New coach Kevin Walters has a job on his hands if he is to restore pride to the Broncos jersey in 2021 – here’s how he’ll do it.
New coach Kevin Walters has a job on his hands if he is to restore pride to the Broncos jersey in 2021 – here’s how he’ll do it.

Brisbane Broncos 2021 NRL season preview

It's going to take a delicate procedure to get Brisbane back up and about after a wooden spoon year where nothing went right.

We take a look at what went wrong at the Broncos in 2020, and why things will be different in 2021.

 

2020 ladder position: 16th (last), first time in club history

Ins: Dale Copley (Titans), Albert Kelly (train-and-trial), Andrew McCullough (Newcastle)

Outs: Joe Ofahengaue (Tigers), David Fifita (Titans), Jack Bird (Dragons), Sean O'Sullivan (Warriors), Darius Boyd (retired), Jordan Kahu, Jamil Hopoate, Ben Te'o, Ilikena Vudogo (all unsigned).

Players in the 2020 Rich 100: 7 - 8. Anthony Milford ($1 million), 11. Jack Bird ($975,000), 35. Darius Boyd ($750,000), 57. Tevita Pangai Jr ($650,000), 67. Matt Lodge ($650,000), 78. Corey Oates ($550,000), 92. Joe Ofahengaue ($500,000)

Coach status: Club legend Kevin Walters has taken the reins from former head coach Anthony Seibold on a two-year contract. It's Walters' first foray as an NRL head coach and his aim is to make Brisbane great again. After a wooden spoon finish in 2020, his tenure should be fairly secure if he can orchestrate improvement next season. By all reports, his renowned joviality has already started to rub off on the playing group.

What is their game plan, and how do they need to tweak: Brisbane's game plan struggled in 2020 due in part to an inconsistency between halves Anthony Milford and Brodie Croft. Young gun Tom Dearden is pushing hard for the No. 7 spot in 2021 and looks most likely after a standout season in what was otherwise one to forget. Walters has said he only views Milford as a five-eighth, so it will be up to Dearden or Croft to prove they have the game management skills that lay the foundation for a Broncos revival.

Brisbane never stood a hope with an unstable spine and fullback was another position that changed constantly last season as Seibold sought a fix to their woes.

Defence will be a major focus for the Broncos as well after a season in which they conceded 50 points twice in the same year and finished with -356 points differential.

Walters' personality should help Brisbane's resilience given they struggled to fight back once they got behind on the scoreboard last season.

Can Walters unlock the best from under pressure playmaker Anthony Milford? Picture: Annette Dew
Can Walters unlock the best from under pressure playmaker Anthony Milford? Picture: Annette Dew

How did they go in free agency: Playmaking star Albert Kelly has returned from the English Super League on a train-and-trial contract and adds valuable experience to a youngish team. Dale Copley has returned to Red Hill on a one-year contract to add some extra depth to the outside backs while David Mead is another in the Broncos' crosshairs to secure for 2021.


Will development contract upgraded kids make an impact: Tesi Niu made his NRL debut in 2020, with four stints at fullback so he's prepared for the big stage. With the retirement of former fullback Darius Boyd, Niu is well in contention to take the No. 1 jersey. However, he faces strong competition from the likes of Herbie Farnworth, Jamayne Issako and Jesse Arthars.

Meanwhile, Jordan Riki is a ready-made replacement for the David Fifita-size hole in the Broncos' back row. Tall, lean and quick feet, Riki should likely be named in the starting squad. The 20-year-old Kiwi star played five games for the Broncos in 2020, scoring a try and racking up 222 running metres.

What players can they reinvent: Anthony Milford and Tevita Pangai Jr. A lot has been said about Walters' influence over the rocks-and-diamonds Milford and the Broncos need him to step up in 2021 after a horror year. Walters - a former Brisbane playmaker himself - was a mentor to Milford during the 2016 season and has made it his personal mission to do so again this year.

Pangai Jr, on the other hand, has been heavily scrutinised for his poor discipline in recent years but Walters has vowed to get him on the straight and narrow in 2021 to become a "linchpin" to their resurgence back to form. Pangai Jr - at his best - is almost unstoppable against any opposition and if he can find the right balance between aggression and good behaviour, he can help steer Brisbane back to success.

"We expect Tevita to be a huge player for us next year," Walters said during Brisbane's first week of pre-season training.

"He's got skills that not many players have.

"I'm very excited to have him part of the Broncos group.

"We've seen glimpses of what he can do but we need to see more of that next year. "From the discussions that we've had, we expect that to happen."

 

 

Tevita Pangai Junior must find the right balance between aggression and good behaviour. Picture: Peter Wallis
Tevita Pangai Junior must find the right balance between aggression and good behaviour. Picture: Peter Wallis

 

 

Who takes the next step: Tom Dearden. The young playmaker is still only 19 but has shown the match maturity of a veteran. All he needs is a bit more experience under his belt before he finds the confidence to lead this team around. He's already proven a handy game manager and with Walters at the helm to provide playmaking mentoring, he could become the perfect yin to Milford's yang.

The best 17 for 2021:

1 Jamayne Isaako

2 Xavier Coates

3 Herbie Farnworth

4 Jesse Arthars (Kotoni Staggs out with ACL injury)

5 Corey Oates

6 Anthony Milford

7 Tom Dearden

8 Payne Haas

9 Jake Turpin

10 Tom Flegler

11 Tevita Pangai Jr

12 Jordan Riki

13 Patrick Carrigan

14 Andrew McCullough

15 Alex Glenn

16 Matt Lodge

17 Ethan Bullemor

2021 squad: Jesse Arthars, Patrick Carrigan, Xavier Coates, Brodie Croft, Thomas Dearden, Herbie Farnworth, Thomas Flegler, Alex Glenn, Payne Haas, Jamayne Isaako, Rhys Kennedy, Richie Kennar, Matt Lodge, Andrew McCullough, Anthony Milford, Corey Oates, Joe Ofahengaue, Cory Paix, Keenan Palasia, Tevita Pangai Jr, Jordan Riki, Kotoni Staggs, Jake Turpin, Tesi Niu, Ethan Bullemor

Fox Sports Lab's Aaron Wallace says: The path to the bottom was precipitous for the Broncos; Their 17 losses was an unwanted club record, as is the current 11 game losing streak. Their -356 points differential was almost 300 points worse than any other regular season in the club's history. Kevvy Walters sure has a job in front of him …

Finish the past five years: 5th, 3rd, 6th, 8th, Last

Odds are: $51 premiership winner, $11 top-four finish, $3.75 top-8 finish, $5 for most losses

Originally published as Brisbane Broncos 2021 NRL season preview



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