Star-laden Brisbane Broncos face tough challenge
BOOKIES have pretty much summed up the chances of the Broncos winning in Melbourne tonight.
At $3.30, only the massively-understrength Titans, against the finals-bound Bulldogs, are at longer odds in this weekend's final round.
Even without Test forward Sam Thaiday, the Broncos line-up is star laden. It contains five internationals, a Dally M winner, a former Origin player and two who were in the Queensland squad just a few months ago.
But the irrefutable common denominator for the Broncos of recent times is that when the chips are down, they can't win the big games. And for the past two seasons they have been gross underachievers.
Even more telling is their record against the Storm, particularly since then-Broncos assistant coach Craig Bellamy left Red Hill at the end of 2002.
In the intervening 12 seasons, the Storm and Broncos have met 26 times and the Broncos have won just seven. Admittedly one of those victories was the 2006 grand final.
Another disturbing statistic for Broncos fans tonight is that on the 12 occasions the teams have met in Melbourne, Storm has won nine. Two of those were in Bellamy's first year, 2003.
This past season the soft underbelly of the Broncos has been overtly exposed. When push comes to shove in the championship rounds - the final 10 minutes - stats say the Broncos can't go the distance.
In six games this season they have led near the death, but ultimately rolled over.
The Roosters came from 26-18 down with eight minutes left to beat them; Eels 18-16 down with 10 minutes left; Titans 8-6 with six on the clock; Rabbitohs 26-20 with eight minutes to go; Sharks were down 22-nil at halftime and beat them; and it was 34-all against the Panthers with 88 seconds on the clock.
Understandably, Broncos players say they hope to extend their association with departing coach Anthony Griffin well into the finals, and they want his 100th game tonight to be a memorable one.
But, as has been the case far too often in 2014, the need is to walk the walk, not talk the talk.
Teams no longer fear playing the Broncos, and the fact Darren Lockyer has been added to their future recruitment team indicates my concern is shared by those in higher places.
For an iconic club like the Broncos, close enough is no longer good enough.
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Yes, yes, yes: In the gutsiest display of the season on Monday night, the second-string Sharks sent a loud message to another group of players associated with the club - who needs performance-enhancing drugs?
No, no no: Neither captaincy nor maturity has diminished Greg Bird's reputation as a serial offender. His suspension for last weekend's dangerous throw is his third this season for the same offence.