My, my, how quickly the NRL pre-season has gone. Another year and another lot of season previews for each team. This year, we start with the Brisbane Broncos, last years’ grand finalists. With some new additions, players with one more year experience and a very similar side compared to last year, can they go one step better and win yet another piece of NRL silverware?
They came ever so close last year and were pipped at the post by the North Queensland Cowboys who won their maiden premiership. It would take a brave punter to tip against the Broncos chances in 2016, given their side is largely the same with one very handy addition, and with Wayne Bennett at the helm, his teams are always expected to perform well. They start the year with a trip to Parramatta’s Pirtek Stadium, a game that is never easy.
With some uncertainty over the Broncos back-line in light of the retirement of Justin Hodges and an injury to Jack Reed, there are positions up for grabs in the short-term ahead of the season proper. Lachlan Maranta is a name that will come up, with the young winger tried and tested in the NRL, and performing relatively well in his time so far. Although he is not everyone’s fan favourite at the Broncos, with many fans eager to see Carlin Anderson afforded an opportunity to start the season. Anderson, who joined the club from the Intrust Super Cup winning side, the Ipswich Jets, is somewhat of an unknown conundrum. An able performer for the Jets in his time there, the NRL is a different kettle of fish and if he is given the opportunity to start or in fact, one at some point throughout the season, can he handle the additional pressures or will he need further time to develop and grow as a player?
One thing that is settled is the addition of James Roberts, who departed the Gold Coast Titans to join the Broncos rather unceremoniously, after a contract bungle. To gain a player like Roberts after losing an elite centre like Hodges is a huge boost for the Broncos, even if the two are very different players. Hodges, who established a reputation on quick, swift dummy-half running and creating opportunity with very little space, was powerfully built and adept at making space for himself and producing offloads. On the other hand, as we saw with Roberts and his 2015 season with the Titans, he needs space to run into and it is from there that his attacking prowess comes. The interesting aspect is how the dynamics of the Broncos team will adapt or stay the same, in order to fit the flying centre into their system.
And on their system, there is another interesting aspect to ponder and look into. After the brilliance of both Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford as a halves duo in 2015, is that the sort of form they can emulate in 2016 or have they set the bar too high? Usually, as the next season rolls around, teams develop strategies and ways to deal with excelling players from the previous season. The onus is on the halves duo and the club themselves, to develop even more and expand their game to emulate the same type of success as both individuals and a duo. Both are two of the most talented young halves currently in the competition but they will be marked men, even if they do hold the key to the Broncos chances in 2016.
Essentially, the Broncos are still an elite side in the NRL even if rival fans do not think so, or if the continued debates about the salary cap rage on. They boast somewhat of an ageing roster but a very experienced one, with the mix of youth and experience all playing their part in 2015 and looking to do the same again in 2016. Anything other than a top 4 finish and many fans would be very surprised.
Best buy: Bit of a no-brainer this one, with the best buy being centre James Roberts from the Titans. A gifted player and blessed with sheer, blinding pace, he is often regarded as the fastest man in the game. Coming off a career best year at the Titans, where he was their go-to man and the man that could create opportunity, he moves into a very different dynamic at the Broncos. He will no longer be the star of the show and will have to share the opportunity and creativity around, especially with a halves duo of Hunt and Milford. Adjusting into a new system is never an easy task and that is the challenge for Roberts in 2016. Unlikely to see as much ball this year compared to last year, he may have to change his own style and increase his overall work-ethic, if he is to get his hands on the ball as often. Doing so is merely a subtle change, but it is one that may take time for Roberts to get used to. His addition is a tremendous one for the Broncos and his attacking prowess will only bolster their back-line.
Most Promising Talent: Not too many players have come back from Mormon missions and been largely successful but one player that has the potential to buck that trend is Caleb Timu. A try-scoring machine in the Holden Cup before he left, he has always been rated highly by Broncos coaching staff and by the Broncos fans. This could be his break-out year, with a likely first-grade call-up to occur over the Origin period. Adept as a front-rower as well, Timu will be looking to get back into the swing of rugby league and make a strong impact in the Intrust Super Cup, where it is likely he will play. Whether he can take the leap and emulate his success prior to his Mormon mission is a challenge but with his natural ability as a player, if anyone can do it, it is Timu.
2016 Gains: Carlin Anderson (2016), Herman Ese’ese (Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, 2016), Salesi Funaki (Wests Tigers, 2017), Darren Nicholls (Mid Season: South Sydney Rabbitohs, 2016), James Roberts (Gold Coast Titans, 2017), Marion Seve (Wests Tigers, 2016), Caleb Timu (2017).
Our predicted line-up:
1. Darius Boyd
2. Corey Oates
3. James Roberts
4. Jordan Kahu
5. Lachlan Maranta
6. Anthony Milford
7. Ben Hunt
8. Josh McGuire
9. Andrew McCullough
10. Adam Blair
11. Alex Glenn
12. Matt Gillett
13. Corey Parker (C)
14. Kodi Nikorima
15. Sam Thaiday
16. Jarrod Wallace
17. Joe Ofahengaue
Just with the Broncos side, it is worth noting that Jack Reed’s omission is due to injury. So upon his return, the line-up is subject to change.