Every NRL fan wishes their team could run out the best 17 players in the competition from time to time.
Broncos’ fans have probably spent more time thinking about that novel fantasy more than most over the last two years, with the side collapsing to a pair of bottom four appearances, including a first-ever wooden spoon in 2020.
But what if every club could steal one player without worrying about salary cap, roster spots or any other consequences?
Who would be the game-breaker for each club based on their current roster?
That is exactly what we are going to look at in this new series on Zero Tackle, starting today with the Broncos and running through each competition team over the next 16 days.
So, which player would Kevin Walters want more than any other, keeping in mind that it is only one player who would need to fit into the needs of the current squad, rather than simply going out and listing Nathan Cleary or Tom Trbojevic as the player every team needs.
Who would your club steal?
» Canberra Raiders
» Canterbury Bulldogs
» Cronulla Sharks
» Gold Coast Titans
» Manly Sea Eagles
» Melbourne Storm
» Newcastle Knights
» New Zealand Warriors
» North Queensland Cowboys
» Parramatta Eels
» Penrith Panthers
» South Sydney Rabbitohs
» St George Illawarra Dragons
» Sydney Roosters
» Wests Tigers
Current squad for 2022
Jesse Arthars, Logan Bayliss, Kurt Capewell, Patrick Carrigan, Selwyn Cobbo, Herbie Farnworth, Thomas Flegler, Tyson Gamble, Payne Haas, Kobe Hetherington, Jamayne Isaako, Ryan James, Corey Jensen, Albert Kelly, Rhys Kennedy, Brenko Lee, Ezra Mam, David Mead, Tesi Niu, Corey Oates, Cory Paix, Keenan Palasia, Jordan Pereira, Brendan Piakura, Adam Reynolds, Jordan Riki, TC Robati, Kotoni Staggs, Jake Turpin, Billy Walters, Xavier Willison.
The gaps in the Broncos’ best 17
Brenko Lee, Corey Jensen, Ryan James, Jordan Pereira and Billy Walters also join the club, although it’s unclear how much influence, if any, those five players will have on Kevin Walters’ side once Round 1 rolls around.
There are still plenty of weak spots in the Broncos’ roster though. Up until the final rounds of last season, you would have said fullback was a major problem for the club, but Tesi Niu’s late-season form suggests he deserves a run there.
Kotoni Staggs and Herbie Farnworth may have locked themselves in as centres, but the wings are a problem, with neither Corey Oates or Jamayne Isaako setting the world on fire. Adam Reynolds will fill the goal kicking void, meaning Isaako’s spot is less secure, but the departure of Xavier Coates weakens that area, with the likes of David Mead and Selwyn Cobbo the backup options.
Another area for concern is Reynolds’ halves partner. The game manager he is, he needs an explosive, Cody Walker-type running half next to him, and it’s hard to say Albert Kelly or Tyson Gamble will be that.
Finally, it’s the bench where the Broncos could let themselves down, with Kobe Hetherington and TC Robati proving solid options, but the other two spots are far from secure with the likes of Keenan Palasia, Rhys Kennedy, Xavier Willison, Ryan James and Brendan Piakura to fight over them.
It could even be argued that Thomas Flegler would be better suited coming from the bench, with an experienced middle forward coming in to start and lead the way for the relatively inexperienced stocks Brisbane will roll out onto the park.
The candidates to steal
The Penrith Panthers' flier became one of the premiership-winning team's best players throughout 2021, and it was evident when he was missing.
Averaging north of 200 metres per game and scoring tries for fun, To'o was something of a menace on the edge for opposition defensive lineups. His running from the back was something every winger should aspire to, and allowed the Penrith forward pack to quickly get back behind the ball at every opportunity.
It's rare a winger can be a team's most important player, but it was a coin toss at the Panthers between To'o and star half Nathan Cleary.
All Run Metres
Option 2: Daniel Tupou (Sydney Roosters)
Tupou brings with him height and an almost freakish ability to find the tryline. He also is one of the best runners out of his own end, and his size makes him a difficult proposition for opposition defensive lines to stop.
While his attack would help Brisbane enormously, and he would be a weapon on the end of Adam Reynolds' kicking game, it's his defence which would be of most assistance to Brisbane.
Tupou is one of the best defensive wingers in the competition. It's a craft he has improved at enormously over the years under coach Trent Robinson, while it goes without saying he is also more comfortable than most under the high ball.
While his defensive combination with one of the game's best defensive centres in Josh Morris had plenty to do with it, statistically, they were the best outside back pairing in 2020 defensively.
It's a trend Tupou continued in 2021, despite a litany of injuries meaning he lined up with different centres playing on his side of the park across the course of the season.
Given Brisbane's wing issues, he would be almost the ideal candidate.
All Run Metres
Option 3: Nicho Hynes (Cronulla Sharks)
While Hynes played most of his football throughout 2021 at fullback, replacing Ryan Papenhuyzen who missed a significant chunk of the season with injury, he has plenty of ability to play in the halves, should it be needed.
He quickly became one of the most dangerous ball runners in the competition, and they are skills he will look to take with him to the Cronulla Sharks in 2022 when he assumes the number six jersey in Craig Fitzgibbon's side.
Hynes has acceleration and speed to burn, as well as an excellent rugby league IQ and footwork to match. It would make him an incredibly dangerous proposition playing alongside Adam Reynolds, who could control the kicking game knowing he has a player alongside him to find gaps in the defensive line and keep the opposition on their toes at all times.
The former Bulldog and current Knight has played 176 games despite being just 27 years of age, and has brought in his at times wild edge over the years to become one of the NRL's most consistent players.
He was forced back to the bench at Newcastle during the year behind the Saifiti brothers, but still churned out big minutes, high tackle efficiencies and big running metres.
He caused impact wherever it was needed and was always willing to take the extra run or make the extra tackle for his teammates.
It's that sort of attitude the Broncos need to impart on their young crop of forwards as quickly as possible, and adding Klemmer to a middle third rotation of Haas, Flegler and Carrigan would be ideal.
All Run Metres
It’s absolutely clear the Broncos need a winger to not only shore up their defence, but to add plenty in terms of getting sets off to a good start. We saw it with Penrith this year, when Brian To’o turned himself into one of the competition’s best players. He would be the perfect fit for the Broncos.
A middle third player is an intriguing prospect given the inexperience in the side, but it isn’t the Broncos’ most pressing issue. The wing most certainly is.
In saying that, the height of Tupou makes him a tantalising prospect given the accuracy of Reynolds’ kicking game, so that’s the way we are going.
Tomorrow, we will check out the Canberra Raiders.