The Brisbane Broncos’ talent this year has been well revered by many, who, like myself, believe they have the potential to snag themselves a top four spot and contend for the Premiership.
Such potential is not just a silly prediction but one with legitimate weight behind it. Incoming Coach Anthony Seibold has inherited a young, talented side, but one that still needs a fair bit of developing. Though he hasn’t brought with him a traditional, basic play-style that mirrors what Wayne Bennett used the past four seasons at Red Hill, rather a new-age technical one highlighted by an exciting attack, that suits the exciting team the Broncos are.
That style was on full display in last year’s South Sydney Rabbitohs, the team Seibold coached before moving up north.
His first and only year with the Rabbitohs didn’t get off to the best start, losing three of his opening five games. But as the season wore on the system began to take shape, as Seibold’s more analytical approach led to points rising and wins being achieved. Souths points per game increased from 20 in their first five games to 25.8 through their next 15, where they achieved a 13-2 record, highlighted by wins over the Roosters, Storm and Sharks who were fellow top four sides. Overall for the season they led the competition in points scored, running metres, line breaks and line break assists, improving from 11th, 14th, 12th and 7th respectively a year prior.
Their improved play also led to the form of key players rising, with the likes of Damien Cook and Adam Reynolds elevating their game’s, while Greg Inglis and Sam Burgess turned back the clock and returned to their best.
It may be a rash prediction given one game is fuelling this ‘hot take’, but the Broncos future is aligning with the Rabbitohs improvement of last year. With more talent to work with and plenty of positive signs around the future of that talent, the Broncos potential is incredibly high.
There were aspects of Brisbane’s performance against the Melbourne Storm in round one that could be criticised. They were rattled early on and barely touched the ball in the opening 15 minutes, and by the time the interval rolled around they appeared worn out. To be fair their ability to stay in the contest was admirable, highlighted by two quick tries to reduce the deficit in the second half. But a poor first half ultimately sealed their fate, losing 22-12.
But Brisbane’s 29-10 win over the North Queensland Cowboys last Friday was a vast improvement and impressive in almost every aspect possible. Front rower Tevita Pangai Jr. led a group of youngsters who chewed up metres, while executing incredible line speed to pummel the Cowboys in the middle. The Broncos accumulated 1,770 metres in the match, 273 more than what the Cowboys managed, with 10 players running for 100+ metres as well as managing seven line breaks.
They did all that against one of the two best forward packs in the game on paper, as well as with no Matthew Lodge, who’s in line for an Origin selection if he can replicate his form from last year. If that trend of middle-of-the-park dominance continues they should improve handily in all attacking stats from a year ago. They currently sit in the top five of the Premiership in run metres, tries, line breaks, tackle breaks, so it’s so far so good.
The backline was also impressive. Corey Oates was his usual try-scoring self, while Jamayne Isaako worried plenty of defenders with his ball running abilities. However centre Jack Bird was the highlight, accumulating 103 running metres while gaining an impressive 42 post-contact metres. Given his injury struggles last year and the adversity that’s come with it, Bird’s start to the season has been nothing but pleasing.
‘Almost every aspect possible’ means there was a flaw or two though, and the undisputed integral aspect of a Rugby League side, the halves pairing, failed to fire to its full potential for the Broncos.
Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima have had their moments of promise under Seibold so far, particularly Nikorima. The kiwi has been in great form to start the year, seeming to execute every aspect of a number 7’s role necessary as well as an improved kicking game. The same can’t be said for Milford, as the Origin five-eight has struggled to execute his impressive game-breaking, running style and instead seems to revert to passing the ball out back.
Maybe he’s thinking too much, but it’s not that Milford isn’t a quality player, he’s one of the most naturally gifted players in the whole game. It comes down to how his strengths are utilised, and it’ll be up to Seibold, who some have regarded as the halves whisperer, to trigger those strengths and get him to stick to them. The development of the halves will take a bit of time, but at this stage time is certainly on their side.
Next up the Broncos have the Dragons, a fixture that still has some open wounds from last September, where the Red V trounced the Broncos 48-16 at Suncorp Stadium in the first week of the finals. Emotions will be running high, and it’ll be another chance for a young Brisbane side, led by their young coach, to make another statement.
But for now, it’s ticks all around.