The Brisbane Broncos suffered a dramatic late-season fade out in 2022, ultimately missing the final despite looking an absolute certainty to do so for much of the year.
A similar result come the end of the 2023 campaign will be an unacceptable result for Kevin Walters' side, and while they are expected to be a top-eight chance, the lingering doubt caused by the back half of 2022 will remain.
A strong side with plenty of representative players though, and a talented young brigade who will only continue to improve, will excite fans of the Red Hill-based operation.
This series will aim to dissect every squad in the NRL, and determine who would be the best player to steal if there wasn't a single salary cap or contractual issue to overcome.
We will look at four players per team, listed in alphabetical order, before coming to a verdict.
Jesse Arthars, Logan Bayliss, Kurt Capewell, Patrick Carrigan, Selwyn Cobbo, Herbie Farnworth, Thomas Flegler, Payne Haas, Kobe Hetherington, Delouise Hoeter, Corey Jensen, Jock Madden, Ezra Mam, Deine Mariner, Blake Mozer, Tesi Niu, Corey Oates, Cory Paix, Keenan Palasia, Jordan Pereira, Brendan Piakura, Ethan Quai-Ward, Adam Reynolds, Jordan Riki, TC Robati, Kotoni Staggs, Reece Walsh, Billy Walters, Xavier Willison
Squad correct as at November 27.
There is little doubt that the Broncos' biggest issue - for the time being at least - is in the number nine jumper.
For the time being is an important caveat because at some point this season, Blake Mozer is likely to debut. Provided his form in the QLD Cup is good enough, he will take Brisbane's number nine jumper on a fulltime basis at some point in the next 24 months, and, provided the Broncos' retention don't commit the biggest blunder in club history, he will never let go of the jersey again.
In the meantime though, it'll be left to Cory Paix and Billy Walters to split the role - not the biggest disaster, but also not a combination that's going to be winning a club a premiership anytime soon in what is one of the NRL's most important positions.
The type of dummy half the Broncos need though is up in the air. They have an excellent fast-running middle third, and so someone who knows their role within the setup, rather than trying to do too much on their own would be vitally important. A player like Apisai Koroisau may be the best dummy half in the NRL, but may also not be the best fit for a club like the Broncos.
Kevin Walters' side are nicely covered across the rest of the park in their starting 13, but do struggle when it comes to depth off the interchange bench, so we will be sticking with key impact forwards in the other options.
Corey Jensen, Kobe Hetherington and Keenan Palasia are likely to be the other players in contention for minutes off the bench, so a strong middle third back up who won't want to grab big minutes is also of paramount importance for Brisbane if they were to be able to steal anyone in the competition.
The rest of the side looks suitably well-stocked. Ezra Mam had a breakout back half of the year at five-eighth and will only continue to improve, while the signing of Jock Madden brings the club some excellent depth, with the youngster never quite getting enough of an opportunity at the Tigers to show what he could do.
Their backline, with the signing of Reece Walsh, is now overstocked, while Kurt Capewell, Jordan Riki, TC Robati and Brendan Piakura will all have to fight for minutes on the edge, so there is little to no point adding a player there.
Options to steal
There is no doubt that Leniu deserves more minutes than he is currently getting and will likely be one of the better props in the competition once he is able to take that step forward in his career.
While Carrigan and Haas play big minutes, the same can't be said of Leniu, who could then move into a role of as many as 40 minutes per week, and, given Flegler has spent chunks of time coming off the bench, a starting role could even be in the offering.
All Run Metres
Simply put, no team with a poor number nine are going to go close to making a grand final, let alone actually compete in one.
You look at the sides who made the preliminary finals in 2022 and their dummy halves - Apisai Koroisau, Reed Mahoney, Reece Robson and Damien Cook. Arguably the four best in the game outside of Harry Grant, who was part of a Melbourne team that just couldn't get going thanks to injuries.
They need the ultimate dummy half who tackles hard and isn't noticed because he is simply doing that good of a job in delivering the football.
That player can be Mahoney.
When it comes to impact forwards, few did it better than Ryan Matterson throughout the 2022 campaign.
The Parramatta enforcer might have been relegated to a bench role for much of the season, but he was an absolutely unstoppable force at times.
One of the NRL's biggest metre-eaters, he appeared in Zero Tackle's stats-based team of the week more than he didn't throughout the second half of the campaign.
He would be the ultimate option to add to Brisbane's middle third, while also having the ability to play on the edge should it be called for, although it's not a particular area of weakness for the Red Hill based operation.
Matterson would share duties with Carrigan of course, but there is no reason Carrigan wouldn't shift to a prop role after 20 minutes when Matterson came on, giving the Broncos what would likely be the most dangerous middle third rotation in the NRL.
Arguably, Robson's game is one of the most improved in the NRL throughout the last 12 months.
The North Queensland Cowboys' dummy half was a key part of the reason the club were able to charge up the ladder and into the finals, where they ultimately fell in a preliminary final.
He does have an excellent running game, but his defensive efficiency and service to forwards sets him apart from the rest of the competition in the number nine jumper.
There is a reason the Cowboys have moved so quickly to tie Robson down long-term, and if he keeps improving, then his name will be mentioned in the same sentence as Koroisau and Grant throughout the 2023 campaign.
As mentioned above, the Broncos don't need a hooker like Koroisau, Damien Cook or potentially even Harry Grant. They need a player (for the short term at least) who will simply be happy to make a lot of tackles and provide excellent, high-quality service to their forwards.
If the Broncos dominate possession, with their attacking weapons, they are going to win more games than they'll lose - it's really quite as simple as that.
That said, the idea of adding to that middle third with a signing like Matterson or Leniu in an impact role is enticing.
Nelson Asofa-Solomona was another one briefly considered, but the last thing Brisbane need is a player with a tendency to give away penalties. Jared Waerea-Hargreaves is another player in the same boat.
Despite the need for a back up forward, it's not Brisbane's biggest issue, and for that reason, it's pretty clear Robson is the ideal player for the men from Red Hill to add to their roster for 2023, although it'd be certainly a one season and done type thing before Mozer locks down the number nine jumper for the next decade.
Be sure to check back in tomorrow as we take a look at the Canberra Raiders.