Friday, July 1, 2016

Brisbane's Weakness Exposed

Friday night’s loss to the Melbourne Storm exposed one of the key chinks in the Brisbane Broncos armour; their small outside backs.

The Broncos edges couldn't handle the explosive power of the Storm's Fijian wingers.
In an age when Fijian wingers are all the rage, Brisbane are one of the few teams fielding a smaller build of a player in their outside-back positions. The irony in this can be found when considering one of the Broncos most dominate eras came on the back of a two-winger combo of big, physical, and well-built athletes in Lote Tuqiri and Wendall Sailor. Both those players were virtually the only wingers running around at that time – of that build. Today, we see the likes of Radradra, Koriebete, Vatuvai, Taufua and Ato-Carr menacing the defence of smaller opponents. This type of athlete seems to have become the go-to for filling wing or centre positions, and it’s having incredible results. Friday night’s game is the perfect example. 

While the loss of Corey Oates early in the first half was a blow to Brisbane’s line-up and combinations, it’s hard to see the Queensland winger making much of a difference in stopping Storm wingers Suliasi Vunivalu and Marika Koroibete. Both of the Storm’s Fijian Flyers were at the peak of their powers; destroying their opposing edges and making a mockery of Brisbane’s defence. Their first forty minutes was outstanding; with Vunivalu bagging a double and Koroibete showing all the skills that led him to Melbourne in the first place. The power and brute force both players so explosively possess is couple with the speed that they somehow maintain despite the extra muscle. The second forty-minutes only ensured their nights’ got better. Vunivalu grabbed a third try, only after crippling Anthony Milford with a shot that folded the young playmaker. Koroibete got his name on the scoreboard with a try that had a steal which wouldn’t look out of place on an NBA court. 

While Melbourne are no-doubt in season-best form, Brisbane are on a losing streak which has seen them lose five out of their last six games. An amazing drop in form considering they led the competition early in the season. While State of Origin has surely played a part in their fall from consistent and impressive performances, their run of losses would now be beginning to become a concern for the great master, Wayne Bennett. Bennett’s teams of the past have typically been sluggish through Origin periods and usually have a mid-season lull, but recent memory cannot recall a drop in form as poor as this one. No doubt a reader of this will point one out, but it’s a worrying concern for a team looking to emulate and go one better than their 2015 result.

The game-plan for other clubs to take on the Broncos has now been written by the Storm, and it will involve attacking them on the edges. Alex Glenn played in the left-centre role on Friday night, but it’s hard to see him playing there again. A solid foundation a few years ago, Glenn is now accustomed to playing within the middle third. High valued off-season recruit James Roberts showed that while he has some of the best speed in the country – or more than Oxford Street according to the man himself – he is still to master the defensive role with his outside pairing in wingers; Lachlan Maranta, Greg Eden, and Jordan Kahu. While the continual turnover in the right wing position would not be helping his cause, it’s an area other clubs will now be looking to exploit. 

The fact Bennett does not have a bigger mould of a winger in today’s game is intriguing. Usually one to be ahead of the game or generally on-the-pulse, Bennett does not have the weapons that the Storm have in their arsenal. While Sailor and Tuqiri were two of Bennett’s most effective and useful tools in Brisbane’s long domination of top-level Rugby League during the early 2000’s, it’s interesting Bennett hasn’t been unable to un-earth a player of similar potential today. Much of the 2016 side can be similarly aligned to some of Bennett’s best sides. Milford and Hunt can almost mirror the Langer and Walters combination; while Josh McGuire and Adam Blair could fall into the roles of Gorden Tallis and Shane Webcke as enforcers. You could match these up across the park, but not for the wingers. No Sailor emulator, No Tuqiri new-age sensation. 

Has the Broncos weakness been found? Or is the winger of the future upon us?