NRL Preliminary Final - Broncos v Warriors
BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - SEPTEMBER 23: Ezra Mam of the Broncos celebrates with team mates after scoring a try during the NRL Preliminary Final match between Brisbane Broncos and New Zealand Warriors at Suncorp Stadium on September 23, 2023 in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Albert Perez/Getty Images)

Sometimes, it's said a team fell 80 minutes short of a premiership.

For the Broncos in 2023, that wasn't true. They fell just 20 minutes short of a premiership.

When Ezra Mam crossed for his third try in the second half of the grand final, it appeared the Broncos had all but secured their first premiership since 2006.

Instead, a Nathan Cleary masterclass ensured that wait will go on into the 2024 season.

And it's a 2024 season with some significant changes for the Broncos. Three stalwarts of that grand final team have moved on, with Thomas Flegler, Kurt Capewell and Herbie Farnworth all exiting, while Keenan Palasia has also found his departure.

With few signings, coach Kevin Walters has his work cut out for him heading into the new campaign as he looks to steer the Broncos back to the top of the charts.

Here is how they will line up during 2024.

Recruitment report

Ins: Fletcher Baker (Sydney Roosters, 2025), Jaiyden Hunt (St George Illawarra Dragons, 2025)

NRL Rd 23 - Dragons v Roosters

Outs: Logan Bayliss (released), Kurt Capewell (New Zealand Warriors), Herbie Farnworth (The Dolphins), Thomas Flegler (The Dolphins), Keenan Palasia (Gold Coast Titans), Ethan Quai-Ward (released), TC Robati (released)

Re-signed: Jesse Arthars (2026), Patrick Carrigan (2028), Payne Haas (2026), Corey Jensen (2025), Deine Mariner (2027), Corey Oates (2024), Cory Paix (2025), Tristan Sailor (2025), Martin Taupau (2024)

Off-contract at the end of 2023: Coby Black, Delouise Hoeter, Corey Oates, Jordan Pereira, Adam Reynolds, Josh Rogers, Martin Taupau, Billy Walters

Full squad

Jesse Arthars, Fletcher Baker, Patrick Carrigan, Selwyn Cobbo, Payne Haas, Kobe Hetherington, Delouise Hoeter, Jaiyden Hunt, Corey Jensen, Jock Madden, Ezra Mam, Deine Mariner, Blake Mozer, Corey Oates, Cory Paix, Jordan Pereira, Brendan Piakura, Adam Reynolds, Jordan Riki, Tristan Sailor, Tyson Smoothy, Kotoni Staggs, Martin Taupau, Benjamin Te Kura, Reece Walsh, Billy Walters, Xavier Willison

Supplementary contracts: Coby Black, Israel Leota, Josh Rogers

For a full profile of every contracted player, download Zero Tackle's 2024 NRL season guide for FREE!

Who plays where?

It's abundantly clear that Reece Walsh is the Broncos' first-choice fullback.

When he signed with the club from the Warriors, eyebrows were raised given the players they had on the books at that stage, as well as the long-term ambitions of Selwyn Cobbo.

Cobbo though will have to bide his time if he wants a fullback jersey, with Walsh putting together a 2023 campaign that saw him make his State of Origin debut and become one of the game's elite fullbacks.

Origin time will likely see Walsh missing some games for the Broncos again though, so Cobbo could well be an option to replace if he misses Origin, although it's far more likely Kevin Walters would use the same strategy that worked in 2023 - Tristan Sailor.

He has lit up the Queensland Cup and is now a part of Brisbane's Top 30 for the next two seasons.

The Broncos come into the 2024 campaign with a different formula likely on the wings than they had 12 months ago.

Jesse Arthars had a superb second half of the season after finding regular opportunities at first-grade level, and will come into the new season as the only locked-in winger.

That is because all talk is that Selwyn Cobbo has transformed into a centre during the off-season, so is now out of the running for a wing spot that he made his own last year in what was a breakout season.

With Cobbo moving inside, it does mean Deine Mariner is unlikely to play in the centres, so he suddenly becomes an option on the wing, although is likely to start the season marginally behind Corey Oates, who brings veteran qualities despite a difficult 2023 season hit by injuries and a lack of try-scoring form.

With one of Mariner or Oates already missing the side, it means Brisbane's depth on the wing is quite strong, with Jordan Pereira, Tristan Sailor and Delouise Hoeter all in the Top 30, while young gun Israel Leota also features from the supplementary contract list.

As just mentioned, Selwyn Cobbo has spent the off-season preparing for a switch into the centres, and it means he will be the direct replacement for Farnworth.

Whether is works or not is another question altogether.

Cobbo will be joined in the starting centres by Kotoni Staggs in what is one of the easier selections for the Broncos.

On the depth front, many of the names who could feature on the wing also feature here. Delouise Hoeter and Deine Mariner are certainly among the options, while Israel Leota is another as he pushes for a first-grade debut this year.

Like the centres, the halves at the Broncos practically pick themselves. Coming off a season where the club made the grand final, Adam Reynolds will again steer the ship from halfback, while Ezra Mam continues to build into his career playing out of the five-eighth role.

But there are, as always, questions over the fitness of Reynolds as he hits what is likely to be the second last year of his career.

He managed to play most games last year, and there is little question Brisbane needs him fit and firing for the entire campaign if they are going to go near enough to the top once again.

The back-up to both is ex-Wests Tiger Jock Madden, who has his eye on Reynolds' number seven jersey once he retires, although just how much patience he has remains to be seen given Reynolds is about to extend for another year.

Beyond Madden, Josh Rogers, who made his debut last year in the final round as Brisbane rested most of their top 17 is another option, while young halfback Coby Black is on the supplementary contract list.

Middle forwards
The departure of Thomas Flegler paints an intriguing question for the Broncos over exactly how they will line up this season, but what there can be no question of is the roles Payne Haas and Patrick Carrigan will play.

There has been some talk of Carrigan shifting to prop, although it's difficult to see why. The duo should carry out the roles they played for the majority of last year, with increased importance given some depth issues in Brisbane's pack.

NRL Rd 14 - Raiders v Broncos

Beyond that, the Broncos have signed Fletcher Baker, who is likely to feature in the starting side after a mixed stint to get his career going at the Sydney Roosters.

There are plenty of options though, so it will be up to whoever puts their hand up to replace Flegler during pre-season and trial matches to come. All of Kobe Hetherington, Jaiyden Hunt, Corey Jensen and Martin Taupau will be under consideration, but it's young guns Benjamin Te Kura and Xavier Willison who should have fans most excited coming into the new year.

Willison is a known quantity, although has struggled with injury in recent seasons, but Te Kura is a man mountain and will, by all reports, win a jersey for Round 1.

One of the more intriguing debates in the Brisbane side will be who runs out in the dummy half slots by the end of the year - I say slots because coach Kevin Walters has shown no problem in playing a specialist off the bench.

What has become clear is that Billy Walters is now locked away as the team's starting number nine, and he will remain there throughout the 2024 season unless injury or form problems hit.

But that's where the certainties start and finish in the number nine, with the Broncos having more depth here than just about anywhere else.

Cory Paix started the season last year off the bench, but form issues meant he was eventually replaced by ex-Melbourne Storm system player Tyson Smoothy.

He did a strong job in his first year as a Bronco, and while he will probably have first crack in the 14 this season, there is no guarantee he will remain there with Blake Mozer continuing to look for a way into first-grade.

The youngster, who has been compared to by some as the next Cameron Smith, impressed at reserve grade level last year before making his debut in the final round against the Storm.

Don't be surprised if he takes a bench spot permanently before the end of the season.

Edge forwards
The departure of Kurt Capewell to the Warriors on a late off-season release leaves the Broncos fairly short in the second-row, and an early-season injury would leave them scrambling.

There is little to no doubt that Jordan Riki and Brendan Piakura will be the new duo on the edge for the Broncos, and both will need to play big fitness, staying fit throughout the campaign.

NRL Rd 23 - Cowboys v Broncos

Jaiyden Hunt, who joined the club from the Dragons, has reportedly spent a chunk of the off-season working on his skills out wide despite spending most of his time at the Dragons in the middle, while Xavier Willison has some previous experience at second-row, but hasn't played there for quite some time.

The bottom line is the Broncos have very little in the way of depth in the back-row for 2024.

The bench for Brisbane, as mentioned will feature a dummy half option. We have Smoothy there, but don't be surprised if it's Blake Mozer's by the end of the campaign.

With few options in the second-row, we are expecting the Broncos to go for a very heavy bench. Kobe Hetherington has been a consistent force on the bench for the Broncos in recent years so will be there.

Corey Jensen is one of the experienced players most likely to play, but the suggestion here is that Brisbane will go with youth off the bench as Willison and Te Kura win the final two spots in a heavily-contested side.

The best 17

1. Reece Walsh
2. Jesse Arthars
3. Selwyn Cobbo
4. Kotoni Staggs
5. Corey Oates
6. Ezra Mam
7. Adam Reynolds
8. Payne Haas
9. Billy Walters
10. Fletcher Baker
11. Brendan Piakura
12. Jordan Riki
13. Patrick Carrigan

14. Tyson Smoothy
15. Kobe Hetherington
16. Benjamin Te Kura
17. Xavier Willison

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