Brisbane Broncos getting reps in pre-season trials. (Image: Brisbane Broncos/X)

After blowing a 24-8 lead with twenty minutes left in the 2023 grand final against the Penrith Panthers, the Broncos will be looking to make it their second consecutive grand final appearance this season and win their first premiership since 2006.

Last year

Brisbane faced a lot of media scrutiny for going from 4th place 12 weeks into the 2022 season to 9th by the end of the season and missing the finals.

After being able to bring back Walsh after letting him go in 2021, they managed to have an incredible season, where they would finish second and go to the Grand Final.

It was a grand final where we got the two best teams for the 2023 season playing to claim they were the best. Massive individual seasons from Reece Walsh, Patrick Carrigan and Ezra Mam. The team collectively helped push to make the big dance to play against the Penrith Panthers.

Reece Walsh stepped in for Kalyn Ponga in State of Origin and helped Queensland win the series, now creating a battle for the fullback spot on one of the biggest stages for years to come.

The second half of the grand final shifted from a close game to Ezra Mam putting on three tries to create a 24-8 lead by the 57th-minute mark. 

Unexpectedly, the Panthers’ brilliance from Nathan Cleary came back and defied the odds, winning 26-24 in a game like no other.

Squad Changes

Ins: Fletcher Baker (Sydney Roosters), Jaiyden Hunt (St George Dragons), Josiah Karapani & Ethan O’Neill (South Sydney Rabbitohs)

Outs: Logan Bayliss-Brow (unsigned), Kurt Capewell (NZ Warriors), Herbie Farnworth & Thomas Flegler (Dolphins), Keenan Palasia (Gold Coast Titans)

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Track Watch

With two spots in the backline now open, three players are in heavy competition for the left-winger and right-winger spots.

Selwyn Cobbo has also shifted to the left-centre role, where he originally started with the Broncos.

There is also a spot with the left back row spot, which is vacant with Capewell’s release to the Warriors.

It is most likely Brendan Piakura who will be the left back-row, and spots on the bench are up for grabs.

A rising talent in Xavier Willison, with an impressive performance in the All-Stars game and trials for the club, has been rumoured to be up for a bench spot, as well as the new recruit Jaiyden Hunt, who has moved up north from Illawarra with the Dragons, to compete for a rotational spot on the bench, as well as Fletcher Baker, who was signed from the Sydney Roosters, who has also impressed the Broncos.

Kevin Walters has also confirmed that the Broncos will most likely start Corey Jensen, who has been coming off the bench for multiple years for the club, in Flegler’s front-row spot.

What to Expect

Their first game in Las Vegas will be a great on-paper matchup, with both teams having complete and quality players.

Their play centres around the halfway mark on the field, with the roaming fullback Reece Walsh and the physicality in the forwards from the likes of Payne Haas and Patrick Carrigan causing havoc with their touches and ball-playing contributions in the middle third of their offensive spacing.

Reynolds will continue his playmaking touches, game managing and short kicking game by shifting the ball to the left edge where Ezra Mam can create opportunities and scoring chances with space and a recovering defensive line forced to backpedal in a fast-paced offensive system.

With Herbie Farnworth joining the Dolphins, Kotoni Staggs will pick up a lot of responsibilities with the early ball catch and make a play to spark opportunities driving to the corner and creating a 2-on-1 matchup leverage on the right edge.

Selwyn Cobbo will also see more touches moving inside the field, as he has seen success in both centre and wing positions. 

Cobbo, much like Staggs, can play early ball and play one-on-one with his centre matchup week to week, as well as carry the ball up the field, gaining yardage and territory up the field, as well as play second phase footy, which was key in Brisbane’s best game last season, where the increased offloads from Payne Haas and the forwards allowed free-flowing brand of the Broncos footy that saw them have a lot of success in the finals.

The bench this season may not be as good as their bench last year. However, there is a lot of promise theoretically with talents Xavier Willison, as well as rising star Benjamin Te Kura, who, with a debut this season, will be the tallest player to play in the NRL of all time and reportedly weighs more than teammate Payne Haas.

If the Broncos can cut down on the errors, especially players like Reece Walsh, they can go all the way and win the competition this year.

Reece Walsh’s errors in 2023: 50 errors for 2.27 errors per game (22 games total)

It’s a big year for:

After the loss of Herbie Farnworth to the Dolphins and questions around Corey Oates, backline spots have opened up.

The 21-year-old centre has a lot of potential. With the Broncos making a mark on the rugby league season, Mariner getting a starting spot would be huge, as he could help shape up the Broncos’ backline to continue their success from last season.

Biggest unanswered question?

Will Adam Reynolds help lead the Broncos to winning a premiership?

At this current rate, the Broncos have two more years to win a premiership with Reynolds as their halfback before he retires, and they need to replace him. 

With Ezra Mam extending his stay at the Broncos, they must find the most suitable playmaker long-term next to the young Queenslander.

Reynolds’ injury history has crept up to Brisbane from the Rabbitohs and experienced an injury in the Grand Final loss to the Panthers.

The Broncos signed the veteran halfback to help carry them back to their glory days of winning and playing finals footy every year.

This question can only be answered this October and next season if he stays on for another 12 months, and the Broncos have shown they can play a unique style of rugby league and be a team to compete for years to come with the core of the State of Origin and international calibre players they have alongside the premiership-winning playmaker.

Coach Index

Kevin Walters – Safe

Walters has shown his ability to maximise a roster to contend for a premiership and to build beyond the Adam Reynolds window, and with the trip to the Grand Final and almost winning, the former player turned head coach is safe.

Round 1 Lineup

  1. Reece Walsh
  2. Jesse Arthars
  3. Kotoni Staggs
  4. Selwyn Cobbo
  5. Deine Mariner
  6. Ezra Mam
  7. Adam Reynolds
  8. Corey Jensen
  9. Billy Walters
  10. Payne Haas
  11. Brendan Piakura 
  12. Jordan Riki
  13. Patrick Carrigan
  14. Tyson Smoothy
  15. Fletcher Baker
  16. Kobe Hetherington
  17. Xavier Willson

*There are reports Martin Taupau will replace Xavier Willison on the bench against the Roosters in Vegas.

Ladder Prediction

Expect most likely for the Broncos to be a top 4 team, despite the losses of Herbie, Flegler and Capewell.

Don’t be surprised, however, if the Broncos fall to 5th or 6th with their core group being Origin players, as well as some injuries and suspensions potentially as well. Teams may come back this season with better ways to counter the Broncos’ play style.

Prediction: 1-6th

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