Another year, and another season of expectation awaits for the Brisbane Broncos who both thrilled and frustrated fans in season 2022.
Projected to finish mid-ladder – or just creep into the top eight by more optimistic punters – by most at the start of the season, they finished exactly where predicted, missing out on finals footy after ending the year in ninth place.
However, it was the manner in which they missed the cut that most upset their fans and provided plenty of talking points.
After reaching the great heights of a top four spot in the middle stages of the season, when it mattered the most, the Broncos were unable to maintain their form, losing five of their last six matches, including two (against the Melbourne Storm and Parramatta Eels) by almost 50 points in each game.
In positives, coach Kevin Walters was able to blood some exciting new talent who will be better for the run.
The club have some of the competition’s most exciting youngsters on their roster, including emerging five-eighth Ezra Mam, Origin winger Selwyn Cobbo and Reece Walsh, who has returned to the club following two seasons with the Warriors.
Match: Panthers v Broncos
Round 1 -
Venue: BlueBet Stadium, Penrith
Predicted Round 1 team
- Reece Walsh
- Corey Oates
- Kotoni Staggs
- Herbie Farnworth
- Selwyn Cobbo
- Ezra Mam
- Adam Reynolds
- Tom Flegler
- Billy Walters
- Payne Haas
- Kurt Capewell
- Jordan Riki
- Patrick Carrigan
- Cory Paix
- Martin Taupau
- Keenan Palasia
- Corey Jensen
Other: Jock Madden, Brendan Piakura, Blake Mozer, Deine Mariner, Delouise Hoeter, Ethan Quai-Ward, Jesse Arthars, Jordan Pereira, Logan Bayliss, Xavier Willison, Kobe Hetherington (injured), Tyson Smoothy (development), Josh Rogers (development)
The best NRL tries from the Broncos in 2022
- Squad spots filled: 28/30
The signing of experienced forward Martin Taupau and departures of Tesi Niu (Dolphins) and TC Robati (released) leaves two spots left in Brisbane's top 30 roster.
Taupau is likely to walk straight into the Broncos' 17 via the bench with Brendan Piakura, who battled injury last year, likely to miss out.
There is otherwise expected to be little surprises for the Broncos in Round 1.
Walters: Resilience in defence the focus
Reece Walsh looks set to slot straight into fullback but suffered a facial fracture in the first Pre-season Challenge and is in doubt for the season opener.
Kobe Hetherington underwent surgery last year after rupturing his biceps during training with an expected return mid-season.
Most contentious position
The fight for the starting hooker role between Billy Walters and Cory Paix gets even more interesting when factoring in the skills of the club’s fringe talents Mozer and Smoothy, who will both also be pushing to be in contention for selection.
Jock Madden – who has primarily come to the club to learn from halfback Adam Reynolds, also has skills and experience in the position.
After training in the position for the start of the pre-season, Walters is in the box seat to claim the spot, but given the club alternated between starting Walters and Jake Turpin (who has since moved to the Roosters) for the majority of the past season, there is still room for challengers to step up and impress.
On paper, the Broncos have an extremely solid forward pack, with the likes of Haas and Carrigan leading from the front.
Given how much has depended on their workload and form previously, it’s easy to forget how young they are, and both players will be aiming to maintain their high outputs in 2023.
Cobbo, who played seven games in 2021, more than doubled his matches in 2022, playing 18 games and scoring 15 tries.
Biggest question mark
While the Broncos showed glimpses of what they could achieve as a team in attack, it was their defence that let them down at the back end of the season.
While they improved their defence overall, reducing it to 22.9 (down from 29 conceded per game in 2021), two huge blowouts essentially denied them a place in the eight, with Walters conceding his players needed to improve that area in particular if they were to play finals.
“We all learnt from last year, particularly the back end of the year, and it was our defence that fell away – our whole game fell away really – so defence has always been a strong point of every club’s pre-season and we are no different, so we are working hard to get a little bit more resilient there, particularly our goal-line defence," Walters said.
"We have got some work to do – it’s not great leaps that we have to make defensively, I thought we improved last year with our defence, if we can make those steady improvements again, it’s going to put us in a good position to be in every game."