The Brisbane Broncos have had another season to forget in 2021, in what many considered to be a development year under new coach Kevin Walters.
Walters gave regular first grade games to younger players, and parted ways with talent who he believed wasn’t part of the future of the Broncos.
Despite having a poor season, the Broncos managed to avoid back-to-back wooden spoons and take plenty of positives out of the season.
The Inner Sanctum looks at a year in review for the Brisbane Broncos.
Walters marked this team as his own very early in the piece, vowing to be ruthless as he looked to return this team to its former glory.
This hardline approach meant Walters was able to release some players on big-money contracts that weren’t living up to his expectation.
Young halfback Tom Dearden left early to join the Cowboys, veteran prop Matt Lodge signed with the Warriors and Tevita Pangai Junior joined the Panthers all within weeks of each other midseason, as Walters laid down the law.
This hardline approach will hold the young Broncos in good stead in the years to come, allowing them all to be on the same page and hopefully freeing up more money to attract more big-name recruits.
On the field, while there weren’t marked improvements across the board the Broncos, managed to improve in at least one major stat, scoring.
Under Walters, the Broncos managed to increase their points per game by just over a try, up from 13.4 in 2020 to 18.5 in 2021. This allowed them to be more competitive in more games with seven losses by 10 points or less in 2021, up from four in 2020.
If the Broncos can continue this upward trend they could be soon challenging for a place in the eight.
While their attack improved, errors and poor defence kept them towards the bottom end of the ladder.
The Broncos were sixth in the NRL for errors with 264, third in the NRL for ineffective tackles with 413 and fourth in the NRL for missed tackles with 790.
Even though they looked more damaging on the offensive end, they couldn’t capitalise due to mistakes and missed tackles which allowed teams to get out of their own end and put the young Broncos under defensive pressure.
While many conceded that this year was to be another year of development for the Broncos, Walters tried eight different halves combinations throughout the season with the Tyson Gamble and Brodie Croft the pair that was tried the most but only on five occasions.
So much change in the halves isn’t good for any side let only a developing Broncos outfit. While Walters had to assess all his options, the Broncos were always going to struggle to win without a thriving halves combination.
19-year-old Tesi Niu impressed this season, spending the final 10 games of the year at fullback as he looked to make it his own under Walters.
After starting the year in the centres Niu took on the fullback role in round 15 and didn’t look back. He ran for 2,305 metres at an average of 144 a game and scored eight tries.
Niu’s athleticism and pace made him look extremely dangerous in the fullback position and if Walters backs him in for another season expect him to go from strength to strength.
Payne Haas was another who impressed yet again this season continuing on the strong form he has previously shown.
He ran for 3,361 metres, had 1,485 post-contact metres and laid 667 tackles proving he is a dominant force in attack and defence.
The 21-year-old behemoth yet again represented New South Wales in State of Origin bringing his career appearances to seven in three years.
Young centre Herbie Farnworth had a career best season this year, playing in 20 games, scoring three tries while setting up seven more and running for over 2,906 metres.
Farnworth also proved to be a dependable goal kicker when required, bagging 11 goals at a conversion rate of 86.42 per cent.
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The Broncos left their season highlight for their very last opportunity to impress, but they didn’t disappoint.
In Round 25 the Broncos defeated a finals bound Newcastle Knights outfit in arguably their most attacking game of the year.
With spots in next years team up for grabs, the Broncos attacked their last opportunity to impress with gusto.
Niu bookended his run at fullback at the end of the year nicely crossing the line for one try and running for 114 metres.
Farnworth and Selwyn Cobbo were also good in the centres crossing the line for a try each while young Kobe Hetherington continued to prove his flexibility playing in the lock position.
It was a positive note to end the season on for Walters men, giving the coach a few headaches of who should start where next season.
Whilst not their biggest defeat of the year, the Broncos Good Friday clash against the Melbourne Storm was a demoralising loss that showed a complete lack of spirit.
They started the game on fire with Xavier Coates crossing the line at the five-minute mark whilst keeping the reigning premiers staunchly defending their own line.
However, their good early work was undone within 11 minutes as Storm fullback Ryan Papenhuyzen crossed the line for four tries.
From there on in the Broncos looked devoid of confidence as they slumped to a 40-6 loss against the eventual minor premiers.
Number one off-season priority
The Broncos number one priority this off-season should be to pick a halves combination and stick with it, after eight combinations in 2021 the team needs a dependable duo if they are to take the next step in their development.
The recruitment of South Sydney Rabbitohs halfback Adam Reynolds should help Walters settle down the position, but finding the appropriate partner is the next thing.
Rumours are circulating that Kotoni Staggs could partner Reynolds next season. Having played the majority of his 51 first grade games in the centres, he is a left of field choice to fill the five-eighth position but his skill is undeniable.
Albert Kelly and Tyson Gamble are the other options for Walters to considered with both of them having a crack in the first-grade team at different times this season.
Way too early best 17 for 2022
With the inclusion of Reynolds and Panthers forward Kurt Capewell the Broncos line up looks stronger already with the pairs combined 320 games of experience certain to boost the squad from the get-go.
The return of Patrick Carrigan from an ACL tear will also be a welcomed sight as the young lock was on track for State of Origin selection before the injury.
With Walters now having 12 months to get his feet under the desk and conduct a dramatic squad overhaul the pressure will begin to build as the fans begin to grow impatient.
The Broncos are a proud organisation who hadn’t missed a finals since 2014 before their dramatic fall to wooden spooners in 2020.
However, if the Broncos are lucky enough to be standing on the dais in five to seven years time holding the premiership trophy aloft, they will look back on 2021 as the year they laid solid foundations for such success.
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