The man who can lead Broncos out of NRL cellar
The Broncos have turned up the heat on Anthony Milford to lead the club out of the NRL's cellar as Brisbane's new coach faces the prospect of rebuilding Red Hill without any new recruits.
The Sunday Mail has delved deep into the annus horribilis that was the Broncos' season of 2020 which culminated in the club collecting the first wooden spoon in its 32-year history.
The Broncos' 32-16 loss to North Queensland at Suncorp Stadium on Thursday night consigned Brisbane to last spot on the ladder at the culmination of the 20-round NRL season.
After a 2-0 start to the year, the Broncos won only one of their next 18 matches following the two-month COVID season suspension in a dramatic fall from grace that resulted in the departure of coach Anthony Seibold last month.
The Broncos are expected to this week anoint a new coach, with club legend Kevin Walters in the box seat to secure his first NRL head coach's position ahead of Paul Green.
The successful applicant will have to bring the Broncos back to life with the squad they inherit after recruitment committee member Darren Lockyer admitted the club was unlikely to secure any significant new players for 2021.
"To be honest, we're going to have to turn things around with the men we have," Lockyer said.
"The squad we have now is what we will have next year.
"There's not a lot of money in the kitty so the current group have to all lift to get the job done.
"The off-season until Christmas is about knocking yourself into shape and working hard, getting yourself mentally right, and then after that it's coming in and working on your craft and your defensive systems and getting your attack right.
"There needs to be a collective effort between the coaching and the players and everyone has to embrace it and buy into it."
The new coach of the Broncos will not be walking into a club devoid of star power.
While Queensland dynamo David Fifita is Gold Coast Titans-bound, the Broncos have a host of representative talent like Payne Haas, Jack Bird, Kotoni Staggs and Corey Oates on their books.
But few players could transform the Broncos like Milford, the star of Brisbane's 2015 NRL grand final loss to North Queensland.
The highest-paid player in Broncos history, Milford was restricted to 13 games this year by injuries and hasn't produced his best consistently over the past five seasons.
Milford, 26, is off-contract at the end of 2021 and Lockyer said it was time the Broncos brought out the best in him by placing more responsibility on the 180-game player, who was not part of Seibold's leadership group.
"Next year is a make or break year for Milf," Lockyer said.
"He has had a couple of injury-riddled years and he needs a really big off-season. This is a big opportunity for him to get his body right to be in a position to get the best out of himself as a player.
"His form has been a reflection of the whole club and giving him some responsibility around leadership can take his game to the next level.
"Milf has been around long enough and if he comes back in good shape physically and has the mentality of being a leader, we will get the best footy out of him.
"Milf has the respect of the playing group so he needs to grow up in a leadership sense and play with more consistency."
WHAT WENT WRONG
Seibold's demise came after he could not figure out what went wrong following the COVID break.
While the storm may have been brewing after Brisbane's 58-0 finals loss to Parramatta last year, what was then a club record defeat, the fashion in which Brisbane disintegrated this season was unfathomable.
The Broncos suffered a new record 59-0 loss to the Roosters in Round 4, the second game back from the break, and never recovered.
After beating the Cowboys and Rabbitohs in the opening two weeks, their only other win was against 15th-placed Canterbury in Round 9, which snapped a six-game losing streak but was followed by a record 11 straight defeats.
The Broncos finished the season with the NRL's worst attack (268 points), worst defence (624 points) and a horror differential of -356 points.
The Broncos never recorded a negative differential during former coach Wayne Bennett's 25 seasons at the helm.
"Things just haven't worked," said interim coach Peter Gentle after overseeing the final seven rounds.
"Maybe the transition from Wayne to Seibs was too big a change.
"They have completely different coaching styles. It took the guys a long time to get used to training above game speed.
"That was a challenge for the young guys up here. A club has to get the right coach for the right group and sometimes there's just not that connection or a squad can't play the way you want.
"That's not a shot at this current group, but the contrasting coaching methods may have played a part."
Seibold took a punt on signing halfback Brodie Croft from Melbourne in the off-season and it backfired as he struggled in the famous Broncos No. 7 jersey.
Seibold showed faith in underperforming players like Croft and the retiring Darius Boyd while the Broncos had numerous injury struggles, with Matt Lodge (played six games in 2020), Jake Turpin (six), Bird (zero), Fifita (nine) and captain Alex Glenn (eight) severely hampered.
"There are a lot of deficiencies with our defence and attack," Lockyer said.
"Our attack is too one dimensional. We have a super talent at prop in Payne Haas and we don't have enough players around him to help get him one-on-one with players. I would like to see more good habits coached in attack.
"You have to get a defensive system that all the players want to buy into.
"This year, there was a change of coaches between Seibs and Peter Gentle and during COVID, Ben Cross departed and Peter Ryan came on-board.
"There were a lot of voices and it was all too inconsistent. The staff next year have to land on a system they all want to buy into and then bring an attitude with it."
The Broncos also had numerous off-field distractions.
Joe Ofahengaue lost his licence on the eve of the season, Staggs was unwittingly embroiled in the leaking of a sex tape and Tevita Pangai Jr was suspended from the final seven games due to numerous breaches of COVID protocols.
The Broncos were also investigated by police after 10 players breached protocols by lunching at a Brisbane pub, resulting in a $140,000 fine from the NRL.
The Broncos have hit rock bottom and players will report for pre-season training in November at a vastly different looking club.
A new coach will be at the helm with new support staff around him while CEO Paul White will be replaced at some point in the coming months, most likely by Melbourne's Dave Donaghy.
A veteran of 337 NRL games, Boyd said the focus had to be simple for the Broncos next year.
"There is always an onus on the players, they are the ones who go out and do the job," he said.
"We need a break and make sure individually everyone is coming back in really good shape hitting the pre-season hard and having a defensive mindset.
"We started the year on fire, then COVID took the wind out of our sails.
"But having a defensive mindset and putting this year behind us and starting afresh is important.
"We made the top eight last year and several young guys have come along. Tommy Dearden has had more games, Herbie Farnworth and Xavier Coates have had more games and Jordan Riki has made his debut so they can all step up.
"We've had six five-eighths this year, fullbacks have changed, Lodge, Milford and Bird have been out, we've had a lot of injuries, but with a strong pre-season the guys can hit back in 2021."
But it's not only personnel, structures and statistics the Broncos have to change in 2021.
Club legend Chris Johns believes the Broncos will only improve if they alter their attitude and fix a fractured culture at Red Hill.
"They have to get the group so tight that they want to die for each other," he said.
"They need a healthy environment where they have to play for themselves, play for their teammates and play for their coach, then everything will come off the back of that.
"Defence is intent, desperation and desire. I saw none of that this year. That comes from looking after your mate and playing for your coach, then you will deliver results for the fans.
"I would put every player on notice next season. Every job should be on the line in 2021. The Broncos board should put a 'position vacant' sign up at the front doors when the players walk in next year.
"There has to be a total analysis of the roster. No one should be guaranteed anything. Every player should be made to work for their contract.
"They should ask the players what is going to change for them to offload the wooden spoon next year."
Originally published as The man who can lead Broncos out of NRL cellar