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How I lost a bet and learnt to love the Broncos

Earlier this year I was having a friendly written sparring session with another Roar regular over the merits of our respective NRL clubs in the upcoming season.

It was my Dragons against his Broncos.

Our parting conversation was a bet that my Dragons would finish ahead of his Broncos. The loser had to write an article for The Roar praising the virtues of the other club and generally writing lots of positive things about them.

Given the state of the NRL ladder, it’s pretty clear I’ve lost that bet, so I hope this piece does justice to your team, Christo.

I wanted to start by having a real dig at the so-called experts who have happily paid out on the Broncos players in recent days.

To Gordon Tallis, Steve Renouf, Darren Lockyer and Cory Parker, I’d suggest you need to have a serious think about what you’ve said. None of you has been in the position these players were in. All of you played in star-studded line-ups with an outstanding coach, never for first-grade teams that were still in development.

I get you’re disappointed with some comments from some current players, but rather than publicly shaming them, why not sit down with them and have a quiet chat? Find out why they’ve said what they’ve said before throwing out these types of criticisms.

These same experts have also completely missed the point. This time last year – that is, before the final round of the season – the Broncos had won exactly six games and were in real trouble in all departments on and off the field.

That they have now won 13 games and will potentially win one more and are still a chance to make the finals suggests to me they’ve had a massive turnaround over the past 12 months. By any measure this season has been a huge improvement over last year, so full credit to all involved for moving the team back in the right direction.

Selwyn Cobbo. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Any successful NRL club needs to have all elements of its organisation working in sync. Right now I’d suggest the Broncos are getting close to this ideal but still have work to do in key areas.

Kevin Walters has surprised me as a coach. I thought he was only good at coaching good players – his track record at Origin level speaks for itself. That he’s managed to spark this squad into playing so well speaks volumes about his ability to get plenty out of a squad still in the development stage. I’d certainly be happy to have him coaching my Dragons.

It’s easy to forget in light of recent losses that the Broncos were sitting fourth only five rounds ago. That was straight after they belted Parramatta in Sydney. Since then the team has simply run out of steam. In other words, they’ve peaked too early.

That is in part down to the coach, who admitted he’d run out of ideas on how to lift the players. That’s not meant as a criticism but more as a lesson that Walters needs to take from this season. He’s clearly shown he’s good enough to coach at this level, so learning how to get his players to peak at the right time after such a long season is part and parcel of his role.

In the early years of the Broncos much was made about how well they recruited and retained players. It’s no coincidence that their on-field improvement this year has coincided with some very astute purchases. Most will point to Adam Reynolds, but I think what set up their season was playing Te Maire Martin at fullback.

It was six rounds into the season before Martin got a game and immediately, I thought he made the fullback spot his own. The really good fullbacks make good choices in both attack and defence. More importantly they give the players around them confidence, and this is exactly what Martin did, which in turn has led to the side winning another 11 games this year.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JULY 30: Patrick Carrigan of the Broncos passes the ball during the round 20 NRL match between the Brisbane Broncos and the Wests Tigers at Suncorp Stadium, on July 30, 2022, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

It’s a shame that injuries to both him and Reynolds didn’t allow their partnership to grow stronger. If they’d been able to play more games together, who knows how the season might have finished up.

Speaking of injuries and suspensions, the Broncos weren’t helped with key players being out of action for crucial periods of the year. The injury toll wasn’t particularly high, but losing guys like Reynolds, Martin, Herbie Farnworth et cetera didn’t help their cause, nor did losing Pat Carrigan to suspension right at the business end of the season.

There’s one thing the Broncos and my Dragons have had in common in recent years: their respective boards and back offices have been basket cases. That is until this year, when things have turned around pretty dramatically, at least for the Broncos.

It is critical for any team’s success that the club is managed well, and this appears to be the case with Brisbane. I don’t pretend to understand what changes they’ve made to their management personnel, but it’s clear they’re working much more cohesively. Good club management groups are conspicuous for not making headlines, and that’s been noticeable in 2022 with the Broncos.

They also seem to have their recruitment and player retention back on track judging by the squad they’re assembling for 2023 and beyond. Right across the board they seem to have some outstanding young talent mixed in with some very capable experienced players.

More to the point, the Broncos back office has also managed to move on some guys I would class as deadwood, thus freeing up salary cap space and providing more opportunities for their younger guys to gain first-grade experience.

Both Broncos players and fans will agree that 2022 has been an emotional roller-coaster. The team have played some outstanding football more often than not, but when the players have switched off, the results have not been great.

I feel for the players right now. Selwyn Cobbo was rightly rested from last week’s game because he’s spent. I’ll bet he’s got more than a few mates who are in the same boat. I’m sure they are disappointed with how the last part of the season is playing out, but in reality they should be very proud of how this year has gone overall.

In a similar vein, it’s great to see so many supporters at ANZ Stadium in particular willing their team to do well. Right throughout the season Broncos supporters have really turned up, and they have lots of good things to look forward to both next year and in the following seasons.

It will sound strange as a rusted-on Dragons man, but I’m actually happy the Broncos have come good and look like they’re heading for a long spell of success. I suspect they’ll be strong contenders for a top-four spot next year, and if they continue to improve, could give the 2023 premiership a real shake.

I certainly won’t be making the same bet about the Dragons for next season as I did for this one.

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