2023 review: Brisbane Broncos

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Andrew Jackson takes in the year that was for the resurgent Brisbane Broncos, whose year finished in a special, albeit heartbreaking, Grand Final appearance.

After a year that ended in the Broncos entering the history books for all the wrong reasons, there were plenty of reasons to believe Brisbane would just take another step backwards in 2023.

But there was also cause for optimism, headlined by the return of fullback Reece Walsh while the Broncos also boasted one of the best young forward packs in the competition and a halves pairing that perfectly blended youthful flair and dependable experience.

Really, the biggest question mark hanging over Brisbane surrounded coach Kevin Walters and whether he was more than a lovable larrikin, capable of adapting his game plan under pressure.

He certainly proved that in 2023 and had the Broncos firing at the right time, winning seven of their last eight games with their only loss coming as both Brisbane and Melbourne rested its big names in Round 27.

If you need any proof of just how different this version of the Broncos was under Walters it came the following week as the team ended its hoodoo against the Storm, shutting out Melbourne in a statement 26-0 win to book a spot in the preliminary finals.

While it did not ultimately end in a premiership, the Broncos still have a relatively young squad that is heading in the right direction after the team's first grand final appearance since 2015.

Turning point

It is hard to pinpoint any specific turning point given Brisbane's consistency throughout the season, although you can probably single out the 18-12 loss to the Gold Coast.

It could have been very easy for the Broncos to follow a similar path to the one they took last year after that defeat, tumbling down the ladder and struggling to capitalise on a successful start to the season.

That is especially true when you consider it also coincided with Reece Walsh being rubbed out for three games for his tirade at referee Chris Butler in that game.

Losing the team's main spark plug in attack could have easily destabilised the team but instead Brisbane went on another winning run to prove itself a serious title contender in 2023.

What worked

Ranking second in the league for both points scored and conceded, clearly a lot worked. That's obvious.

Digging a bit deeper though, it was the form of five-eighth Ezra Mam and hooker Billy Walters that really lifted the ceiling of this team.

Adam Reynolds and Reece Walsh were obviously two of the most in-form players at their position too, although there was always some level of expectation that they would perform well.

Mam and Walters, on the other hand, were hardly sure things and viewed before the season as reasons to question Brisbane's premiership credentials.

Mam enjoyed his best season in the NRL, taking home Dally M Five-eighth of the Year honours after finishing the year with 10 linebreak assists, nine try assists, 13 linebreaks and 47 tackle busts.

The 20-year-old was the perfect complement to the more composed and experienced Reynolds while his defence was also much-improved.

As he proved in the grand final, Mam's speed off the mark and evasive running game also made him a constant threat in attack.

As for Walters, he exceeded expectations and only grew in confidence as the season progressed, picking his moments well when it came to running out of dummy-half.

Without the kind of leaps both Mam and Walters made in their game, Brisbane don't go as far as it did.

What didn't

Not a whole lot. You don't get to a grand final unless a lot of things went right.

If anything, some of Brisbane's younger players - namely Selwyn Cobbo and Reece Walsh - finally had the forgettable moments that we had been waiting for all season long.

For the majority of the season though their performances had largely been unblemished and while it was a shame that both players had a few nervous moments in the biggest game of the year it should not take away from what they put together throughout the whole season.

The Broncos don't have to look far either to see how quickly they could find themselves with another shot at a premiership.

After all, it was only in 2020 that the Panthers lost to the Storm in that year's decider.

That young Penrith group seemed to be a bit overawed by the occasion and at times early in the grand final the same seemed true for Brisbane.

The way the Broncos responded in the early stages of the second half, led by Mam, proves this team has the talent to blow any other away. Maybe the old saying is true and you do need to lose one to win one.

2023 week-by-week

1Mar 3rdFri 8:05pmAPenrithW13-12Bluebet17,1258th
2Mar 10thFri 7:00pmHNorth QLDW28-16Suncorp43,1624th
3Mar 18thSat 6:35pmHSt Geo IllaW40-18Suncorp26,6121st
4Mar 24thFri 7:00pmADolphinsW18-12Suncorp51,0471st
5Apr 1stSat 6:35pmHWests TigersW46-12Suncorp27,5531st
6Apr 8thSat 7:35pmHCanberraL14-20Suncorp31,9621st
7Apr 15thSat 7:35pmAGold CoastW43-26Cbus26,5631st
8Apr 21stFri 7:30pmA NParramattaW26-16Darwin11,8641st
9Apr 28thFri 8:00pmHSouthsL6-32Suncorp40,1021st
10May 5thFri 8:05pmA NManlyW32-6Suncorp50,0771st
11May 11thThu 7:50pmAMelbourneL16-24AAMI16,0433rd
12May 18thThu 7:50pm
13May 27thSat 7:30pmA NWarriorsW26-22Napier16,1953rd
14Jun 3rdSat 7:35pmACronullaW20-12Pointsbet12,3182nd
15Jun 10thSat 5:30pmHNewcastleW24-20Suncorp35,8141st
17Jun 25thSun 2:00pmHGold CoastL12-18Suncorp42,2493rd
18Jul 1stSat 7:35pmHDolphinsW24-16Gabba30,6062nd
20Jul 15thSat 3:00pmACanterburyW44-24Belmore17,1032nd
21Jul 21stFri 8:00pmA NSouthsW36-20Sun. Coast8,9311st
22Jul 27thThu 7:50pm
23Aug 5thSat 3:00pmANorth QLDW30-14QLD C B22,6592nd
24Aug 11thFri 8:00pmHParramattaW54-10Gabba29,0051st
26Aug 26thSat 7:35pmACanberraW29-18GIO19,4001st
27Aug 31stThu 7:50pmHMelbourneL22-32Suncorp43,2712nd
QFSep 8thFri 7:50pmH NMelbourneW26-0Suncorp50,197-
PFSep 23rdSat 7:50pmH NWarriorsW42-12Suncorp52,273-
GFOct 1stSun 7:30pmA NPenrithL24-26Accor81,947-

Best players

Having won the team's player of the year award every season except for his rookie campaign, where he played only three games, front rower Payne Haas obviously headlines this list.

Although lock forward Patrick Carrigan also had his best season in the NRL, rewarded with a spot in the Dally M Team of the Year after averaging 125 metres and 30 tackles per game.

The Broncos workhorse also offered a passing option through the middle that proved particularly lethal close to the line, whether he was playing it short to another forward or out the back to halfback Reynolds.

Speaking of, Reynolds' leadership and calming influence on the field cannot be understated and while he was the perfect halves partner for Mam he also helped balance out the attack with the electric Walsh out the back.

Walsh is another Bronco who enjoyed a career-best season, setting a new Broncos record for most try assists (30).


The standout has to be fullback Tristan Sailor, who was handed a lifeline by Brisbane and took it with both hands while filling in for Walsh.

Sailor averaged 125 metres to go with six try assists, six linebreak assists and 13 tackle busts across his four starts in 2023 and shapes as the kind of player who is simply be too good to be a back-up and may be on the lookout for a new team in the near future.

2023 player list

ARTHARS, Jesse25209--361-
CAPEWELL, Kurt30246--24--
CARRIGAN, Patrick25232--81-
COBBO, Selwyn212420--801-
FARNWORTH, Herbie232615--602-
FLEGLER, Thomas24223--121-
HAAS, Payne23231--4--
HETHERINGTON, Kobe2419------
HOETER, Delouise291------
JENSEN, Corey2921------
MADDEN, Jock235------
MAM, Ezra202518--721-
MARINER, Deine2045--20--
MOZER, Blake-1------
OATES, Corey289------
PAIX, Cory23152--8--
PALASIA, Keenan2620------
PEREIRA, Jordan3012--8--
PIAKURA, Brendan21132--8--
REYNOLDS, Adam33235943212--
RIKI, Jordan23227--28--
ROGERS, Josh271-5-10--
SAILOR, Tristan254------
SMOOTHY, Tyson2413------
STAGGS, Kotoni2426137-66--
TAUPAU, Martin3320----1-
WALSH, Reece212293143--
WALTERS, Billy29266--24--
WILLISON, Xavier2172--8--

29 players, average age 25.65yrs

Season snapshot

Coach: Kevin Walters
Captains: Adam Reynolds (24), Kurt Capewell (3), Thomas Flegler (1)

Biggest home crowd: 43,271 (vs. Melbourne in round 27)
Average home crowd: 33,793

Top pointscorer: Adam Reynolds (212)
Top tryscorer: Ezra Mam (22)

Club award winners

  • Cyril Connell Award - Rookie of the Year: Tristan Sailor
  • Kevin Walters Award - Most Consistent: Payne Haas
  • Allan Langer Award - Best Back: Reece Walsh
  • Shane Webcke Award - Best Forward: Payne Haas
  • Wally Lewis Award - Play of the Year: Kotoni Staggs (Round 4 Try v Redcliffe)
  • Community Service Award: Pat Carrigan
  • Club Person Of The Year: Simon Scanlan
  • Gary Balkin Award - Players' Player: Payne Haas
  • Paul Morgan Medal - Player of the Year: Payne Haas

Looking ahead

Another top-four finish is on the cards, although the losses of Herbie Farnworth and Tom Flegler (Dolphins) leave significant holes while Keenan Palasia is also off to the Gold Coast.

For the time being, Reynolds is showing no signs of slowing down and as long as that remains the case the Broncos will be in premiership contention.

Best 17 in 2024

based on current signings at time of writing

1.     Reece Walsh
2.     Jesse Arthars
3.     Kotoni Staggs
4.     Deine Mariner
5.     Selwyn Cobbo
6.     Ezra Mam
7.     Adam Reynolds
8.     Corey Jensen
9.     Billy Walters
10.  Payne Haas
11.  Jordan Riki
12.  Kurt Capewell
13.  Patrick Carrigan

14.  Tyson Smoothy
15.  Kobe Hetherington
16.  Brendan Piakura
17.  Fletcher Baker