NRL: The Broncos spine is broken, again.

I wrote an article after round six of the 2019 NRL season titled ‘The Broncos spine is broken’, and after round six of the 2020 season, the Broncos spine is still broken – despite some new faces.

One of the issues of the 2019 spine was coach Anthony Seibold persisting with a halves combination of Milford at five-eighth and Kodi Nikorima at halfback.  They were two playmakers of the same mould – two running halves trying to play to structures and they didn’t complement each other. The side lacked direction because neither had the ability or personality to be the chief playmaker and handle the responsibilities of game management.

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12-months on, Kodi Nikorima was released to the Warriors and Melbourne Storm outcast Brodie Croft was recruited to become the teams chief playmaker and to execute Seibold’s attacking structures.

During the first two rounds before the competition was suspended, bringing Croft into the setup looked to have solved the puzzle to the Broncos playmaking woes. But unfortunately for Brisbane, the new rules introduced since the resumption of the competition hasn’t suited Croft’s style of play.

He’s a halfback who relies heavily on structure, but now playmakers need to adapt to a more ad-lib style of attack to keep up with the quicker pace of the game and Croft is now looking predictable and out of his depth.

This is not to say Croft can’t adapt, the problem is he hasn’t.

During Brisbane’s round six loss to Newcastle, Croft’s counterpart, Knights halfback Mitchell Pearce ran the ball 21 times for 141 metres and he produced a try, a try assist, a line-break, a line-break assist and three tackle busts.

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One player who should be thriving under the new rules and quicker pace of the game, is five-eighth Anthony Milford. Unfortunately for the Broncos, he’s badly out of form, lacking confidence and looks incapable of injecting himself into the game.

Milford’s strength is his running game, but whenever he receives the ball, he looks clueless as to what to do with it and simply palms it off to someone else.

Despite his lack-of-form, Milford is a world class player and Seibold needs to reject calls for him to be dropped and instead figure out how to get him more involved and running the ball again.

I believe the best way to do this is to shift him back to fullback. I know he tried this late last year without any success, but with the quicker pace of the game and the new rules, it would make the transition a lot easier this time around.

From fullback, he has to run with the ball. Whether its kick returns, support play around the ruck or sweeping plays on both sides of the field – the change will play to Milford’s strengths.

He has plenty of experience in the position, bursting onto the scene in his first two seasons as fullback for the Canberra Raiders.

It would mean shifting Jamayne Isaako back to the wing, which is his best position. Although Isaako is usually safe under the high ball and has a strong kick return, he is not suited to the modern fullback role.

It would also mean 19-year-old Tom Dearden comes into the halves to partner Croft, which would be a tough ask considering he hasn’t played any footy for a while with the cancellation of the reserve grade competitions, but it’s a risk that Seibold has to make.

To complete Brisbane’s woes with their spine, is hooker Jake Turpin suffering a leg injury and missing several weeks of football.

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In what was a comical development of events, one week before Turpin suffered his injury, backup hooker and 260-game veteran Andrew McCullough was granted a release by Brisbane to play for the Newcastle Knights, leaving the Broncos without an experienced rake.

Seibold has since publically acknowledged that decision was a mistake.

They’ve tried 20-year-old Cory Paix, but his inexperience has showed and it looks as if he’s not quite ready for first-grade, which is why they have now recruited 33-year-old, 274-game veteran hooker Isaac Luke from the Dragons.

It is easy to say that Brisbane’s spine has not been given many opportunities or the space to create while playing behind an underperforming forward pack – which is partly true, but every time they have crossed the advantage line during their four straight losses, they are firing blanks in attack.

The Broncos spine is just one of the many problems they have at the moment – their defence is equally, if not more woeful, but they can ease some of that pressure by building pressure with their attack.

Seibold’s spine moving forward should be Milford at fullback, Dearden at five-eighth, Croft at halfback and Luke at hooker (to rotate with Turpin when he returns). It wouldn’t be a worse option than the spine they have now.