The Brisbane Broncos have confirmed that season 2019 will be Wayne Bennett’s final year coaching at the club.
Notoriously silent Broncos’ Chairman Karl Morris made the announcement on 25 September in a move designed to stop the conjecture about Bennett’s future at Red Hill beyond next season.
Personally, I think it is a good move from the Broncos. Bennett has consistently demonstrated, during his second stint at the club, key tactical and squad management flaws in his approach, which have undermined the Broncos’ prospects of achieving the required consistency in their on field performances to deliver Premiership success.
With regards to a key flaw in Bennett’s approach to squad management, Bennett consistently selects players in the 17 man match day squad, based on his personal relationships as opposed to individual players’ on field production. This has resulted in consistently underperforming players such as Boyd, Roberts, Kahu, Bird, McCullough, Thaiday, Glenn, Gillet, Sims, and Mago, being repeatedly selected at the expense of more productive members of the squad (e.g. Pearson, Shibasaki, Dargan, Fifita, Haas, Fai, Carrigan). With boom youngsters Allan and Seve leaving the club recently due to a lack of first team opportunities, Bennett’s flawed approach to squad management is also hurting the Broncos’ ability to retain their burgeoning young players.
In terms of key tactical flaws in Bennett’s approach, he consistently requires his players to adopt a low risk, high completion, but rather aimless plan of attack, when it comes to creating line break and line break assist opportunities. Essentially, Bennett relies on his players giving the ball to Boyd, Milford or Nikorima, and hoping they can create a line break or line break assist opportunity, without any supporting build up play. Despite that tactical approach consistently failing, Bennett has shown no signs of changing.
In addition to Bennett’s aimless attacking tactics, is his misguided approach to the team’s defence. While consistently requiring the likes of Milford and Nikorima to defend in the line is always going to result in a higher than desired missed tackle rate, deploying the overly aggressive but notorious miss tackler Gillett, and the defensively woeful Glenn, next to the halves, unnecessarily exposes the Broncos’ defensive weaknesses. Add Bird and Kahu’s poor tackling technique, and the Broncos edge defence has been consistently poor for a number of seasons. Despite this, Bennett has failed to address this glaring weakness of the Broncos.
With Bennett’s long term future at the club determined, the big question now becomes, who do the Broncos target to replace Bennett, after season 2019?
While the club have publicly targeted Bellamy and Green, who I would argue are superior recruiters and tacticians to Bennett, and I would also include Robinson and Flanagan in that category, beyond those coaches it’s difficult to see who is superior to Bennett.
McGregor has been unsuccessful at the Dragons, as has Kearny at the Eels and subsequently the Warriors. Cleary has been unsuccessful during his spells at the Warriors, Penrith and the West Tigers, and according to all reports is due to return to the Panthers. Stuart is entrenched as the Raiders head coach. Brown is invested in a long term project at the Knights. Pay had a poor first season at the Bulldogs, as did Brennan at the Titans, Barrett at the Sea Eagles, and Arthur at the Eels.
Outside of the current batch of NRL coaches, Maguire was sacked from the Rabbitohs because of his failed tactics, and Walters, the Walker Brothers and Demetriou, are all unproven at an NRL level.
One much publicised candidate, Anthony Seibold, showed a lot of promise, tactically, in his first season in charge of the Rabbitohs. However, with Seibold having such limited NRL experience and Shane Richardson primarily responsible for recruitment at South Sydney, its hard to tell how much of the credit for the Rabbitohs performances this past season should go to Richardson as opposed to Seibold, and whether Seibold’s tactical approach can, season on season, deliver consistently productive performances from the players he is coaching.
Considering the playing strengths and weaknesses of the Broncos’ contracted players, and in particular the club’s halves, hooker and fullback options, I personally think the Walker Brothers’ tactical approach would atleast accentuate the attacking attributes of Broncos’ key playmakers Milford, Nikorima and Bird.
While those players do not possess the creative passing game of traditional halves in order to generate line breaks through their slight of hand with the ball, they are blessed with excellent footwork and acceleration. To capitalise on those players’ skill set, the Broncos needed to generate a healthy number of offloads in each match, to create the second phase play and disorganisation in the opposition’s defence to give the likes of Milford, Nikorima and Bird the best opportunity to showcase their strengths to individually break the opposition’s defensive line or to create simpler line break assist opportunities.
This is precisely how the Walker Brothers’ like their sides to attack, with their current club Ipswich, and the Jets forwards regularly topping the offload statistics in the Intrust Super Cup, and key play makers, Jayden Connors, Michael Purcell and Wes Conlon, regularly in the leading group of players in the Intrust Super Cup in terms of line breaks. That’s not to say the Walker Brothers’ attacking approach is reckless, as the Jets’ forwards also regularly top the run metres statistics in the Intrust Super Cup.
With the likes of Milford, Nikorima and Bird, contracted long term at the Broncos, and forwards Haas, Carrigan, Lodge, Pangai Junior and Fifita, all capable of producing the required run metres and offloads, the Walker Brothers seem an ideal fit.