Pre-season can be a long tough slog for the NRL faithful so here we are, hoping to lighten the mood somewhat.
We kick-start our NRL previews with the Brisbane Broncos, a side that everyone loves to hate – for their own reasons.
Any side coached by Wayne Bennett is going to provide stiff competition for their opponents.
In 2018, though, with the surprising upheaval that has taken place, are they primed for a premiership assault?
With a good core of reliable players at the helm, plenty lies on them to guide the new recruits and turn the Broncos into a genuine premiership force once again.
All Quiet on the Western Hunt
The biggest talking point for the Broncos ahead of the 2018 season is quite simple; how to cope with the loss of Ben Hunt.
A crucial figure for the club in recent years – although equally inconsistent at times – the pressure is on for his replacement to perform at a decent level.
The pressure will be eased somewhat knowing the quality that already exists in the halves in Anthony Milford but is that enough?
With some doubts and insecurities as to whether Milford is the man to guide the side’s attack on his own, just who can step up and aid him in the Broncos quest for glory?
The most obvious choice for many is Kodi Nikorima. Prior to last season, his chances were rather sporadic but when given a chance, he proved that he has the goods to be given the first opportunity. A small, nuggety but nimble player, Nikorima has had plenty of exposure to the NRL standard across numerous positions, an aspect that could aid him.
Other than Nikorima, lesser known options such as Sam Scarlett or Todd Murphy are chances but with little to no first-grade experience between them, playing either can be a risk. Additionally, new recruit Jack Bird looms as a potential option but the consensus seems to be that he will front up as a centre for the Broncos side.
Bird is the Word
A remarkably gifted and versatile player, Jack Bird, when in form, can be a damaging ball-runner on the edges of the back-line. With the likelihood that he plays centre for his new club in 2018, his potential link-up play with either Corey Oates or Jordan Kahu is sure to have Broncos fans excited.
Bursting onto the scene a few seasons ago playing at five-eighth, he made the eventual shift into the centres and was a catalyst in the Cronulla Sharks 2016 premiership success.
Depending on who you ask, his time at centre was either largely successful, mildly inconsistent or steady without being great. Either way, his attributes, experience and general skillset should be enough to have Broncos fans excited about what he can bring to the table.
To Lodge or not to Lodge?
Time to enter some contentious terrain as the subject of Matthew Lodge has a large number of fans across the NRL livid. His previous actions and exploits were well documented and publicised, prompting many to request he be banned from the game altogether.
Fast-forward to the 2018 season and after working his way back through the Intrust Super Cup recently, the Broncos have taken a punt on him.
This comes much to the aghast of the NRL faithful who strongly believe that he does not deserve a spot at the Broncos yet alone in the NRL based on his previous indiscretions.
Ability wise, Lodge is full of promise but has failed to live up to potential, mostly due to his indiscretions getting in the way.
After stints at numerous NRL clubs, Lodge let his silliness and off-field endeavours overshadow his ability, costing him several years to make a name for himself in the NRL.
In 2018, with a new start and what Broncos fans hope will be a clean slate, Lodge has a chance to finally prove what we have all known. That his ability is not just an afterthought but instead, a reality.
Given a huge confidence boost amid reports that he is set to replace the departed Adam Blair as starting prop, he will have no better chance to grab the bull by the horns and let his footy do the talking.
Gains and Losses
2018 Gains: Jack Bird & Sam Tagataese (both Cronulla Sharks), Jake Turpin (Melbourne Storm), Patrick Mago (North Queensland Cowboys), Troy Dargan (Parramatta Eels), Shaun Nona (St George Illawarra Dragons), Andrew Savelio (Warrington Wolves) & Matthew Lodge.
2018 Losses: Jai Arrow, Adam Blair, Herman Ese’ese, Keegan Hipgrave, Ben Hunt, Matiu Love-Henry, Benji Marshall, David Mead, Tautau Moga & Francis Molo.
Player to Watch
Young guns are the cornerstone of the game, for they grow it, develop it and form the next generation of stars.
At the Broncos, one particular young gun that has caught our eye and is destined for bigger things is forward Jaydn Su’A. Immediately impressing Broncos fans who had previously seen him play, they have high hopes for Su’A at the highest level when he gets further opportunities.
Billed as a key young player by the club’s fans and a long-term project by the club themselves, there is a lot to like about Su’A.
Predominantly a hard-running back-rower, the 21-year old is expected to add to his four NRL games to date at some point over the course of the season.
Su’A broke a record even before he ran onto the field in his debut game when he became the youngest forward to start in an NRL match in the club’s history. From there and based on his success as a junior across all levels, his skillset, ability and range of other attributes have Broncos fans confident that they have a ready-made player to step in when needed.
Predicted 2018 line-up
Here is our educated guess at what we believe is the Broncos’ best line-up for 2018:
- Darius Boyd (C)
- Corey Oates
- James Roberts
- Jack Bird
- Jordan Kahu
- Anthony Milford
- Kodi Nikorima
- Matthew Lodge
- Andrew McCullough
- Korbin Sims
- Matt Gillett
- Alex Glenn
- Josh McGuire
14. Joe Ofahengaue
15. Andre Savelio
16. Sam Thaiday
17. Tevita Pangai Jr.
Coach: Wayne Bennett.