Your men’s Brisbane Broncos finished the 2022 season with a 13-11 record and in ninth place. With a points difference of -36, the Broncos had a Pythagorean expectation of just 11.2 wins, although this is somewhat slanted by two massive losses in consecutive weeks: 60-12 to the Storm and 53-6 to the Eels. During their winning streak, they conceded just 12.4 points per game but conceded nearly 23 per game over the course of the season, for a total of 550 points conceded and the ninth best defence that was 61 points (2.5 points per game) behind the eighth best.
Your women’s Brisbane Broncos finished the 2022 season with a 1-4 record and in fifth place. The Broncos will not be participating in the NRLW finals for the first time in five seasons, having only notched a single win over the Titans, lost to all of the NSW teams and edged out of the last finals place after a final, consequential loss to the Eels. It’s also the first time the Broncos have finished with a negative points difference (-33), first time they’ve had a losing season and the first time they’ve lost to both the Knights and Dragons. The Broncos had the fourth best attack and fifth best defence, good enough for 1.7 Pythagorean wins.
The Victory Lap
From the men’s pre-season deep dive:
The Broncos deserved fourteenth place last season. They weren’t particularly good at playing football but, in a marked contrast to the 2020 Seibold-led season, at least looked like they wanted be somewhere in the vicinity of the stadium they were playing in…
In a return to 2019 form, the Broncos’ season is entirely reliant on the performances of Reynolds and Haas and if they get injured, it is going to be extremely grim. I haven’t seen anything in particular from Kevin Walters to suggest he can make up the difference so individual brilliance it is. At the upside, the Broncos are probably just missing the finals. At the worst, they’ll be fighting off the Cowboys in the cellar. Again.
It was better, and also so much worse, than just missing the finals. Patrick Carrigan is good at least. That was a nice surprise.
Then from the second women’s pre-season deep dive:
Brisbane went from being an untouchable force within the women’s game, setting amazing precedent after amazing precedent, to actually being challenged in two games, and setting a bunch of very bad precedents… Despite the minor premiership, a 4-1 record and statistical domination, all anyone will remember from the 2021 season is the loss to the Roosters and the end of the dynasty.
I’m not expecting overly much from the Broncos this season as they adjust to a new, less dominant position in the world. I’d set the line at a mid-table finish and a semi-final exit. Missing the finals would be mildly disappointing but hardly surprising, given the gains of the other teams.
I think mildly disappointed is a perfect summation of the season.
I think it’s interesting that despite the massive differences between the men’s and women’s teams and competitions, we basically ended up with two versions of the same season. Both sides started poorly, looked competitive mid-season and then fell off in embarrassing fashion at the end, including a key loss to the Eels, to miss finals on points difference.
The men’s side started with two passable wins (as they did in 2020), got crunched by the Cowboys and then from round three to the last 20 minutes of round seven, looked like easily the worst team in the competition. They hit a magic streak of seven wins in a row starting in round seven, took some inevitable losses to the Storm and Cowboys, maintained their form for a signature win over the Eels in round 19 and then just clocked off. They looked like the worst team in the competition again, including losing an entirely winnable game against the actual worst team in the competition, and couldn’t even keep their points difference respectable enough to make finals with a winning record. In summary, the team looked good when it was winning and looked very, very bad when it was losing and you don’t need the numbers to have seen that.
The women’s side was clearly outclassed from the get-go, notching losses that were never in doubt against the Knights and Roosters. They managed to clean up a disorganised Titans side and rallied to come from behind against the Dragons, ultimately losing in golden point. The Broncos never looked like they were going to win the game against the Eels and even though scores were level with ten to go, they couldn’t finish the job against a team that had practically no prior NRLW experience. While the women’s side were a shanked Brigginshaw field goal from two wins and finals, the Eels lost three games by a total of ten points, so there’s not much point in playing hypotheticals. There’s five games, you have to take your wins and they didn’t.
The somewhat ironic twist is that the Broncos belted the Eels so hard in the last round of the 2021 season, the latter missed finals on points difference, but the Eels turned the tables in 2022 for the opposite result.
The women had higher expectations than the men. The men had a better roster than the women. Both missed finals by points difference. Both were hamstrung by their coaches.
Kelvin Wright hasn’t really shown an ability to win without a massive talent discrepancy in his favour. Anyone can win four games in a row with half the national side playing for them. It took three weeks of a five week season to get Jaime Chapman to centre and Hayley Maddick to fullback. Signing Nita Maynard was a waste of time and nowhere near replaced what was lost with Lauren Brown’s defection to the Titans. The pack did not play to a first grade standard. A good NRLW coach can’t waste that much time getting selections wrong and has to have players motivated to actively win every game, instead of waiting for wins to come to them.
After the first victory over the Eels, I thought Kevin Walters had shown that he had finally gotten It and that maybe the club would be fine with him for the short term. His total inability to get that team back to where they were in the last half dozen games of the season proves that he definitely hadn’t gotten It and never had It. He failed at Catalans, he’s below the Freddie Line in Origin and he’s failing at the Broncos.
There’s always next year
Despite the similar seasons, the way forward are actually quite different.
While the men outperformed pre-season expectations, the collapse at season’s end and the demonstrated impotence of the coach to motivate professional footballers to perform when the season hung in the balance (particularly when they had a top four finish within reach) was damning. The half decent job of building roster that’s been done, coupled with mean regression and random chance, would have done a lot of the heavy lifting in seeing the Broncos buoyed back up the ladder and out of the cellar. When they didn’t go on with it when the chance was there, is what separates good coaching from bad. While I’m not particularly upset to have missed a week one thrashing at the hands of the Storm, to finish one win ahead of the Dragons – considering the respective rosters and their seasons – is disappointing because my pre-season expectation for St George was the spoon.
For what it’s worth, I don’t think Walters and head of football, Ben Ikin, see eye-to-eye, I think Ikin has the support of the CEO, Dave Donaghy, and Walters’ style, for what that’s worth, has not yielded results that most first grade coaches also wouldn’t have secured (Walters is 20-28 over two seasons). That tension is palpable in the terse post-season media commentary and it doesn’t take a rocket surgeon to work out who’s leaking what to which friends they have in the media. Given how quiet things were when the team was winning, it’s telling how noisy its become now that they have fallen off the cliff.
My view is that we have seen enough of Walters and it’s time to move on, either through an internal promotion that the front office is confident with or a Sharks-style swing on an unheralded newbie. Unlike the Tigers, Bulldogs or Warriors (or Titans or Knights), who were all no worse off with no one in charge (let alone someone competent), the Broncos need to find a coach who is above average, instead of noticeably below, which makes the field of candidates far more limited. For the record, Shane Flanagan is not above average and I’d ask you to stop fooling yourselves that he is.
My guess is that the Broncos will give Walters until the end of May next year to show that he’s capable of coaching this team to an elite level. If so and unless he is very, very lucky, Walters will fail because he isn’t capable of coaching this team to an elite level and he will be consigned to the dust bin of the club’s history, unleashing histrionics from the likes of Gorden Tallis. The question is who will replace him. There is always Someone Out There and I’m looking forward to being unnecessarily optimistic going into 2024. I hope its not Corey Parker.
On the women’s side of the ball, its baffling to me that the roster assembled for this season is the best the only professional women’s team in the city of Brisbane could do. Too many good players were allowed to walk, not all of them for marquee money, and then there was no backup plan. The talent called up from state cup was not good enough (compare the Eels’ experience with same), most of the veterans did not perform (Ciesiolka and Aiken being notable exceptions) and the front office didn’t bring anyone in from outside. What are we actually doing here?
The approach to the women’s team has become complacent and needs a radical overhaul. Next season is going to be tougher and longer. There’s going to be more teams chasing the same talent. There’s no laurels to be rested on from winning three mini-premierships. The Broncos need to take the women’s game seriously and allocate resources accordingly, especially in managing the roster and developing new talent. They have no problem seeding the NRLM with talent they can’t hang on to, so let’s do likewise in the NRLW. Kelvin Wright can get the Kev treatment and if he falls short again, he’s done.