Brisbane fell to pieces in the back half of last year – and the off-season has been similarly disastrous. Where does that leave coach Kevin Walters’ future? All is revealed in our Broncos deep dive.
Brisbane suffered the most humiliating capitulation in the club’s history last year. Can they bounce back and return to finals football or will Kevin Walters be fighting to save his job?
Peter Badel goes through everything you need to know about Brisbane in our exclusive club-by-club deep dive series ahead of the 2023 season.
2022 Rich 100 reps: 6
Adam Reynolds (29, $800k), Payne Haas (40, $748k), Kotoni Staggs (52, $700k), Tom Flegler (61, $650k), Kurt Capewell (83, $550k), Corey Oates (102, $500k)
FREE AGENCY WRAP
The Broncos recruited brilliantly last season with the signing of Adam Reynolds and Kurt Capewell and once again Brisbane have been shrewd in the player market. Their marquee off-season recruit is Reece Walsh, who returns to the Broncos after his 18-month stint at the Warriors. Walsh oozes class and the Broncos will be banking on his attacking flair to be the X-factor that delivers a finals appearance. The Broncos needed depth in the halves and the signing of Jock Madden from the Tigers gives them a handy back-up in the event of injury to Ezra Mam or chief shot-caller Adam Reynolds. Brisbane have lost Te Maire Martin (Warriors) and Jake Turpin (Roosters), the latter’s departure putting the heat on Billy Walters to fire at hooker. Herbie Farnworth and Tom Flegler are Brisbane’s two major off-contract players next season and both will attract big offers elsewhere.
Kevin Walters enters 2023 off-contract and the drums are beating at Red Hill. No-one likes to see an NRL legend sacked by their beloved club but that is almost certainly the outcome if Walters fails to steer the Broncos to the playoffs. ‘Kevvie’ has missed the top eight in consecutive years, although he was desperately unlucky last season after Brisbane crashed from fourth to ninth in a shocking six-week collapse. This time, there are no excuses. Walters has the talent, personnel and class to get the Broncos back to finals football and if he does that, his reward will be a contract extension.
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Blake Mozer. The 18-year-old hooker is rated one of the finest talents to come out of the Broncos Academy and is likened in style to Queensland legend Cameron Smith. While Billy Walters and Cory Paix are front-runners for the No.9 jumper, Mozer has been added to Brisbane’s full-time squad and made his Queensland Cup debut this year. Tall and creative, Mozer trained with the top squad at age 17 last summer and is expected to get a taste of NRL action in 2023. “Blake will be in our full-time squad this pre-season,” Broncos Academy boss Simon Scanlan said. “He is an outstanding young talent, one of the best we have ever had come through the Academy. I expect him to debut at some stage at the back half of the year. This year is more of a development year for Blake, rather being a regular week-to-week in the NRL.”
WHO TAKES THE NEXT STEP
Ezra Mam. The Broncos five-eighth underlined why he is a special talent by being crowned Brisbane’s rookie of the year following an impressive 2022 campaign. Handed his debut at 19, Mam looked comfortable in the NRL from the outset, scoring six tries from 13 games. Not only does he possess lethal footwork, but he is defensively brave for a playmaker and not afraid to put his body on the line. The Indigenous ace will get first crack at the No.6 jumper and if he fires for the entire season, the Broncos will be well-placed to play finals football.
THREE BURNING ISSUES
1. Can Reece Walsh handle the heat as Brisbane’s marquee recruit?
All eyes will be on Walsh in his return to the Broncos after his 18-month stint at the Warriors where he showed glimpses of magic benefiting from the mentoring of champion fullback Roger Tuivasa-Sheck. NRL defences were on guard for Walsh last season and the Broncos will be hoping he can be the match-winning X-factor they crave at fullback.
2. Brisbane have to get their defence in order
After conceding a whopping 695 points in 2021, the Broncos showed improvement in 2022, but when the whips were cracking in the final eight weeks of the season, they collapsed badly. Defence is attitude and the Broncos need to get mentally tougher to avoid another late-season implosion and reach the finals after three consecutive failures.
3. The Broncos need some creativity around the rucks to complete their playmaking spine
Reece Walsh, Ezra Mam and Adam Reynolds are a classy trio of playmakers, but they need quality service and a good reader of play at dummy half. Jake Turpin struggled last season and the jury is out on Billy Walters as a No.9. Cory Paix could be the answer to get the Broncos rolling around the rucks.
Brisbane’s posse of young guns are one year wiser and the likes of Pat Carrigan, Selwyn Cobbo and Herbie Farnworth will be better for their Origin and Test breakthroughs. If Adam Reynolds and Reece Walsh stay fit, the Broncos should expect to play finals. A top-six finish would be a dream scenario.
FINISH FOR THE PAST FIVE YEARS
2019: 8th (eliminated first week of finals)
2018: 6th (eliminated first week of finals)
Minor premiership: $15
To make grand final: $8
Top four: $3.50
Top eight: $1.55
Most losses: $51
Originally published as NRL 2023 club deep dive: Brisbane Broncos free agency wrap, top eight chances, crystal ball
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