers (Bradford, UK 3yrs), Ashley Alberts (Manly, 2 yrs), Matt Ballin (Manly), Paul Green (Wynnum Qld Cup), Ben Ikin (Coaching)
2005 NRL DRAW
1- Cowboys (Suncorp Stadium) 2- Warriors (Suncorp Stadium) 3- Roosters (Aussie Stadium) 4- Storm (Olympic Park) 5- Eels (Suncorp Stadium) 6- Dragons (WIN Stadium) 7- Sharks (Toyota Park) 8- Sea Eagles (Suncorp Stadium) 9- Bulldogs (Suncorp Stadium) 10- Cowboys (Dairy Farmers Stadium) 11- BYE 12- Rabbitohs (Suncorp Stadium) 13- Knights (Energy Australia Stadium) 14- Raiders (Canberra Stadium) 15- Tigers (Suncorp Stadium) 16- Warriors (Ericsson Stadium) 17- Sharks (Suncorp Stadium) 18- BYE 19- Storm (Suncorp Stadium) 20- Bulldogs (Telstra Stadium) 21- Raiders (Suncorp Stadium) 22- Sea Eagles (Brookvale Oval) 23- Dragons (Suncorp Stadium) 24- Panthers (Penrith Stadium) 25- Roosters (Suncorp Stadium) 26- Eels (Parramatta Stadium)