GRAND FINAL DAY LOCKED IN | Three big fixtures next Sunday at Sydney's ANZ Stadium! Burleigh and Ill...
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The biggest headache for the Brisbane Broncos at the beginning of 2012 was how to go about filling the shoes of the masterful Darren Lockyer at five-eighth.
However, three-quarters of the way through last season and any issues surrounding Lockyer's absence appeared to simply be water under the bridge. With young gun Corey Norman in the number six and experienced halfback Peter Wallace guiding the ship, the Broncos surged to an enviable third spot on the ladder in mid-July. It all looked like smooth sailing.
But from there it all fell away rather dramatically. Whether it was the post-Origin blues or the result of a young squad buckling under the rigors of NRL footy, Brisbane lost six of their last seven regular season matches before being bundled out in the the first week of the finals by their northern Cowboy rivals.
The loss of form saw coach Anthony Griffin shuffle his halves and fullback in an attempt to kick start his side's performance. However, it ultimately proved to be in vain, leaving fans to ponder a similar question to the one posed 365 days ago; who are the playmakers to lead the Broncos forward forward this season?
The club launched a recruitment drive seemingly under the motto of 'back-to-the-future', with Scott Prince (Titans), David Stagg (Bulldogs) and Denan Kemp (Dragons) all returning to Red Hill HQ. While Stagg and Kemp could prove handy depth signings, most of the attention will be focused on Prince.
The 32-year-old will jostle with Norman and Wallace for a spot in the halves, while bench utility Ben Hunt and 2012 Intrust Super Cup Player of the Year Luke Capewell remain outside chances to win a starting gig. It remains to be seen just who will start the season, with trial form going a long way to deciding who wears the six and seven jerseys against Manly-Warringah in Round One. Once Griffin finds his two leading men, he must give them time to grow into the role. Chopping and changing will only hurt their cause.
Unlike the playmaking conundrum, Brisbane's forward group remains largely settled. The aggressive Ben Te'o is the only notable departure and, with props Ben Hannant and Josh McGuire up front, the Broncos again field a well balanced starting pack. However, they will be looking for more impact from their interchange. Despite making his State of Origin debut last year, Bribie Island junior Matt Gillett's second year of NRL wasn't as impressive as his first. The diamond in the rough could be bustling prop David Hala, who only made one appearance in an injury interrupted 2012.
Looking through the Broncos' outside backs roster, it seems to lack the spark of previous years, with an aging Justin Hodges the only real strike weapon. Winger Yharal Yow Yeh is poised to make a miraculous comeback from a sickening leg break but it remains to be seen if he will ever reach the heights he scaled as a Queensland and Australian representative pre-injury.
Overall, Brisbane should be well in contention for the top eight. One feels the performance of their halves will determine whether or not they are true premiership contenders.
Player to Watch - Josh Hoffman
Although not one of the biggest names in the Brisbane squad, Hoffman will be filling arguably the most important position in the modern game - fullback. Injury and lack of form at the back-end of last year meant he finished the season in less-than-impressive fashion but from all reports coach Griffin is set to give the 24-year-old first crack at the role in 2013. But if he is to make the number one jersey his own, he'll need to improve.
In an age where fullbacks regularly act as third playmakers, Hoffman's ball playing skills aren't quite at the same standard when compared to the top echelon of custodians. If Hoffman can add that extra string to his bow it will give the Broncos added impetus from the back, something the club missed last season. At 24 years of age, 2013 could be somewhat of a make-or-break season.
Rookie to Watch - Jordan Kahu
After two knee reconstructions in the space of two seasons, this year will simply be about getting back on the footy field for young Kahu. The 21-year-old ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in a trial match in 2011 and then again last year. Touted as a candidate for the vacant number six jersey at the beginning of 2012, Kahu got through the club's first trial against North Queensland unscathed. The backline utility will start the season in Queensland's Intrust Super Cup but should press for an NRL debut if the Broncos fail to settle on a halves combination or injuries strike the outside backs.
Signings: Joe Bond (Redcliffe Dolphins), Jake Granville (Wynnum Manly Seagulls), Scott Prince (Gold Coast Titans), David Stagg (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs), Denan Kemp (St. George Illawarra Dragons)
Losses: Gerard Beale (St George Illawarra Dragons), Petero Civoniceva (retired), Mitchell Frei (Newcastle Knights), Dane Gagai (Newcastle Knights), Ben Te'o (South Sydney Rabbitohs)
1. Josh Hoffman 2. Jharal Yow Yeh 3. Justin Hodges 4. Jack Reed 5. Dale Copley 6. Peter Wallace 7. Scott Prince 8. Josh McGuire 9. Andrew McCullough 10. Ben Hannant 11. Alex Glenn 12. Sam Thaiday (c) 13. Corey Parker
Interchange: 14. Ben Hunt 15. Matt Gillett 16. David Stagg 17. David Hala