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2018 Review: Brisbane Broncos
A shocking 30-point finals defeat, coaching dramas and the best young forward pack in the game headline the tenth side from our 2018 review series. Andrew Jackson looks at Brisbane's 2018 season and why it came to such a sudden end.
A string of injuries up front saw a series of rookies step up and announce themselves as the best crop of young forwards in the competition. But even they couldn't save Wayne Bennett's men from a bitterly disappointing early exit in this year's finals series.
While consistent success has never been an issue for the Broncos, taking the final step towards being true premiership contenders has. And most pundits will agree that it was inconsistency that cost Brisbane in 2018. Much of this can be put down to the inexperience of their fill-in forward pack. But at the same time, as many predicted, halves Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima struggled to gel with neither proving the dominant playmaker Brisbane were calling out for.
Brisbane flew under the radar for much of the regular season, before back-to-back wins over premiership heavyweights South Sydney and the Roosters saw them quickly enter title calculations.
And following a 48-16 thumping of Manly, the Broncos were tipped as a chance of becoming the first team in NRL history to win the title from outside the top four.
But just as they appeared unstoppable, the inconsistency crept in once more. And this time there were no second chances. A 48-18 defeat to the Dragons signalled the end of Brisbane's 2018 campaign. It could also be Bennett's final game at the helm.
A potentially meagre end at the Red Hill for a not-so-meagre coach.
While not confirmed, Anthony Seibold is expected to make the trip up north in 2020. He could even be up there next year. And after revolutionising a previously dismal South Sydney outfit, perhaps he is the man to get the best out of a Broncos side who may simply just lack self-belief.
Heading into Round 17 without posting a win by more than nine points, the Broncos lacked the killer instinct that any side needs to taste premiership success.
But they emphatically turned around their fortunes with a 34-0 whitewash of the Titans. It was the perfect performance. This side was confident. A true premiership contender. The big doughnut next to the Gold Coast on the scoreboard was proof of this.
Of course, as the Broncos do, they responded the next week to be thumped 26-6 by the Warriors. Yet following the win over the Titans, Bennett's men went on to win five of their next eight games, three of which were against top-four sides. And even more impressive - the average winning margin from these games - 20 points. This was a different Broncos side to the one from the first half of the season.
But perhaps, the 48-16 win over Manly was exactly what Brisbane didn't need heading into the finals. Having risen to the occasion two weeks straight against the Rabbitohs and Roosters, the Broncos didn't even need to move out of second gear as they cruised to victory.
The following week, they would play a Dragons side, who only two weeks prior had been embarrassed 38-0 by the Bulldogs. They were beaten, worn down and low on confidence. Brisbane were riding a wave of momentum. But with it, they had lost a sense of respect for their opposition. They had forgotten that it is defence that wins games.
And they were punished because of it.
While seasoned forwards Matt Gillett, Alex Glenn and Josh McGuire all spent time on the sidelines, it was Brisbane's depth up front that carried them to a top-eight finish in 2018. Jaydn Su'A, Payne Haas, Tevita Pangai Junior and Joe Ofahengaue all cemented their spots in the Broncos' top seventeen and formed one of the most imposing forward packs in the competition.
Pangai-Junior, who appears set to remain at Brisbane long-term, was particularly impressive in what was his third season in the NRL. It was the first season, however, that he announced himself as not only a starting first grader but a genuine game breaker, with his tackle-busting ability proving a handful for opposition defence.
Brisbane will not win the premiership with both Milford and Nikorima playing the same role. While an effective forward pack is essential for any successful playmaker, if Seibold is be handed the coaching role he will need to search for consistency from his halves.
Milford is one of the league's best instinctive players, but his true potential can only be unlocked when starting alongside a more dominant halves partner. This could be Nikorima. His turn of speed is a handy weapon to have up his arsenal, but 2018 also saw the 24-year old develop his long-range kicking game. The same could be said for Milford, who was more confident taking control of games. More improvement in this area will only strengthen Brisbane's chances in 2019.
His return to the NRL may have been controversial, but Matt Lodge's on-field impact is still deserving of praise. Lodge lined up for every single of Brisbane's games in 2019, averaging 129 running metres and 23 tackles.
The 23-year old got through plenty of work through the middle and while consistency may have been a widespread issue for the Broncos in 2018, it certainly wasn't a problem for Lodge.
It would be criminal to not mention Dally M Rookie of the Year Jamayne Isaako. Brisbane have been home to plenty of flyers in recent years, but it appeared as if Isaako's development in the top grade was blocked by fellow winger Jordan Kahu.
Kahu, however, only managed 15 appearances in 2018, the majority spent in the centres. It meant that Isaako was given the opportunity to establish himself as Bennett's first-choice winger outside of Corey Oates.
And Isaako excelled, scoring 11 tries and proving a hand goalkicker too, slotting at 82.9%. While there are still areas he can improve in defence, he was quick to adapt to the rigours of first grade and prove himself worthy of a spot in Brisbane's top seventeen.
Feeder club round-up
Testament to the depth up north, Brisbane's long-time feeder club Redcliffe claimed the Intrust Super Cup after a hard-fought 36-22 win over the Storm-aligned Easts Tigers. Toby Rudolf claimed man-of-the-match honours in the final after an inspired effort while fleet-footed fullback Trai Fuller also impressed with two tries.
Brisbane's other feeders in the Intrust Super Cup had mixed results - Ipswich were next best after Redcliffe finishing 6th, eliminating Townsville in week one before being clobbered by Grand Finalists Easts the following week. Norths finished 8th, Souths Logan 9th and Wynnum 12th, all having largely forgettable seasons in Queensland's premier competition.
In the Under 20's Hastings Deering Colts, Norths were the pick of the crop, finishing second and downing minor premiers Townsville on Grand Final day. Wynnum Manly (5th) and Souths Logan (6th) both scraped into the finals, while Redcliffe (7th) missed out and Ipswich won just one game all season to finish last.
It remains to be seen whether Bennett will be the man to lead the Broncos through the 2019 season. If he does stay, it will be interesting to see whether his relationship with CEO Paul White will deteriorate further.
Brisbane still have one of the most exciting forward packs in the competition and will welcome back Matt Gillett, who spent most of last year out with a neck injury.
Jack Bird may also make his long-awaited return but if his fitness is anything to go by, it seems doubtful that it will have that much of an impact.
A top-four finish will be the aim for the Broncos, but much will depend on how the playing group responds to Bennett's looming departure.
Potential 2019 lineup
based on current signings
1. Darius Boyd
2. Corey Oates
3. James Roberts
4. Jack Bird
5. Jamayne Isaako
6. Anthony Milford
7. Kodi Nikorima
8. Matt Lodge
9. Andrew McCullough
10. Joe Ofahengaue
11. Alex Glenn
12. Matt Gillett
13. Josh McGuire
Brisbane Broncos 12
North Queensland Cowboys 20
Brisbane Broncos 9
Gold Coast Titans 26
Brisbane Broncos 10
Brisbane Broncos 27
Melbourne Storm 34
Brisbane Broncos 24
Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 20
Brisbane Broncos 24
Sydney Roosters 22
Parramatta Eels 10
Brisbane Broncos 16
Brisbane Broncos 20
Canberra Raiders 22
Brisbane Broncos 34
Penrith Panthers 18
Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks 10
Brisbane Broncos 22
Brisbane Broncos 30
South Sydney Rabbitohs 18
Brisbane Broncos 22
Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles 16
St George Illawarra Dragons 48
By the Stats
- Competition Points
- Matches Won
- Matches Drawn
- Matches Lost
- Points Scored
- Points Conceded