Life's looking a little bleak right now for the three Queensland-based NRL clubs, but there's definitely reasons for optimism looking for the future.
Here are the three men I think will be keys to carry the Broncos, Cowboys and Titans into 2019 and beyond.
There is a heap of players that I could name here, but the one that stands out to me from Brisbane is Jamayne Isaako. For Wayne Bennett to shuffle Darius Boyd out of the fullback position a few weeks ago and give Jamayne a taste there goes to show just how highly he is regarded. Even though Wayne has now sent Jamayne back to the wing, the Supercoach is planning ahead for the future. At the time that 'Darbs' chooses to hang up his boots, there's going to be a more permanent opportunity in that role, if not before. Jamayne was outstanding in Intrust Super Cup and it's like he's just slotted in at NRL level with minimal adjustment. The crazy thing to consider here is that Isaako has actually played fewer games of first grade than the number of appearances Boyd has made for Queensland! Jamayne is a very mature player and I see some leadership potential there down the track. There are half-a-dozen up-and-coming young forwards who are going to carry the Broncos through to the future, but I think Jamayne is the prize piece in the puzzle. He's got some challenges ahead as opposition coaches and players figure him out going into his second and third seasons, and that'll be something he takes in his stride I suspect.
No prizes for guessing this one in a post-Johnathan Thurston world. Jake Clifford is the playmaker who will give North Queensland direction into the future and fill that void. He's just a classy player and, while he didn't set the world on fire in his first few NRL starts, he has the ability to gel the Cowboys together long-term. It might seem pointless the Cowboys exposing him late in the season, when there is no premiership for them to be won, but this is exactly the environment that will make a young half thrive. The pressure is off, he's got a chance to show some leadership and control, and fans are 100 per cent behind him. It's been a disappointment this season to see the Cowboys as stale as they have been, but Clifford is reason for hope for the future.
You're probably expecting me to say AJ Brimson or Phillip Sami or Keegan Hipgrave here, but I still think the key to the future is Ash Taylor. His kicking and passing game, when they are on song, are up there with the best in the NRL. I don't know what's been going on his mind this year, but it's admittedly not been his best season. He turns 24 next year and, if he plays to his potential, could still have another decade left in the NRL. I'd like Ash to back himself a little more than what he has this season. His best moments come when he runs right to the line and finds a man inside him, or changing direction, or when he stabs a kick through at the last moment. I've said before I'm a massive fan of AJ Brimson, and what I like about both of them is that they are natural footballers. They have the instincts to make things happen from nothing. The Titans are pointing in the right direction, now they just have to build on this development phase. There's possibly some exciting times ahead for loyal supporters of the Gold Coast.