“Embarrassing. Whingers. Soft. Soul-searching. Attitude fix needed.”
You know things are bad when five of the Broncos greatest players – and four former captains – all sink the boot in.
Gorden Tallis, Darren Lockyer, Corey Parker, Steve Renouf and coach Kevin Walters all couldn’t hold back as Brisbane looks set to inexplicably miss finals.
The Broncos have been in the top eight since Round 9 and were fourth on the ladder as recently as Round 19.
But they’ve lost four of five since then and capitulations against the Storm and Eels over the past fortnight have allowed the Raiders to take their place in the eight.
To play finals, Brisbane must beat the Dragons on Saturday and hope Canberra lose to the bottom-placed Wests Tigers on Sunday.
The Broncos can still sneak in if the Raiders win, but they would need to thrash the Dragons in order to close the 43-point advantage the Green Machine hold on differential.
Here foxsports.com.au looks at how Brisbane’s season unravelled.
THE KEVVIE SPRAY THAT EXPOSED ‘SOFT’ PLAYERS
If the current Broncos’ soft underbelly wasn’t already exposed enough in the 53-6 thumping by the Eels, it was when it emerged players were upset with Walters’ spray after the game.
Tallis was left stunned that players had the gall to complain about being criticised following the humiliating loss.
“I don’t have too many answers at the moment but we have to fix our attitude,” Walters said in his post-match press conference.
Walters – who won five premiership at the Broncos – dropped several truth bombs in the sheds after the game.
“Whoever those two are that whinged and they should just write a line through them,” Tallis said.
“If I found out and I was at that organisation, I don’t want to play with that guy.”
After the premiership-winning Broncos captain called for Walters to drop the players, his former teammate Renouf ruthlessly blasted them as “soft privileged knobs”.
Rugby league icons James Graham and Mark Geyer were also left gobsmacked and told the “entitled” Broncos to “face the music”.
There is chatter out of Brisbane that Walters has leant too heavily on the tactical support of star players Adam Reynolds, Kurt Capewell and Pat Carrigan this season.
Reynolds has missed several games through injury, while Capewell and Carrigan endured bruising Origin campaigns and the latter has been suspended for the past month.
“Carrigan’s a big loss, not only just for what he brings as an individual but how he’s able to direct the team and work with Adam Reynolds to steer the team and coach the team on the field,” Paul Kent said on NRL 360.
THE DEFENSIVE DECLINE
Brisbane leaked 113 points against Melbourne and Parramatta over the past fortnight, marking the first time in history the club has conceded 50 points in consecutive weeks.
The Broncos conceded fourth-fewest tries per game (3.2) in the opening 19 rounds, but over the past five weeks they rank 15th (6.4) in the NRL.
Parker launched a scathing attack on the club where he was captain, won a premiership and played 347 games.
“For the Brisbane Broncos and where they are and the magnitude to which they have lost the last two weeks is quite simply . . . and there is no other way to put it, embarrassing,” Parker said on Fox League.
“Yes they won and they beat the Eels in Round 19, 36-14, but then it was just on a decline.
“It was on a decline with some of the habits I was seeing defensively. It was on a decline with some of the effort areas.”
Brisbane’s attack has also stalled and they’ve fallen down the NRL rankings in every offensive statistic.
The Broncos were inside the top eight for points (6th), tries (7th), run metres (6th), linreaks (7th), tackle busts (8th) after Round 19.
But between Rounds 20-24, they have nosedived in every statistic and sit 12th or worse in all of them.
NRL greats Cooper Cronk and Mick Ennis have both ruled a line through the Broncos making finals on the back of their statistical spiral.
“It’s almost impossible for the Brisbane Broncos, they need to put 43 points plus on the Dragons on Saturday night,” Cronk said on Fox League.
“I think they’re shot, I think they’re in big, big trouble. I really don’t know how Kevvie Walters can get a response – their season is on life support,” Ennis said.
NRL icon Bryan Fletcher said the season would only receive a pass mark if they play finals.
“I think if they fall out of the back door — and I hope they don’t — it’s a failure year,” Fletcher said.
HAAS FAILS TO FILL CARRIGAN’S SHOES
The Broncos have been without their best player, Pat Carrigan, for the past four games after he was suspended for a hip-drop tackle.
Carrigan returns this week against the Dragons but in his absence Payne Haas has failed to fill the void amid his controversial contract negotiations.
Brisbane’s slide has prompted calls for superstar forward Haas to stand up and prove he’s worth the $1 million per season he’s demanding to be paid on his next contract.
“I’ll tell you who has got to pull his finger out, I’ll tell you who has got to show a bit more in the front row is Payne Haas,” Phil Rothfield said on NRL 360 last week.
Queensland legend Cameron Smith said the Broncos’ woes over the past month have been bigger than missing their star lock.
“I can tell you now… one man (Carrigan) coming back into the team will not fix these results,” Smith said on Channel 9.
“Only five weeks ago they were sitting fourth in this comp, a lot of people say Carrigan isn’t there, so that’s why they’re struggling.
“Kevvie Walters would be bitterly disappointed. There was so much on the line for them (against the Eels), now the Broncos have to rely on other results and they have to go to Sydney to play the Dragons and try and muster a win there.”
Former Sharks coach Shane Flanagan believes the Broncos’ lack of experience over the past month has cost them a spot in finals.
“Carrigan is a massive loss, not having him there over the past few weeks,” Flanagn said.
“It’s about having your best team on the paddock at the right time of year, especially in crucial positions.”
LACK OF EXPERIENCE
There’s just one win separating the Broncos and Roosters but the clubs are worlds apart heading into the final round.
The Roosters are roaring into the finals on the back of a seven-game winning streak, while the Broncos are praying for an upset to punch their ticket.
When the Broncos were riding their own seven-game winning streak in the middle of the season, the Roosters were battling – winning just three games between Round 7 and 17.
But the Tricolours are now playing their best footy at the business end, while the Broncos limp home.
“It probably speaks to a rookie team and a veteran team,” Braith Anasta told foxsports.com.au.
“The Roosters haven’t panicked, they’ve timed their run and get better when it matters most, whereas a rookie team puts all their eggs in one basket every week and it takes everything for them to win.
“To maintain that level for a full season only comes with experience and they’re inexperienced.”
NRL premiership winning coach Flanagan pointed out the Roosters are getting some of their best players back from injury at the right time.
But he acknowledged there was a gulf between Roosters coach Trent Robinson and Brisbane boss Walters.
“The coach would have planned their season to a tee, this is Robbo,” Flanagan said.
“He would have gone through what has worked for them before in relation to training and when they need to taper and have a look at their draw and backing off or putting the foot down at different stages of the year with their physical preparation.
“He would have had a plan for that, he’s done it plenty of time and knows what works. Robbo has been through enough seasons and big matches at the end of the year to know you need to be right at the end of the year when you can see the finish line.
“Kevvie, I’m not sure how many times he’s done it, he would have done it as a player plenty of times, but it’s completely different when you do it as a coach.”
THE FALLOUT TO COME
Parker believes the disastrous start to the season could prompt changes at Red Hill this summer.
Parker said the Broncos must get tougher and pointed to Cowboys coach Todd Payten as an example of changing the attitude at a club.
“The one thing I learnt playing in the NRL is that you get what you deserve,” Parker said.
“The fix is to look at what the Cowboys have done. Todd Payten believed in his approach, hardened up his entire squad and made them comfortable with being uncomfortable.
“Until the Broncos get mentally tougher and change some of their habits and standards, they will just keep meandering along.
“There’s no doubt they have improved on where they finished last season, but even if they make the finals this year, they will just end up cannon fodder.
“If the Broncos end up missing the finals, maybe it prompts the club to consider making some changes.”
Another former skipper Lockyer – who is a Broncos board member – admitted if the club misses finals it will be time for the players to look themselves in the mirror.
“I think there’d be a lot of soul searching if that was to happen,” Lockyer told WWOS last week.
“A lot of people were talking about them being top four and I think that maybe went to their heads a little bit,” he said.
“They just haven’t played the style of football that they need to play to worry those top four teams, and (against the Storm)… it was a hiding really, and a lesson on how to play football at the top level.”