All on the line when Broncos face Panthers
FOR the Broncos, much more than just two premiership points hinge on tonight's clash at Penrith.
A third successive loss may well signal the death knell of the coach and a couple of high-profile players.
Because of the pitiful second-half surrender against the Sharks two weeks ago, many Broncos fans have conveniently forgotten the team had recently won four on the trot.
Minus three of their big guns, they were then brave against the Warriors in Auckland, before inexplicably imploding against a Sharks team that had won just two games all season.
That was a record capitulation from the Broncos, and a loss unheard of in the golden days of the 90s when the club won five of its six premierships.
And, for such a proud, iconic sporting franchise, it was simply not acceptable.
Now, with a top-four finish supposedly the chief KPI the Broncos board has placed on coach Anthony Griffin and his team for the 2014 season, a loss to the competition-leading Panthers tonight may well herald doomsday.
News last week that Wayne Bennett is pulling up stumps at Newcastle a year short of his four-year tenure has thrown the proverbial cat among the canaries.
And while the dogs might be barking his return to the Dragons, take it from me that the preferred choice of the master coach is the Broncos.
Notwithstanding the fact their record of six premierships in 25 years is imposing, the current seven-year drought is their longest stretch devoid of a grand final appearance.
And, without sounding too savage, that aura of invincibility the Broncos once carried is long faded.
In bygone days players stayed at the Broncos for much less than other clubs offered.
Preferred over money was the tangible option of winning a premiership, and they wanted to be part of a revered footy team.
Now, players no longer accept unders to play at Red Hill.
In fact, some of their recent high-profile signings have been well and truly paid overs, and a couple have been duds.
There seems little doubt that unless this current team can turn back the clock in the next few weeks, the knives will be out.
The late-game fadeouts, which have cost the Broncos six of their seven losses this season, reveal a lack of the once-renowned Broncos killer instinct.
Tonight's match is vitally important for the Broncos for two reasons.
The first is that they need to prove they are the real deal because their run into the finals is challenging, to say the least.
The second is that Bennett will decide his future sooner rather than later and the meeker the Broncos perform, the stronger the chances of his return.
Much about that imminent landscape will be learned tonight.