Jeff Dickinson-Fox reviews the campaign which saw Melbourne Storm crowned premiers in 2017.
4 days ago
Matchwinner Darren Lockyer's return from injury has become a delicate timing issue for the Brisbane Broncos.
Lockyer has postponed until Friday a decision on whether he plays against Wests Tigers on Saturday, rating himself a 50-50 chance.
He may be rested for another week ahead of what could be a pivotal clash with the NZ Warriors the following week.
But with the Broncos on a three-match losing streak and slipping out of the NRL's top four at a crucial time, it's a tough decision as a win over the lowly-ranked Tigers would at least consolidate their spot in the top eight.
Lockyer shies away from suggestions that Brisbane can't win without him, but NRL statistics show the club has won only five of 17 games it has played without its champion fullback since 1998.
Lockyer did a 45 minute session on Wednesday, running at three quarter pace without pain, but is not convinced the high ankle sprain he suffered mid-season and carried through the State of Origin series has recovered sufficiently.
"Friday will be the day," declared Lockyer, who hasn't played since pulling out of the Test against New Zealand on August 25.
"I'll train with the guys and if it comes through with no pain and I do contact work and I'm happy with it, then I'll pull on the jersey.
"I was happy with the way I ran. But until I do some contact I won't really know if it is 100 per cent."
After the Tigers match, the Broncos face three very tough finishing games against 2002 grand finalist the Warriors away and then home games with Parramatta and St George, both vying for a finals berth. Lockyer clearly didn't enjoy struggling through the Origin series with the injury and not being able to train at 100 per cent.
But he said he wasn't concerned about missing another game despite Brisbane's form slump which continued with last week's 13-6 loss to a revved up Penrith as he and captain Gorden Tallis remained sidelined.
"I thought we ground it out well last week. Our defence was great and we had opportunities we didn't take," said Lockyer.
"That happens whether Darren Lockyer or Gorden Tallis is playing.
"Not having Gordie and myself or Ben (Ikin) has been a disturbance but the guys have been trying hard."
Lockyer's replacement, Michael De Vere was an absentee at training, but he gave Wayne Bennett a good excuse -- his wife was having their first child.