This article was first written for and published for The Roar.
Suggesting Wayne Bennett has lost his aura always makes me laugh, but there has been some weird stuff to come out of the Broncos in the last week.
Let’s be clear: Bennett will be remembered as one of rugby league’s greatest mentors.
He has been head coach of Australia, the English national team (the first non-English coach to be in that position), Queensland, St George Illawarra Dragons, the Newcastle Knights and most famously the Brisbane Broncos. He holds the record for the most grand final wins and also the most seasons with a single club.
Not only has he been successful on the field, but there are countless stories about the special bonds he forms with his players.
The one I always think of first is his relationship with Darius Boyd – a player who we have watched follow Bennett from club to club and who has essentially grown up in the media spotlight, with Bennett there to help guide him through it.
But the Broncos have had a tough start to season 2018. They currently sit 11th on the NRL ladder with four points after starting their season 2-3.
On Saturday night they lost to a spirited Newcastle Knights outfit 15-10 and were, quite simply, outplayed.
Then there’s the situation with Sam Thaiday.
It started last week, at a press conference, when Bennett assured the media that Thaiday would remain in his top 17 for the remainder of the year.
“We didn’t give him another year so he could play in the state comp with Norths or anyone,” Bennett said, in response to Chris Walker having suggested that Thaiday should retire immediately rather than playing out the final year of his contract.
But is the choice that simple?
Bennett has tapped countless Broncos on the shoulder during their career, like Justin Hodges and Corey Parker.
It is a difficult decision for any player to make, but it is better to leave fans thinking you could potentially have done another season, rather than holding on to your career too long.
But when Hodges and Parker were tapped, it ended amicably. Is Thaiday the same sort of player?
This is a man who reacted vehemently to being dropped from the Maroons and Kangaroos last year. Instead of blaming his own dip in form, he chose to blame (loudly, on social media and through his various media commitments) the coaches and the people around him. Thaiday acted like he was entitled to representative jerseys, rather than that they need to be earnt.
Would Thaiday react in a similar way if dropped the Broncos? Potentially, especially considering that he is on the cusp of reaching 300 games this season.
The hope for Brisbane fans must be that Thaiday makes it easy and that his form picks up as the season progresses.
You would hope that his on-field performances are what he is focusing on too, particularly after telling the media shortly after the conclusion of Saturday night’s game that it “wasn’t about winning for us”. Bennett confirmed this shortly after, that the game was a big step forward for his team.
Interesting comments about a game against a team that has finished with the wooden spoon for the last three years in a row.
So can the Broncos pick it up or has Wayne lost his aura?
I’m of the view that the Broncos will sort this out and just scrape into the finals. But they have some work to do.
Kevin Walters resigned as their attack coach last week, which was probably for the best. Brisbane scored the second-most points in the competition in 2017. They are a far cry from that team this year.
The squad seems to be running set plays… slowly.
The ball finds its way into the hands of Kodi Nikorima and Anthony Milford, and the rest of the squad watches them. The other option seems to be getting the ball into the hands of Darius Boyd, but putting him in a position where he has nowhere to move.
The Broncos look lost in attack and despite forcing seven line dropouts on Saturday, could only come up with two late tries.
Mistakes are also proving too costly. Against the Knights, Brisbane forced two line breaks early and then received back-to-back penalties, all wasted when Matt Gillett dropped a simple pass just metres from the tryline.
Moments later, Milford found his way through the defence with his signature sidestep, but instead of passing to one of his support players, the ball slipped through his hands.
It doesn’t get much easier from here. Next week, the Broncos face the New Zealand Warriors at Mt Smart Stadium, followed by the Melbourne Storm at home.
Perhaps at the end of these two rounds, we’ll be in a better position to assess whether there are more underlying issues at the club than a lack of confidence on the field.