Wayne Bennett believes Brisbane’s youthful halves pairing of Anthony Milford and Ben Hunt are well on their way to forging another Broncos dynasty.
The combination of 21-year-old Milford and Hunt, 25, under Bennett’s guidance is a key reason why Brisbane are favourites with bookies to go one better than last year and win the 2016 NRL premiership.
Having guided the Broncos to six premierships and missed the final only twice in his previous stint at the club from 1988 to 2008, the super coach sees plenty of reason for optimism as he enters the second season of his second reign.
“For us as a club it’s a wonderful testament to our future that these guys (Milford and Hunt) are going to be around for a decade at least playing together,” Bennett told AAP.
Milford started last season slowly after his switch from Canberra but blossomed in the latter part of the campaign.
“He had a lot of critics early but as the season went on he got better and better,” said Bennett.
“He showed everyone what a talented player he is and there is plenty more to come.”
Bennett admits the Broncos have developed faster than he expected when he returned, ultimately being just seconds away from beating a Johnathan Thurston-inspired North Queensland in the title decider.
“I wasn’t looking at playing the grand final but as the season evolved, the players kept turning up every week and it became a reality,” he said.
“And we nearly did it. We were beaten in extra time and it could have gone either way .. it was that close.”
Broncos fullback Darius Boyd said Hunt has the strength of character to bounce back from the golden point howler that gift-wrapped the Cowboys a first premiership when he knocked on from the extra time kick-off.
“One drop ball doesn’t lose you a game but that is what everyone focused on,” Boyd told AAP.
“That isn’t why we lost the game, we wouldn’t have got to the GF without Ben. It wasn’t his fault and none of us blamed him for it.
“Anyone who knows rugby league knows it wasn’t down to him or his fault and that is how he is taking it.
“He’s a strong guy and he become more of a leader each year.”
Boyd believes the experience of last year will put the Broncos in great shape for 2016.
“With Wayne coming in a lot of new players also came to the club but I think we gelled really quickly,” he said.
“We learned on the run but I think we can pick up from where we left off last year and will certainly be better for the experience.
“You’d like to think this year we’ll be a better side than last year.”
The Broncos have kept most of the squad that reached the grand final with retiring skipper Justin Hodges the biggest name to exit. Dale Copley has switched to Sydney Roosters along with young playmaker Jayden Nikorima.
James Roberts has been signed to replace Hodges from the Gold Coast and Boyd is looking forward to playing alongside the talented 22-year-old – who is playing for his fourth NRL club.
“He’s super quick and he’ll add real dynamism to our backline,” Boyd said.
“It will take a little while to get used to our system but he’ll be a great signing for us.”
Premierships: Six – 1992, 1993, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2006
Finishes over the past three seasons: 2015 – grand finalists, 2014 – eighth, 2013 – 12th
Coach: Wayne Bennett
Gains: Herman Ese’ese (Bulldogs), Salesi Funaki (Tigers), James Roberts (Titans), Marion Seve (Tigers)
Losses: Dale Copley (Roosters), Mitchell Dodds (Warrington Wolves), Jordan Drew (Sharks), Mitch Garbutt (Leeds Rhinos), Jon Green (retired), Justin Hodges (retired), Todd Lowrie (retired), Darren Nicholls (released), Jayden Nikorima (Roosters), Matt Parcell (Sea Eagles), David Stagg (retired), Ashley Taylor (Titans), Daniel Vidot (Salford)
Strengths: Wayne Bennett at the helm, two young, talented halves in Ben Hunt and Anthony Milfrd plus a pack containing several Queensland representatives – the Broncos are once again a team to be feared in the NRL.
Weakness: The retirement of Justin Hodges leaves a huge hole in the centres. The talented James Roberts has been signed to fill the representative great’s shoes but will being back in the goldfish bowl of a big club see him struggle off the field once again?
Best team: Darius Boyd, Corey Oates, Jack Reed, James Roberts, Jordan Kahu, Anthony Milford, Ben Hunt, Josh McGuire, Andrew McCullough, Sam Thaiday, Alex Glenn, Matt Gilett, Sam Thaiday. Interchange: Adam Blair, Jarrod Wallace, Mitchell Dodds, Kodi Nikorima.
Predicted finish: 2nd