If Grand Finals ran 10 seconds shorter, Brisbane would be seven-time premiers.

That is not an exaggeration. We all know the story by now. Brisbane lead 16-12 for half an hour before Cowboys winger Kyle Feldt scores in the corner on the final play of the 80. Johnathon Thurston's missed kick from the sideline is offset by Ben Hunt's error off the kick off to begin golden point, and Thurston kicks the game winning field goal to bring the premiership to Townsville in the most dramatic fashion possible.

But what if I told you that there should have been no chance the Broncos lost that game? That in the pursuit of building his perfect team, Wayne Bennett made mistakes which are still being felt today? That for the third time in a row, Bennett left a club in a far worse state than it was when he arrived?

All three of those statements are true. And here is the evidence of that.

When Bennett rejoined the Broncos in the 2014 offseason, the club was in a mediocre position. They had just finished 8th for the second time in three years and had an entire mixed bag of talent- a pair of talented fullbacks in Josh Hoffman and Ben Barba, a new starting halfback in the 24 year old Hunt, Queensland mainstays Justin Hodges, Sam Thaiday and Corey Parker, as well as the reliable Matt Gillett, Andrew McCullough and Jack Reed. It wasn't quite a premiership winning 13, but it was definitely one where the groundwork had been laid.

But Bennett had other ideas. Anthony Milford had already committed to Brisbane, but he wouldn't be the only key player joining the Broncos. Adam Blair came in on a cheap deal from the Tigers and Darius Boyd followed Bennett from Newcastle. To make way for these three, Barba, Hoffman and forwards Martin Kennedy and David Hala were released early from their contracts.

That marks the first part of the story. Brisbane were paying out those 4 contracts during the 2015 season, including all of Kennedy's since he wasn't picked up by another club. If Brisbane had their full salary cap available there is every chance that they could have picked up another player which would have pushed them over the top.

Over the next few seasons, Brisbane got close but couldn't get back to the Grand Final. Despite this the contract mistakes kept on coming. The next one was the Ash Taylor debacle. Brisbane deemed that Taylor wouldn't get a chance in first grade, since Ben Hunt and Anthony Milford were the partnership of the future. Two years later, Hunt, as well as Blair and Corey Parker's heir-apparent Jai Arrow had left the club.

Lets assess Blair and Arrow first. Blair left because the Broncos couldn't find the money to keep him at the club, given that the Tigers obligation to paying his contract was ending after that 2017 season. Arrow, despite being a known quantity at Red Hill, was given just 12 matches in 2017. Arrow was given an opportunity to get a starting spot on the Gold Coast and seized it. Bennett, who approached playing youth with caution, watched as one of the best young forwards to come through Brisbane walked away.

But Hunt is a weirder situation. Not even 24 months after they told a high potential replacement that he could look for other clubs, Bennett refused to move the pieces to give Hunt the contract he wanted and ultimately let him go to the Dragons. Yes the Dragons overpaid Hunt, and Brisbane would have had to come close to matching that offer to get him to stay, but halves like Hunt don't come around very often. Adept at being both a playmaker and a ball runner, Hunt would walk onto every team in the NRL as either a halfback, a five-eighth or an attack-minded hooker, and would control the game as long as the pieces around him are able to lay the platform for him. The latter step has thus far failed to happen in Wollongong.

To put into context how much the departure of Hunt and Taylor set Brisbane back, the Broncos have used 6 different halfbacks since Round 1, 2018. Those halfbacks are Kodi Nikorima, Jack Bird, Sean O'Sullivan, Thomas Dearden, Jake Turpin and Brodie Croft. Ben Hunt is miles ahead of all 6, and you could make the argument that Taylor would be preferred over them as well. If Brisbane had one of those two in their number 7, especially if Taylor never dealt with the mental challenges he faced on the Gold Coast, they would not be in the spot they are in now.

Speaking of Bird, that is where the money that should've been used to bring back Hunt went. The signing of Jack Bird has to be one of the most un-Bennett like signings, and I'm convinced that Paul White definitely played a part in it. Bennett would usually use that money on 3 or 4 reliable first graders who can fill holes straight away. Instead, they went for the splash and signed Bird to one of the richest deals in club history. Needless to say, that deal hasn't worked out, although its impossible to out Bird for something he can't control- injuries.

That 2017 season also saw the other part of Hunt's potential earnings be used to give Boyd a 4 year extension. Boyd earned the money, but to give an athletic-dominated fullback a 4 year extension at 29 after a ruptured achilles is something that will get you laughed out of a coaching job if it was anyone else other than Wayne Bennett. Given that Boyd will retire this season with a year to run on that deal, it is easy to see why that contract is maligned.

The last bit of Bennett contract magic occurred in the 2018 offseason, after it had been established that Bennett would not be Brisbane's coach past the 2019 season, when he decided to release Josh McGuire to go to the Cowboys. One of the biggest problems with Brisbane is a lack of experience in their forward pack, but that could have changed if McGuire and his 215 NRL games were in the squad.

Obviously Anthony Siebold isn't immune to the contract situation either. His decisions to release Nikorima, McCullough, James Roberts and Jaydn Su'a have left the Broncos with more dead cap and less experience. However that does not compare to Bennett's complete and utter mishandling of Brisbane's contracts.

The writing is not on the wall for Brisbane. The situation is definitely salvageable but they MUST learn from their mistakes.

  • Don't force Dearden and Carrigan out the way Taylor and Arrow were
  • Cut fringe players loose to accommodate for big money superstars (already at the club, and not headed into the twilight of their careers)
  • Prioritise experience over potential

And for the sake of all things good, don't let Payne Haas and David Fifita Jr leave the club.