Season 2017 will soon be kicking off in earnest and with the pre-season trials done and dusted we have been able to finally see how our favourite teams are lining up. The Brisbane Broncos have returned from England with a loss to their name and some serious questions being asked about the ability of the front row stocks, and that of Josh McGuire to be able to fill the shoes of former captain Corey Parker.
Wayne Bennett has taken the step of publicly challenging his current crop of young book ends to make the position their own and step-up to lay a platform for the rest of the team. Bennett in the past has normally used the media to either put himself in the path of journos to take the heat off a player or get his message to the players through those same said journalists. In this case, the Broncos boss seems to be throwing down a challenge to his young brigade through a public forum in the hope it provides the much-needed spark. Brisbane’s backline has the ability but if the platform is not laid for the Broncos halves pairing of Milford and Hunt, then they will certainly have their work cut out in trying to split opposition defensive lines.
The opening round sees the Broncos travel to the home of the Premiers Cronulla Sharks next Thursday night as part of the revamped league calendar, ridding itself of Monday night football in favour of Thursday night’s instead. Last year’s premiers Cronulla also suffered a shock loss in their trip to the UK as they were vying for the World Club Challenge title. Neither of the two Australian sides were aided by the obvious effects of a long trip to the UK, for what is in essence a trial game for the Broncos.
Much has been said about the Sharks and what effect the off-season release of Ben Barba, as well as the retirement of Michael Ennis would have on the side. It would seem that the dismantling of their spine has had a greater effect than first thought. Young hooker Jayden Brailey at times appeared to be overawed and did not provide that scheming and crisp delivery & direction that Ennis provided around the ruck. With off-season recruits Manaia Cherrington vying for the hooking role, possibly sharing the duties with an experienced campaigner in Daniel Mortimer, this may provide the Sharks with greater direction. With the injury to Valentine Holmes, Gerard Beale established himself from the back, but he will more than likely be on the wing come next week.
Brisbane will no doubt see several changes heading into this game. The forward pack will see the return of Adam Blair who did not travel to England due to the birth of his new baby. Korbin Sims, who put in another solid performance against Wynnum Seagulls, will no doubt also be included in the side for round one. Tevita Pangai Junior, the former Junior Kangaroo, is another that will more than likely find himself coming into the bench rotation.
Players to Watch
Andrew Fifita – The big man has a point to prove, despite being one of the competition’s best forwards in 2016. He was snubbed from the Kangaroos because of off-the-field incidents and arguably should have won the Clive Churchill Medal last year too. Expect Fifita to come out all guns blazing in 2017.
Korbin Sims – Look for Sims in the defensive line. He has produced some big hits during the trails and he will be aiming to let Kevin Walters know that he can match it against Origin performers Gallen and Fifita. It’s a big year for Korbin and he will be hoping to make a big impact on debut to lay the platform for an Origin birth in 2017.
The Broncos will need to adjust ahead of their clash with the Sharks, with the likes of Lewis and Gallen seemingly stepping up a notch against Bennett’s boys. Both team’s attack in the World Club Series appeared to be in second gear, Milford, Hunt, Maloney and Townsend were sluggish with the ball, something they will need to fix up to provide the spark both team’s attack is renowned for. This will be a tight tussle for the first two points of the season, but I can see Brisbane getting home in a tight affair.