How Kevvie meeting and Reynolds ‘surprise’ lifted broken Broncos from ‘rock bottom’

Just under a year ago, the Brisbane Broncos had hit “rock bottom”. Kevin Walters admitted as much at the time. Red Hill was divided and “everyone” was “in the firing line”.

“Everything we do needs to be first class and professional, that hasn’t happened in the last three or four years,” Walters said after the Broncos slumped to a 46-0 defeat to the Rabbitohs.

“If we don’t change things they’re going to stay the same.”

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Kevin Walters and the Broncos hit rock bottom last year. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

The changes were dramatic and widespread, with 10 players exiting at the end of last season while Matt Lodge and Tevita Pangai Junior were granted mid-season releases.

In came seven new names — led by premiership-winning halfback Adam Reynolds — the new face of a new era at one of the league’s proudest clubs.

But Reynolds could only do so much.

At least, that is what we were told, that he would not be able to paper over the defensive lapses that left Brisbane a shadow of its former glory days.

In an interview with Triple M last year, Walters conceded that the club had been trying to “change the mentality” of the playing group

“It’s been on the decline for the last three or four years,” he said.

“We’ve hit rock bottom and it’s up to me and the rest of the staff and players to turn that around. With that comes strong and firm decisions around culture and what happens here in training and on the field.”

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Fast-forward to Thursday night’s game in the Hunter and while Brisbane had made such a promising start to the 2022 season, that new “mentality” was about to face its greatest test.

With Reynolds a late scratching, the new-look Broncos were expected to crumble, to fall back into their old ways.

Newcastle had 21 tackles in Brisbane’s red zone in the opening half and yet, it only had the one try to show for it.

And when the Knights hit back to draw within two points of the Broncos in the second half, they answered the challenge once again and ran away 36-12 winners.

Reynolds may have made his presence felt on the field but in reality, Brisbane’s performance without him was the greatest evidence of just how much has changed at Red Hill.

It starts with turning what was once the club’s biggest weakness into a strength.

HOW RED HILL BECAME AN ATTRACTIVE DESTINATION AGAIN

Just over a year ago, the Broncos were humiliated 46-6 by the Eels on the same weekend David Fifita, Sam Walker and Reece Walsh put on starring performances for rival clubs.

“They would keep players for unders. This is a different Broncos to what it was five to 10 years ago,” Laurie Daley said on The Big Sports Breakfast at the time.

“They’ve lost that lust.”

Walters though, undeterred by the constant criticism, took to the Brisbane roster to make cut-throat calls he believed would be in the best interests of the club.

Even if those outside of the Broncos hierarchy could not see it at the time.

Reece Walsh used to be a Bronco.Source: Supplied

Both Pangai Junior and Lodge were still producing on the field, although discipline and off-field indiscretions were a concern as was salary cap pressures and so the Brisbane powerbrokers cut them loose.

The Broncos were left having to pay more than $1 million for both of them to play for rival clubs but confident it would leave them stronger in the long run.

It looks like they were right.

But they were not the only high-profile Broncos to leave the club in the last few years, with Anthony Milford and David Fifita also let go.

Again, they were decisions that dominated the headlines and only saw the club come under more pressure to guarantee the sacrifice would be worth it.

The early signs were there late last year, with Tyson Gamble and Kotoni Staggs among a host of Broncos to re-sign to the club despite rival interest.

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Kurt Capewell has been a smart buy. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Now with Reynolds and Capewell leading a new era at the Broncos and cut-price recruits like Corey Jensen filling the void up front, Brisbane is starting to reap the rewards.

And not only that, now players are actually taking pay cuts to stay at Red Hill. Herbie Farnworth knocked back interest from the Dolphins to re-sign on a one-year extension.

Selwyn Cobbo, meanwhile, is stuck in the middle of a 15-team bidding war but is reportedly prepared to sacrifice $200,000 a season if it means staying put at Brisbane.

The Broncos simply could not compete with what was on offer for Xavier Coates at Melbourne but now, with success on the field, Brisbane has a new card to play at the negotiating table.

Brisbane Broncos teen sensation Selwyn Cobbo is set to snub rival clubs. Picture NRL photosSource: Supplied

THE BIG REYNOLDS ‘SURPRISE’ AND KEY KEVVIE MEETING

The chance to play under Reynolds is another one of Brisbane’s key trump cards when it comes to recruitment and retention.

As much as Brisbane has benefited from Reynolds’ calming influence, there is another aspect to his game that has gone to another level this year.

“The surprise is what Reynolds has been able to provide around the try line,” Panthers legend Gorden Tallis said on Triple M.

“At South Sydney, he was always that guy at the back-end of sets that got them where they needed to go and Cody Walker, [Damien] Cook and Latrell [Mitchell] were putting on the try assists.

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“So coming up here, it was like if he does that for the Broncos, who is going to convert those opportunities for him because that has not always been his game.”

The options were limited too. Te Maire Martin, Tyson Gamble and Billy Walters are all solid first-graders but still developing and searching for consistency in their game.

It may be a surprise to see the Broncos back competing for a top-four spot already but this could actually only be the start considering the upgrades Brisbane can still make to its spine.

“He’s not doing it on his own but you look at the Melbourne spine and how much money they’ve got invested in that spine and how good they are,” The Australian’s Brent Read said on Triple M.

“You wouldn’t look at this spine and say it is anywhere near that level but Adam is so good at the moment, it sort of compensates for a lot of that.”

And Reynolds is not just producing that settling kick into the corner or leading voice out on the field, he is also coming up with highlight-reel chip kicks and flashes of brilliance.

Reynolds has been one of the buys of the year. NRL PHOTOSSource: The Daily Telegraph

“He is now the go-to man,” Girdler said.

“On the back of a quick play-the-ball in attacking positions, he used to step back… now he comes forward and is converting those opportunities with passes, kicks and chips for himself. “The surprise for me is what Adam Reynolds has provided in that element of his game, it has gone to a different level.”

Even with Reynolds sidelined against Newcastle, Brisbane still held its nerve to streak away late for a 30-12 win.

The 31-year-old may not have been playing but that result was telling of the impact he had on the playing group, building that culture of professionalism Walters said had been lacking for so long.

It all started on the training paddock, with Patrick Carrigan revealing in an earlier column for foxsports.com.au that Reynolds had made a “big difference” in the pre-season alone.

“Gordie Tallis said this week that our training goes to another level when Reyno is on the park – and it’s true,” he wrote at the time.

Adam Reynolds has made an impact at Broncos training. Picture: Liam KidstonSource: News Corp Australia

“I don’t want to say he carries an aura but his presence has certainly been felt ever since he arrived for pre-season three weeks early.

“In the past we’ve been busting our backsides and hoping for results, but now Reyno is really challenging us to think more about exactly what we’re doing and why.”

And it is showing on the field too, with premiership-winning halfback Cooper Cronk pinpointing that cultural shift as the key to Brisbane’s turnaround.

“They are playing with resilience,” he said on Fox League’s ‘NRL Tonight’.

“They are playing with this toughness we haven’t seen for a long period of time. While the icing on the cake has been Reynolds, Cobbo and Kotoni Staggs moments, the essence of why they have won has been based on grit, toughness and defence.”

That grit and toughness all comes back to the coach too, according to Broncos great Gorden Tallis.

“Kevvie was a resilient, tough little bugger and it’s coming out in Brisbane now,” he said on Fox League’s ‘NRL 360’.

“I think in the past, we didn’t stand for anything and now we are standing for something and you can see a little bit of Kevvie and that DNA coming back into the club.”

That is no accident either, with a meeting between Walters and Broncos powerbrokers at the start of the season helping nail down a “clear” playing style and identity.

Kevin Walters sat down with Broncos powerbrokers. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

“The big change in the Broncos, is they went away and had a sit down over the summer and they said all right what does our team look like,” Paul Kent said on ‘NRL 360’ earlier this month.

“Kevvie when you have finished coaching this side what does it look like, what does a Kevin Walters coached Broncos team look like?

“Kevvie sort of sat back and probably had never thought about it in those terms before, so what happened out of that is Kevvie has gone away and had a think about it because if you don’t know what your end result is how do you get there.

“The Broncos have a clear idea about what their style is like… Kevvie is clear in his head so that dictates his training sessions, it dictates their recruitment, it dictates their whole roster formation and who they go after.”

THE ‘LETHAL’ BACK FIVE… HERE TO STAY

The first-choice 17 under Walters was anything but clear last year though.

While Brisbane’s halves pairings resembled a game of musical chairs last year, its back five was also constantly chopping and changing.

Injuries did take their toll but outside of Kotoni Staggs and Farnworth, the Broncos struggled to lock down long-term options on the wing and at fullback.

They may have found an unlikely option at the back in Te Maire Martin, who has been impressive in his return to first-grade considering how long he had been out of the game.

It is on the wings though where Brisbane has really improved this year, with Selywn Cobbo and Corey Oates mirroring Penrith’s Brian To’o and Taylan May for yardage carries.

Corey Oates has been much-improved this season. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Last season, the Broncos’ starting wingers combined for an average of 223 metres, which ranked them level for fifth-worst in the league.

This season though Brisbane’s starting wingers sit third, with Oates and Cobbo combining for 400 metres on Thursday night against Newcastle.

Cobbo has emerged as a genuine game-breaker on the wing while Oates’ resurgence has been nothing short of remarkable given only a few years ago he looked destined for an exit from Red Hill.

“I think we’ve seen that resurgence from Corey Oates,” Melbourne Storm front rower Christian Welch said on Triple M.

“He’s been in reserve grade the last few years. We were talking about our Origin teams before the show started and he is probably right in the mix to come back.”

Add in Staggs and Farnworth, one of the league’s most potent centre combinations, and the Broncos boast a back five brimming with talent.

Herbie Farnworth is one part of Brisbane’s potent backline. (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

There is no need for chopping and changing anytime soon.

“Having those tall targets and the accuracy of an Adam Reynolds is pretty lethal near the try line,” Welch added.

SELWYN COBBO

Tries – 0.8 vs 0.3

Run Metres – 124 vs 94

Linebreaks – 1.0 vs 0.1

Tackle Busts – 4.4 vs 2.9

COREY OATES

Tries – 0.9 vs 0.3

Run Metres – 161 vs 153

Linebreaks – 0.8 vs 0.4

Tackle Busts – 3.5 vs 2.2

THE BIG DIFFERENCE AS PACK STEPS UP TO HELP HAAS

But Reynolds can’t work his magic without the forward pack laying a platform and this time around, it is not just Payne Haas carrying the load.

Last year Walters was forced to challenge Brisbane’s big men to match the “inspirational” Haas, who was too often burdened by the need to be a one-man band up front.

Haas still averages a team-high 167 run metres but he is no longer the only Bronco hitting triple digits, with the injury-free Patrick Carrigan (128) and former Cowboy Jensen (103) joining him.

Meanwhile, Tom Fleger (98), Keenan Palasia (96) and Kobe Hetherington (85) are not too far behind.

It is no longer on Payne Haas alone to carry the pack. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

It is still a relatively young forward pack but the experience of Capewell balances it out and while the last few years were painful, it only left Brisbane’s young crop stronger.

“They are showing great resilience with their defence, they have good young forwards who are aggressive in the middle,” Laurie Daley said on The Big Sports Breakfast.

“They have passing in them and also know when to tuck it under their arm and carry it forward. They did it last night without Adam Reynolds, which was important for their confidence. You can just see how much they’ve grown.

“They had a few lean years, these young blokes were exposed before they were ready. Now they have the confidence. They’ve added a bit of experience in the off-season and they’re gelling.”

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