2022 review: Brisbane Broncos

COMP NRL
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If there was any positive for Kevin Walters as he took over at Red Hill at the end of 2020, it was the fact that the only way was up - literally.

For the first time in club history, Brisbane had finished the regular season with the wooden spoon, once an NRL powerhouse reduced to nothing more than a laughing stock.

There was a sense that in order to go forwards, the Broncos needed to go backwards in some respects, to draw on the team's proud history and restore tradition.

The appointment of Walters went a long way to doing just that, having played 237 games of the Broncos. He was a club legend, emblematic of the fusing of past, present and future.

But as Walters has learned, being an NRL coach is a fickle business and in only a matter of games you can go from a revelation to on the precipice of losing your job.

That much was true for Walters, who was credited with being the mastermind of a sudden turnaround that had the Broncos threatening to contest for a spot in the top four this year.

Instead of challenging for a surprise premiership, Brisbane fell apart in the second half of the season and Walters was spared the axe, despite growing calls for the club to move in another direction.

The Broncos would finish the season one win shy of the top eight, an undeniable success on the surface given how the past two years had unfolded. But in a lot of ways it felt like a failure.

A season that had initially promised so much fell flat and now expectations are even higher.

Turning point

It was a stunning capitulation for the Broncos, who became the first team in history to miss the finals having finished inside the top four by Round 19. So, where did everything go wrong?

Well, as simple as it may seem, fatigue from the Origin period may have played a role.

Even back-to-back premiers Penrith struggled with that period last year, although the Panthers had far more all-round talent in their roster to overcome the mid-season wobbles.

Brisbane, on the other hand, still has quite a young roster that is learning to handle the weekly rigours that come with playing first-grade football and it showed in the latter stages of the season.

The Broncos finished the season winning just one of six games, giving up 113 points in losses to Parramatta and Melbourne that put a serious dent in their for-and-against.

It was the most points the club had given up in back-to-back games ever and with the team still in finals contention, the fact they fell apart so spectacular suggested fatigue had well and truly set in.

Speaking after the 53-6 loss to the Eels, coach Walters said it was more of an attitude problem than anything else that had sparked his team's stunning collapse.

"It's just disappointing for everyone," Walters said at the time.

"Obviously, we just need to fix our defence more than anything. Our attitude hasn't been where it needs to be at this time of the year to compete against the good sides.

"I'm not going to make any excuses. It (defence) hasn't been good enough."

What worked

The addition of Adam Reynolds certainly had the desired impact, although it quickly became clear he alone cannot be the saviour at Red Hill.

Nonetheless, his experience and composure immediately rubbed off on his teammates and added an extra element of professionalism that extended beyond the playing field.

Even before the season had started, Reynolds was making a clear difference to standards at training, with teammate Patrick Carrigan writing that the new skipper's football intelligence was "on another level".

"Gordie Tallis said this week that our training goes to another level when Reyno is on the park - and it's true," he wrote in a column for Fox Sports earlier in the year.

"I don't want to say he carries an aura but his presence has certainly been felt ever since he arrived for pre-season three weeks early."

That presence carried onto the football field as Reynolds finished the regular season with 21 try assists and 15 linebreak assists while his 442 average kicking metres were second in the league only behind Nathan Cleary.

The key for the Broncos next year will be finding a clear five-eighth to partner alongside Reynolds, with Ezra Mam showing flashes at the end of 2022 to suggest he could be that man.

What didn't work

Considering the Broncos were in contention for a finals spot right until the last game of the season, you would have expected at least some sort of desperation in defence.

Instead, Brisbane reverted to its old ways and surrendered meekly to end what should have been a promising rebuilding year on a sour note.

As much as it is on the players to perform, there also does have to be something said about coach Walters and whether he is truly the best fit to take this team to the next level.

After all, the prospect of a top-eight spot should have been enough of a motivating factor for Walters to work with and if not, that speaks to a need for more experienced heads in the playing group.

"We lacked the effort and discipline in the last five weeks that's required," Walters bemoaned after a defeat to the Dragons ended Brisbane's season.

"We had that effort and discipline for the first 20 weeks. And then we just let it go."

Working out how to rediscover that effort and discipline and sustain it will be key to how far the Broncos can go in 2023.

2022 results

RndDateDayOppositionVenueCrowdRank
1Mar 11thFri 8:05pmHSouthsW11-4Suncorp32,0025th
2Mar 20thSun 6:00pmACanterburyW16-10Accor13,4533rd
3Mar 27thSun 4:00pmHNorth QldL12-38Suncorp37,7617th
4Apr 2ndSat 3:00pmAWarriorsL6-20Redcliffe9,62013th
5Apr 8thFri 8:00pmHSydneyL20-24Suncorp23,50812th
6Apr 15thFri 8:00pmAPenrithL12-40BlueBet19,40613th
7Apr 22ndFri 8:00pmHCanterburyW34-14Suncorp23,24311th
8Apr 28thThu 7:50pmHCronullaW16-7Suncorp16,7409th
9May 5thThu 7:50pmASouthsW32-12Accor9,2427th
10May 13thFri 8:00pmA NManlyW38-0Suncorp40,2677th
11May 19thThu 7:50pmANewcastleW36-12McD. Jones13,3125th
12May 27thFri 8:00pmHGold CoastW35-24Suncorp32,8644th
14Jun 11thSat 7:30pmHCanberraW24-18Suncorp28,1424th
15Jun 17thFri 7:55pmAMelbourneL20-32AAMI18,5865th
16Jul 2ndSat 5:30pmANorth QldL26-40QLD C.B.23,5315th
17Jul 10thSun 4:05pmHSt Geo IllaW32-18Suncorp29,2345th
18Jul 16thSat 7:35pmAGold CoastW16-12CBUS19,2455th
19Jul 21stThu 7:50pmAParramattaW36-14CommBank11,0175th
20Jul 30thSat 7:35pmHWests TigersL18-32Suncorp32,9095th
21Aug 4thThu 7:50pmASydneyL16-34SCG10,4957th
22Aug 13thSat 7:35pmHNewcastleW28-10Suncorp25,7426th
23Aug 19thFri 7:55pmHMelbourneL12-60Suncorp42,6128th
24Aug 25thThu 7:50pmHParramattaL6-53Suncorp30,3719th
25Sep 3rdSat 5:30pmASt Geo IllaL12-22Netstrata8,2479th

Best players

Having already addressed Reynolds, I'm going to focus on two players who entered this season in very different periods of their career - Selwyn Cobbo and Corey Oates.

Starting with Cobbo, he is one of those players who may have struggled with the weekly demands of playing in the NRL but will be better for the experience.

Regardless, Cobbo showed glimpses of his game-winning potential throughout the season, finishing with 15 tries, 92 tackle busts, 21 linebreaks and an average of 122 run metres per game.

It saw the young winger rewarded with an Origin jersey, where he also excelled in a clear sign that the 20-year-old is also capable of performing on the biggest of stages in the game.

As for Oates, there were doubts as to whether he would even figure in Brisbane's first-choice line-up at the start of the season but he cast those aside to resurrect his career.

Oates even put himself back in the Origin frame as he scored 20 tries while also averaging a team-high 158 metres, eventually earning a recall for Queensland in the Game 3 decider.

His hard-edged running style and slick finishing made Oates one of the team's most consistent and reliable players, something which was much-needed as the Broncos fell apart later in the season.

Rookies

He may not be the long-term answer but for a rookie, Ezra Mam was impressively consistent for the Broncos when partnering Adam Reynolds in the latter stages of the season.

Mam played only 13 games but made the most of his playing time, finishing the season with eight try assists, 10 linebreak assists, seven linebreaks and 27 tackle busts.

While capable of the flashy passes and highlight-reel plays, it was the 19-year-old's lethal running game that made him particularly challenging to defend.

Mam finished the year averaging seven runs for 76 metres per game, figures that ranked him just short of Parramatta's Dylan Brown as one of the league's best running five-eighths.

That area of Mam's game will only continue to grow as he gets more comfortable in Brisbane's attack with another off-season under his belt.

His defence will of course remain a work-in-progress but will get better with time, as is the case with any young playmaker.

With Tyson Gamble leaving for Newcastle, Mam has a clear shot to make the five-eighth jumper his own given he offers more variety than new signing Jock Madden.

Back-rower Brendan Piakura also figures to be a key part of Brisbane's bench next season after seeing limited playing time in 2022.

PlayerAgeAppTGFGPtsBinOff
CAPEWELL, Kurt29195-121--
CARRIGAN, Patrick2414------
COBBO, Selwyn201815--60--
FARNWORTH, Herbie221210--40--
FLEGLER, Thomas2318----2-
GAMBLE, Tyson269--11--
HAAS, Payne22201--4--
HETHERINGTON, Kobe2322------
HOETER, Delouise2874--16--
HOSKING, Zac254------
ISAAKO, Jamayne261-1-2--
JAMES, Ryan3110------
JENSEN, Corey2818------
KELLY, Albert3141--4--
KENNEDY, Rhys27111--4--
LEE, Brenko2681--4--
MAM, Ezra19136--24--
MARINER, Deine-2------
MARTIN, Te Maire26131--4--
NIU, Tesi21103--12--
OATES, Corey272220--80--
PAIX, Cory22121--4--
PALASIA, Keenan2522----1-
PEREIRA, Jordan2952--8--
PIAKURA, Brendan201------
REYNOLDS, Adam3220661-146--
RIKI, Jordan22224--16--
ROBATI, TC207------
ROBERTS, Tyrone312------
STAGGS, Kotoni2323516-521-
TURPIN, Jake2515----1-
WALTERS, Billy28233--12--
WILLISON, Xavier201------
33 players25.53248978251450

Looking Ahead

This is a talented line-up, with the forward pack in particularly boasting plenty of representative players capable of laying a strong platform for Reynolds to work with.

Reece Walsh will add an extra playmaking option at fullback, although like Mam he too will need to work on his defence in the summer.

Provided Walters finds the key to unlocking this young squad's potential, the Broncos are capable of being a solid finals team next year, although the top four looks beyond them at this point.

2023 Best 17

at time of writing

1.     Reece Walsh
2.     Corey Oates
3.     Herbie Farnworth
4.     Kotoni Staggs
5.     Selwyn Cobbo
6.     Ezra Mam
7.     Adam Reynolds
8.     Payne Haas
9.     Billy Walters
10.  Tom Flegler
11.  Kurt Capewell
12.  Jordan Riki
13.  Patrick Carrigan

14.  Cory Paix
15.  Keenan Palasia
16.  Kobe Hetherington
17.  Brendan Piakura