WHETHER we love them, loathe them or simply don't really care about them, rugby league supporters are well aware that 2014 will be a defining year for the once-mighty Brisbane Broncos.
As an organisation the Broncos remain an iconic sporting brand with the most money, most sponsors and most members of all 16 NRL clubs. But as a footy team they have morphed into also-rans.
Such is their status heading into the coming season that in a Queensland-published NRL lift-out at the weekend 16 so-called experts listed their top eight, and only two of them - former captains and life members Darren Lockyer and Gorden Tallis - tipped the Broncos to make the playoffs. That follows the recent predictions of eight Rugby League Week panellists, each of whom omitted the Broncos.
But at least coach Anthony Griffin is not hiding from the fact that he - and his team - is under immense pressure to perform in 2014, and on Friday night at the club's season launch he added some good-natured humour to his predicament. He told the 700 guests that his 13-year-old daughter had asked him earlier that day whether he was nervous about the season starting, and when he said he wasn't, she had told him he should be.
On the surface, his daughter is spot on. A number of other coaches may be under pressure but none face the same gaze as the fourth-year NRL mentor.
With a magnificent history - a premiership every 4.3 years - the Broncos do not tolerate mediocrity and last season was as mediocre as they come. Not only did they miss the finals for just the fifth time in their 26 years, but their lack of potency with just 77 tries was their worst return since 1989, when they played two less games.
In every sense of the word, season 2013 was a shocker for a club that prides itself not just on success, but has - as chief executive Paul White says - a top-four finish as part of its DNA. And until recently, that was undoubtedly the case.
Griffin needs to make some tough decisions that might not please some of his favourite players.
To me, the suggested plan of interchanging Josh Hoffman and Ben Barba between five-eighth and fullback appears fraught with danger. Surely youngster Kodi Nikorima at five-eighth, Barba at fullback and Hoffman on the wing is a shrewder option.
And why the Broncos would buy Martin Kennedy and then play internationals Sam Thaiday or Corey Parker out of position at prop is another conundrum. His tough call here is to bench either Alex Glenn or Matt Gillett.
The team he names tomorrow will tell us much about the confidence he has in the players at his disposal - an impressive list that includes eight internationals.
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