The Broncos once again returned to the pacesetters group in 2004, but once again they fell by the wayside when the business end of the season came along.
Brisbane won just 1 of their last 6 games, after comfortably securing a home semi final and being in an ideal position to launch a title assault. It is a trend that has become familiar in recent seasons, with the club struggling with injuries to key personnel at the wrong time and suffering from representative season hangovers.
Tipped to miss the eight by several ?experts?, coach Wayne Bennett responded by moving superstar Darren Lockyer from fullback to five eighth. The move paid handsome dividends early in the season. The Broncos toppled both of the 2003 Grand Finalists, convincingly beating the Roosters 26-14 and the Panthers 32-14. The Broncos rediscovered some old style Bronco attack, with sweeping backline movements.
Another major factor in what appeared to be a Bronco resurgence was the impact of 17 year old ?Wunderkinder? Karmichael Hunt. Hunt exploded on to the scene, quickly making the fullback spot his own. His brilliant kick returns and trademark ?goose step? were complimented by a mature football brain and ability to find the tryline himself and create tries for others.
The Broncos appeared to have bypassed the Origin period relatively unscathed, when they won six matches in a row in the early part of the second half of the season, to remain a chance of winning the minor premiership. But the injuries to unsung players like Barry Berrigan, Michael Ryan and Brett Seymour, really hurt them when it came to the end of the season, as did the loss of top goalkicker and ?Mr Reliable? Michael De Vere.
In Round 23 in front of a huge Suncorp Stadium crowd, the Broncos were given a footballing lesson by the Bulldogs. Despite competing with determination and heart for most of the game, when the Bulldogs stepped up a gear, the Broncos couldn?t go with them, and it was clear the Broncos weren?t serious contenders unless they could really lift their intensity over 80 minutes.
The ?lift? never came. Uncharacteristic defensive lapses were highlighted in a 34-34 draw against South Sydney and despite being understrength, it was clear that the Broncos were well off the pace when they were thrashed by Penrith on the eve of the finals. The Broncos couldn?t give Gorden Tallis the send off he was hoping for at Suncorp. The Broncos failed to take advantage of first half dominance against Melbourne in the qualifying finals and were humiliated by a Melbourne tryscoring spree in the second half. The Broncos tried very hard to stay with a North Queensland outfit high on confidence and emotion in the semi final in Townsville, but they lacked the fluency and composure required to break through the Cowboys defensive wall.
Season 2004 will go down as another season of mixed fortunes for the Broncos. Third place in the minor premiership was pleasing but to finish the season poorly yet again was another bitter pill to swallow. They unearthed stars of the future such as Karmichael Hunt, Neville Costigan and Gary Tupou, while the raging bull Gorden Tallis gave his usual wholehearted performances in his final fling. Darren Lockyer showed his class at five eighth, and Shaun Berrigan and Tonie Carroll also made big impressions.
BEST PERFORMANCE: The Broncos of old looked to have returned in the club?s Round 7 triumph over defending premiers, Penrith. The Broncos threw the ball around and looked fluent in attack, scoring some great long range tries.
PREDICTION FOR 2005: The Broncos enter the post Tallis era in pretty good shape, but they still have a number of weaknesses that will prevent them from winning the premiership next year. They need to find a regular No 9 to chew up the metres from dummy half. They also need to settle on a halfback. As good a player as Casey McGuire is, he is not a great number 7. They will welcome back old boy Brad Thorn after a stint in New Zealand rugby union. Thorn should help fill the void left by Tallis?s departure. The Broncos faithful will be hoping that Wayne Bennett can help Justin Hodges focus his mind on football, after looking ?lost? at times with the Sydney Roosters. Stars like Lockyer, Webcke, Tate and Berrigan remain at the club and Hunt should continue to shine. But I?m not convinced that the Broncos can topple the likes of the Bulldogs, Roosters and Panthers when it matters.
Match Records 2004
ROUND OPPONENT VENUE RESULT SCORE 1 New Zealand Warriors Suncorp Stadium WIN 28-20 2 Parramatta Eels Suncorp Stadium LOSS 18-26 3 Wests Tigers Campbelltown Stadium WIN 32-24 4 Melbourne Storm Suncorp Stadium WIN 34-26 5 Sydney Roosters Aussie Stadium WIN 26-14 6 North Queensland Cowboys Dairy Farmers Stadium WIN 19-12 7 Penrith Panthers Suncorp Stadium WIN 32-14 8 Bulldogs Telstra Stadium LOSS 18-25 9 Canberra Raiders Canberra Stadium WIN 34-20 10 Newcastle Knights Suncorp Stadium LOSS 16-17 11 BYE
12 St.George-Illawarra Dragons Suncorp Stadium WIN 24-22 13 Cronulla Sharks Suncorp Stadium LOSS 22-30 14 BYE
15 Parramatta Eels Parramatta Stadium WIN 34-24 16 Canberra Raiders Suncorp Stadium LOSS 14-21 17 South Sydney Rabbitohs Suncorp Stadium WIN 48-28 18 St.George-Illawarra Dragons WIN Stadium WIN 28-14 19 Newcastle Knights Energy Australia Stadium WIN 16-12 20 Manly Sea Eagles Suncorp Stadium WIN 26-12 21 Cronulla Sharks Toyota Park WIN 16-12 22 New Zealand Warriors Ericsson Stadium WIN 21-14 23 Bulldogs Suncorp Stadium LOSS 18-46 24 Wests Tigers Suncorp Stadium WIN 24-20 25 South Sydney Rabbitohs Aussie Stadium DRAW 34-34 26 Penrith Panthers Penrith Stadium LOSS 20-46 Qualifying Final Melbourne Storm Suncorp Stadium LOSS 14-31 Semi Final North Queensland Cowboys Dairy Farmers Stadium LOSS 0-10
16 WINS, 1 DRAW, 9 LOSSES, FOR: 616 AGAINST: 574 POSITION: Semi Finalists, 3rd in Minor Premiership
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)
By Michael Allen ? Freelance Journalist