The Brisbane Broncos missed finals for the first time in NRLW history, with a very underwhelming season and a chaotic end to the finish line.
With the losses of Tamika Upton and Millie Boyle, the Broncos entered a new era for the club, led by halfback and captain Ali Brigginshaw in trying to contend for the finals.
While missing out on a top four spot by point differential, the Broncos’ quality of play was poor at times as they struggled to figure out how to use the players around Brigginshaw.
Finishing position: Fifth (one win, four losses)
Brisbane played its best when it centred its offence around ball movement and let the centres have space in attacking the line and matching up with the opposite centre one-on-one.
When Jaime Chapman played centre, she was able to use her speed and strength to spin off defenders and use her footwork to go over the try line and score points.
Tarryn Aiken as the focal point in these action plays was crucial, and the chemistry on the left edge with Chapman as a centre/winger produced success in the only win the Broncos had this season.
Hayley Maddick was able to fulfil the off-ball, small pocket catch and pass role at fullback that Chapman and the Broncos’ offence couldn’t execute right at the start of the season.
Defensively, the line was too aggressive especially on their try line, rushing up too early, leaving space for the halfback or ball carrier to score with ease.
The Broncos’ edge defence was exposed against aggressive direct teams like the Newcastle Knights, who caught their defenders moving in the field. They were trapped with the overlaps and overloading decoy and lead runner plays their opponents would run.
Brigginshaw’s creative plays with unpredictable kicks behind the defenders were promising, and have potential. However, in the NRLW, the kicking game has a better relationship with distance and where the kicks land and go towards rather than height.
These types of plays did not work at the ideal rate Brisbane wanted them to, and actually caused it to play fatigued and poor communicative defence most of the time.
The transition fast break offence and defence struggled throughout the course of this season, not knowing when to move in the field when the offence created space near the sideline. It was often caught slipping and creating big gaps in the line in the middle third.
Tarryn Aiken impressed as the five-eighth for the Broncos.
Aiken’s ability to put her centre in space and the position to craft points, as well as score her own and play off-the-ball creates a lot of different kinds of looks for scoring.
Being their most consistent player throughout the season, Brisbane was able to count on her when the offence was struggling. She is an unpredictable and natural producer of points playing in a lower usage position in the game.
Aiken scored three tries this season, kicked 136 metres per game and averaged 108 running metres per game.
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The Broncos’ win against the Titans showcased their best style of play, along with strong defensive coverage.
Chapman’s three tries showed her off-ball and ball-carrying skills, helping to finish the executions of the Broncos ideal offence in the 10-20 metre range of their opponents’ try line.
The Aiken/Chapman combination looked persuasive, and was hard to stop on the left edge in rainy conditions.
The Broncos took control of the game early and controlled the pace on their terms. They are not a fast or slow team, but rather have the capability of mixing it up at the right time and can switch to being fast when they break through the line.
Although it didn’t result in a win, the match against the Dragons was also one of the best matches they played this season.
Showing their ability to play the grit and grind style, the Broncos looked ready to play the winless side who were struggling to close out games and tidy up their errors and poor discipline.
Playing the full field and scoring while moving the ball and finding their strike centre Chapman was an area of the game that the Broncos never showed until the golden point thriller with St. George Illawarra.
Although they lost the game against the Dragons, they showed they can still compete with the best of the best, even with the blow to their depth in the off-season.
Coming off two quality games, the Broncos would finish the season losing to the then-winless Eels in a poor defensive showing.
Although offensively they kept with Parramatta for most of this game, even having a full field transition fast break set to tie the game, the Broncos struggled with their defence.
They allowed the forward pack of the Eels to produce metres in the middle third of their line, which would cause miscommunication and force smaller players to tackle the forwards in one-on-one situations.
The forwards helping move the ball side to side made the offence for the Broncos better than it has been, however, the spark was never sustained.
Parramatta would sustain a strong defence with just over 15 minutes to go after Brigginshaw scored to make it 16-16 while missing the goal that would have taken the lead.
Top off-season priority:
The Broncos forwards need to help connect the offence to the spine and not depend on just Brigginshaw, Aiken or Chapman.
The dummy half around the ruck needs to be implemented more in this offence, letting them set the tone and pace from the scoop-up runs from a quick play-the-ball. This will help to catch the defensive line of their opponents turned around and trying to get back onside.
With expansion coming, the Broncos cannot afford to lose any more big names after what they will hope to be a one-off poor season.
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