I feel veteran super coach Wayne Bennett will have to muster all his coaching expertise to get this Broncos' side to improve in 2017. It's been a turbulent 12 months for Bennett. Off the back of some nasty personal headlines, Bennett also had to deal with a bumpy 2016 with his premiership favourites Brisbane outfit failing to live up to expectations. The Broncos limped into the second week of the playoffs before being knocked out by their arch rival Cowboys once more in extra time. Bennett then endured a turbulent couple of months with the English national side at the recent Four Nations Series, where his demeanour seemed more sour than usual.
The Broncos have had a quiet summer with only the signings of Benji Marshall and David Mead to compensate the retirements of veteran Corey Parker and centre Jack Reed. Parker, despite his advancing years, leaves a huge hole in terms of leadership and quality in Brisbane's pack. Parker played the best football of his career in the last few years and is retiring, like Michael Ennis, playing at near the peak of his powers. I thought this off-season Brisbane might have made some sort of statement recruitment wise in terms of an aggressive young forward or some more strike power out wide. They did neither. For mine, Brisbane lack the size and aggression of teams like the Sharks, Storm, Raiders, Panthers and Cowboys, and I don't feel they have addressed this in the off-season. I think some of those teams that finished above Brisbane are only getting stronger, and now explosive while Brisbane appear to be treading water.
In the forwards, Brisbane often got out muscled and look over matched in 2016, which led to some inconsistent performances from halfback Ben Hunt. I can't see them being any stronger in that department this year, with Corey Parker retiring and Adam Blair and Sam Thaiday a year older. Doubts now have emerged about whether Hunt is the trusted man in the halves to lead the side to a Premiership after some wildly inconsistent performances in 2016. There have been reports that St George Illawaar are ready to offer Hunt a multi year deal and that the Broncos may not stand int heir way. If those reports are true it's a massive fall from grace for Hunt at Brisbane. Whilst having such a huge area of young talent, they might have one or two youngsters jump out of the ground from nowhere, but at this point I see them as a team searching for answers heading into 2017.
I really don't understand the signing of Marshall, despite it being a bargain basement deal. Whist reports Marshall talks about reigniting his running game. However you can't turn back time and, at 90kgs and 31 years of age, he simply can't get through the gaps he did 5-10 years ago. I find it hard to believe he has been bought to Brisbane to replace Hunt, rather he might be some sort of "super sub" or perhaps fella role in the outside backs. There have been hints that Wayne Bennett wants to play Marshall in the centres which seems like a gamble to me. Even if Benji loses a few kilos, he will not be among the fastest centres in the competition, which leaves you wondering what attribute he will bring to the position. Marshall has played in the halves practically his whole career, so it wouldn't be experience in terms of playing in the centres. Modern centres in the NRL are quick and powerful and Marshall I think would be a fish out of water. Centre also is a difficult position to defend, with plenty of team work required with your inside and outside men, and whilst Marshall has improved immeasurably as a defender through his career, he can be vulnerable on the try line and when left posted one-on-one in contact scenarios.
I wish Benji well and I admire him playing on at a contract value which would be far below what he could command playing in England, or perhaps working in the media. However I really can't see him turning the Broncos from a side on the fringes of the top teams to a team that can win a Premiership. Bennett has worked his magic before, however I am scratching my head somewhat at this one. I think this team could be heading backwards in 2017 as I don't think they have addressed the problems that led to their underwhelming 2016 campaign.