Saturday, July 20, 2024

‘Remarkable’ reality of Broncos’ decline… and legend’s verdict on how season can be saved

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The Broncos were only 20 minutes away from an NRL premiership last year, but now they have a huge challenge ahead with 80 minutes to save a campaign on the brink of collapse.

Sitting fifth in Round 13, Kevin Walters’ outfit have slipped down to 11th ahead of a season-defining clash against a much-improved Dragons team.

Should they lose and the Rabbitohs beat the Dolphins, the Brisbane powerhouse will drop to 14th place ahead of a patchy run home with a finals berth up for grabs.

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So where has it gone wrong for a team many considered favourites to win the title in 2024?

For Broncos legend Corey Parker, who played a staggering 347 games for the famous club, he believes Brisbane are lacking the “resilience” that inspired a succesful 2023 campaign.

“It’s a number of things really at the moment for the Broncos, but the main thing for me that’s different to what I saw last year is their defence,” Parker said to

“Their movements, their habits. They’ve shown at different stages this year that they can attack and do all that stuff really well.

“But what they did last year that’s not happening as frequently this year is their resilience to stay in the fight for long periods of time defensively right across the board.

“Attacking wise they are still attacking with the same sort of potency and playing style, but defensively they aren’t up to where they were last year.”

Since their loss to the Titans in Round 12, which sparked their five-game losing streak, the Broncos have conceded an average of 25.2 points.

That’s eight points more than the 17.2 per game in their five previous encounters. What’s more is there has been an overall jump between their 2023 and 2024 campaigns.

In the regular season in 2023 they only conceded 17.7 points per game compared to 21.5 across their 16 appearances this year.

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But it hasn’t been smooth sailing for the Broncos, who lost arguably their most important player in Adam Reynolds to a ruptured bicep in Round 9.

He’s due back in Round 22, and since his omission Brisbane have only won two of their last seven games. But it’s no excuse for the current issue the Broncos are facing.

“He’s been a big loss, you know you can’t sugar-coat the fact that Adam Reynolds makes the Broncos a better team,” Parker explained.

“But having said that… he’s not in the team to make tackles put it that way. He is great and he’s experienced in the way he steers the team around and does those things.

“But it’s more than Adam Reynolds, he’s one player.”

Reynolds hasn’t been the only player out for the Broncos this season, with several key players sidelined through injury and Origin commitments.

Reece Walsh didn’t play for the Broncos between Round 12 and Round 18 due to Maroons selection and a nasty head knock suffered in the Origin series opener.

Pat Carrigan and Payne Haas, who are the club’s best forwards, have also missed games after being selected for their respective states.

But for Parker, that’s no excuse, pointing to ladder-leading Storm and the team currently sitting in second place in the Panthers.

“I’ve never been one to look at excuses and I say that respectfully. Look at Melbourne and Penrith. The Panthers still don’t have their best player in their team,” Parker said.

“Haven’t done for a number of weeks. The Storm are in the same boat and to more of an extent have had an inconsistent line-up nearly every week.

“I can’t remember the last game where they have had Ryan Papenhuyzen, Jahrome Hughes, Harry Grant and Cameron Munster all playing at the same time.

“Yes you need your best players and you need your best players to win titles, but you can still win games throughout the season without them is what I’m saying.

“Look at the Broncos over the last five weeks, two of those games they led quite convincingly at half time only to be run down in the second half.”

Ezra Mam talking with injured captain Adam Reynolds, Brisbane Broncos training, Red Hill. Picture: Liam KidstonSource: News Corp Australia

Kevin Walters was handed a fresh contract in March this year, extending his stay until the end of 2026.

But the Broncos don’t accept failure and he’s got a mammoth task on his hands to turn the club’s fortunes around.

“Being at the Broncos for as long as I have, and understanding what it’s like at the Broncos, it’s a big club… yeah he took them to a grand final last year,” Parker said.

“But if the Broncos don’t win this weekend they have the potential to drop into the bottom four which is remarkable to think.

“You’d have to think that yes, not only Kevvie (is under pressure), every one of those individuals at the club would be under pressure but it’s not acceptable.

“It never has been, it’s never been accepted at the Broncos to not have success.”

So what do the Broncos need to do to turn their fortunes around?

“They shouldn’t be leaning on the fact there’s an excuse or they don’t have their best players there. It should be the other way around,” Parker explained.

“They should see it as a huge challenge and go after it.

“When you are in a bit of a slump, and let’s face it, they are, you need to peel back the layers and you need to self reflect.

“You need to start with yourself. You can’t be looking sideways and pointing fingers… then from an execution point of view, go back to when you were winning.

“They’ll know what it is, understand it and go out there and fix it. The defining point in the Broncos’ 2023 season for me was Round 1. They beat Penrith 13-12 at Penrith.

Payne Haas of the Broncos looks dejected after his team loses the round 18 NRL match between Brisbane Broncos and Penrith Panthers at Suncorp Stadium, on July 05, 2024, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

“They did it off a gritty defensive display because defence instils confidence, confidence comes when you’ve got that grit. But defence is hard, it’s hard work.

“So that’s where they need to channel their energy, not how many points we can score but what can we defensively do as a team to stop them.”

While he will be sidelined in Round 19 due to Origin commitments, Parker is confident Haas is the man to spearhead the Broncos’ surge into the finals.

Haas is one of the NRL’s premier forwards and has been a consistent figure for the Broncos since he made his debut in 2018.

Even when the Red Hill club were at their lowest, Haas was shouldering the load and spearheaded their forward pack across the challenging 2020 and 2021 seasons.

He also delivered arguably the best performance of his Origin career in Game II, rampaging through the middle of the park in a display that could act as a springboard to close out the year.

“It doesn’t matter if you win or lose, Payne Haas is an incredible player. For a guy that’s faced so much adversity in his short life,” Parker said.

“To go out there and continually put in a performance which is an eight or a nine out of ten is terrific. So his performances, whether he wins or loses for NSW.

“They will be the same for the Broncos for the next however many games are left in the season. They have been ever since he pulled the jersey on.

“He’s not someone that will take a backwards step, if anything he should be an inspiration to them.”

Following Round 19, the Broncos have a run home that may have been considered “soft” at the start of the 2024 season.

They face the Knights, Bulldogs, Titans, Cowboys, Eels, Dolphins and Storm.

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While Parramatta and the Gold Coast sit in 15th and 16th, the remainder of those teams are strong finals contenders and Parker believes the Broncos need to break their season down.

That’s because what may have been considered a straight forward and favourable draw is now potentially a tough road to the finals.

“Before a ball had been kicked this season if you looked at that run, you’d go well they should win 80 per cent of those,” Parker said.

“But the reality is they need to win the first one, the Dragons, without their Origin stars and then off the back of that move on.

“They can’t be looking ahead and go ‘oh we’ve got the Titans’ because guess what? The Titans beat them five weeks ago.

“You can’t take (those wins) as a given, the Titans have improved. The Bulldogs are the same, they are vying for a top four spot so that’s not a given.

“So for me, don’t look too far ahead, you focus squarely on right now.”

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