Almanac Rugby League: What happened to the Brisbane Broncos in 2020?

I’ll get the difficult part over with straight away and admit that I’m a Brisbane Broncos fan. I’m in unfamiliar territory: supporting the club which has won the 2020 NRL wooden spoon.


Well, well, well. Wooden spoon for the Broncos. Yes, it actually has happened. This wealthy club with the “one-team town” aspect has finished with the wooden spoon for the first time ever, having entered the competition in 1988.


I do NOT want, need or expect any sympathy or commiserations from anyone. Put simply, the Broncos were an appalling mess on and off the field this year, and thoroughly deserved the wooden spoon.


For any other Bronco fan who may be reading this, I ask two questions. Firstly, what is the point in blowing up about it? Secondly, why sugarcoat it?


In fact, I’m more relieved than anything that the Broncos’ nightmare season is over. I look forward to seeing the Broncos women’s team play in the NRLW as they seek three successive premierships, but that’s another story!


Only 12 months ago, the Broncos supposedly hit rock bottom after scraping into the NRL top-eight, and then bowing out with a 58-0 defeat. Never mind that the Broncos finished higher than eight other teams on the ladder.


A mate of mine who supports the Parramatta Eels told me last Thursday that Parramatta has claimed the wooden spoon 14 times while the Manly Sea Eagles have never claimed it, after both teams entered the competition in 1947.


With the Broncos having won all six of their Grand Final appearances from 1992 to 2006, I previously wondered if they would ever lose a Grand Final. As it turned out, that happened in 2015. But it never crossed my mind that the Broncos could ever finish with the wooden spoon. Now it has happened. And does it bother me? Not in the slightest, even if it’s not a nice situation to be in.


In the overall scheme of things, is it really earth-shattering?


The world has been rocked to the core by coronavirus which has claimed many lives throughout the world. Wars, floods, fires, cancer, shootings, terrorism, corrupt governments and many other tragedies have ruined lives for as long as humankind has existed.


Keeping things in perspective, is coming last in a sporting competition really one of the worst things that can happen?


The fact of the matter is, ONE team is guaranteed to finish last. It’s an unavoidable fact of life.


For quite a few weeks, the Canterbury Bulldogs occupied last place on the NRL ladder and squandered a series of winnable positions. It was only through sheer luck that the Broncos did not fall to last place until just two rounds before the finals.


Brisbane’s woes from Round 3 to Round 20 were a far cry from the first two rounds of the season when the Broncos recorded successive wins. Following their confident start to the season, I really can’t understand how they could win only one of their next 18 matches. How did it all go so horribly wrong after the competition hiatus?


I don’t know if there’s a definitive answer. But no excuses or reasons are justifiable, considering all clubs faced the same challenges associated with lockdowns, the “bubble”, and COVID-19 restrictions. The only team you could excuse is the Warriors, considering they were forced to stay overseas for a prolonged period. I genuinely felt sorry for them, and I admired how they handled things as best as they could. Additionally, the Melbourne Storm finished second on the ladder, even though they were forced to stay interstate for a lengthy period.


Brisbane’s wooden spoon was a sad way for Darius Boyd to retire but, in all honesty, I think he should have retired three years ago. He looked like a goner as he battled a hamstring problem in the 2017 Preliminary Final loss to Melbourne. At the time, I said it was time for Boyd to pull the pin. This opinion was reinforced many times during the remainder of his career.


Boyd has had an illustrious career with 337 NRL appearances, two premierships (one with Brisbane and one with St George Illawarra), a Clive Churchill Medal, 17 tries in 28 State of Origin matches, and 16 tries in 23 Tests. He also took part in nine State of Origin series wins, and incredibly he never tasted defeat in the green and gold colours.


But in my opinion, he played three years too long and was a failure in that time. The decision to sign him to a three or four year deal – when I thought he should retire – was just one example of how I think the Broncos got things terribly wrong in the past few years. Signing coach Anthony Seibold to a five year deal – after just one year of experience as an NRL head coach – was another dreadful decision. Now it’s taking an awfully long time to decide who the new CEO and new coach should be.


Boyd and playmaker Anthony Milford were the two players who copped the most stinging criticism from all and sundry for the Broncos’ woes in the past couple of years, while Seibold was savagely criticised too. I think much of the criticism of this trio was warranted but I think the overall playing group, plus the administrators, coaching staff and recruitment staff all deserved a similar share of the flak. I cannot fathom how the Broncos simply had no leadership of any sort, on or off the field, from anyone.


Multiple injuries hurt the Broncos, yes, while the absence of the Intrust Super Cup this year meant there was no lower tier competition featuring players who could knock on the door for selection. What I found more telling though was that the player depth was insufficient, while the players simply did not show enough hunger, desire, interest or commitment, let alone skill or talent. In the pre-season, there was a lot of talk as to how talented Brisbane’s playing squad was, particularly in the forwards. Since then, it’s been claimed that the club lacked a quality senior player or two (or three) to help guide the younger brigade. To some extent I agree with this but were the so-called “talented youngsters” really all that they were cracked up to be? Brodie Croft and Tevita Pangai  Jnr were two such cases in point.


I found it particularly galling to see how many times the Broncos conceded a ‘six again’ call for lingering too long in tackles. Even more galling was the number of times an opponent would scythe through an inept Broncos defensive line with barely a finger laid on him. Failing to communicate and failing to commit to tackling the ball-carrier were two fundamental flaws which guaranteed that things would go pear-shaped. It is beyond me why this was never really rectified.


A cleanout is sorely needed as far as the coaching staff, administrators and recruiters are concerned, while the players must be held accountable too. Now that the club has hit rock bottom in every way, the telling thing is how the Broncos clean up their act and get things on track. I’m a firm believer that what is more telling than a failure is how you subsequently deal with it.


There’s no quick fixes, yet it’s worth noting that Penrith won the 2003 Premiership after being the wooden spooner only two years earlier. Things change, in football and in life. Sooner or later, the Broncos are sure to be a force again. They should be hell-bent on ensuring that the nightmare of 2020 will never be repeated. This year just might be a blessing in disguise (for the Broncos) after all, to the detriment of those who enjoy the Broncos’ woes.


Read more of Liam Hauser’s Almanac contributions and about his cricket and rugby league books by clicking HERE.


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About Liam Hauser

A Queenslander through and through, Liam went out of his comfort zone as he had a thoroughly worthwhile time in Tumut and Gundagai from 2008 to 2016 before enjoying a year in Gunnedah. His strongest sporting interests are State of Origin, Sheffield Shield, Test cricket and the NRL. His sporting CV doesn’t have many highlights, although he once top-scored in a warehouse cricket match with 54 not out at number 10, and shared in an unbroken last wicket stand of 83 with the number 11 who scored an undefeated 52. Liam has written books including State of Origin 40 Years, A Century of Cricket Tests, A History of Test Cricket, The Immortals of Australian Cricket, The Immortals of Australian Rugby League, and The Great Grand Finals: Rugby League's Greatest Contests. Also a huge fan of Electric Light Orchestra.


  1. Liam, there certainly is a need for some deep soul searching at the Broncos. It seems that Kevin Walters will get the coaching job, a useful first step. But the Board has a lot to answer for as well as the players.

    Looking for at least some silver lining in the dark clouds, I think Pat Carrigan, Tom Flegler and Payne Haas can hold their heads high among the forwards, while Kotoni Staggs, Xavier Coates and Tom Dearden held their own in the backs.

    ‘There’s always next year.’

  2. Russel Hansen says

    Great piece Liam
    you make many wise points, especially the on & off field leadership issue
    As a South Sydney member, I have followed the Broncos’ demise with interest, and with absolutely zero sympathy, given Siebold’s 2018 coach of the year efforts with the Pride of the League
    As Souths have missed the record game holder John Sutton’s leadership this year, the Broncos clearly have lacked the leadership of some older, harder heads
    I also agree, the Shoncs won’t be down for too long, regardless of the improvement of the Titans, or a second Brisbane team. Keep up the great work

  3. Mark Courtney says

    Nicely done Liam.
    As a mad Rabbitoh (like Russell) I can’t say I have felt much but amusement watching the Broncos season.
    However, I feel that you will stick with them and that’s what’s most important. We know what that means at Souths, you probably haven’t got a feel for it yet.
    If I may, I’d like to relate a little tale.
    I go to the Grand Final pretty much every year as a guest of a Member I went to school with.
    For many, many years I was only able to whimsically wonder what it would be like for Souths to make the finals, let alone make it to the Big Dance.
    At the end of the 2006 decider, I was sitting on the train wearing my Rabbitoh colours (I always do that, just so people know), when I overheard an older Bronco fan talking to a woman. He said to her: “You know what I really love about this one? This is a Premiership for the true believers. The people who’ve stuck with them through thick and thin.”
    I think he was referring to the fact that the Broncos had dropped right down the table earlier that year and come storming home to take the prize. But I had to chuckle to myself.
    I was about to lean forward, so he could see my colours, and ask him..”So mate, just help me here, which part of missing the finals once in the past 20 odd years is the THIN you’re talking about? Was it the time you got kicked out of the comp and had to fight tooth and nail for 2 years to get back in, only to get the spoon 3 of the next 5 years?”
    But I thought better of it, and that’s probably a good thing.
    Anyway, Liam, you stick solid. I suspect you won’t have to wait 43 years from 2006 for your next Lap of Honour, but I can promise you that each year of THIN makes the THICK that much better.

  4. Liam Hauser says

    Ian, Russel and Mark,
    Good to hear from you. I’m particularly interested to hear from a couple of Rabbitohs’ fans, in addition to a Broncos fan.
    Despite 43 years between premierships, Souths remain well on top of the list in terms of number of premierships won. What it’s like to be a Souths fan would be much different for someone born in the 1950s compared with someone born after 1971. Likewise, any Broncos fan born in the past 15 years has had a vastly different experience from those (like me) who have seen their premierships.
    Let’s not forget the drought for the North Sydney Bears, who won the 1921-22 premierships but never won another first grade title, before becoming extinct at first grade level following an ill-fated merger with Manly.
    As for Anthony Seibold, I’m not sure if the opinion (of him) among Souths fans has changed much in the past 2 years. Were they happy that Souths let him go? If so, that opinion was surely reinforced regularly during his stint with the Broncos.
    Check the article below. Seibold’s lingo certainly sounds complicated. I laughed at the reference to Winston Churchill too!

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