Broncos will handle loss of ‘Fab Four’ in 2024: Walters

Joel Gould |

Selwyn Cobbo has been moved from wing to centre to cover for the loss of Herbie Farnworth.
Selwyn Cobbo has been moved from wing to centre to cover for the loss of Herbie Farnworth.

Replacing the Fab Four from last year’s grand final side is Brisbane’s great challenge this season but coach Kevin Walters says they are well positioned to do so.

It won’t be easy for last season’s losing NRL grand finalists as they aim to go one better in 2024.

Props Thomas Flegler (Dolphins) and Keenan Palasia (Gold Coast) have gone. As have second-rower Kurt Capewell (Warriors) and centre Herbie Farnworth (Dolphins).

Individually, the quartet each had at least four years of NRL experience behind them, with all the lessons and development that entails. Collectively they boast 367 NRL games. 

Walters won five premierships at the Broncos as a player. The teams that won in the early 1990s had different personnel to those in the latter stages of the decade but they played a brand of “Broncos football” that was successful.

He doesn’t just hope the 2024 Broncos can cope with their losses.

“It is not about hope. There is trust,” Walters told AAP.

Penrith’s elite pathways system and shrewd recruitment have enabled them to lose key players each season and still win three consecutive titles.

The Broncos have put similar building blocks in place.

Replacing Capewell, a 2021 premiership winner with Penrith, is a challenge but the Broncos have 21-year-old Brendan Piakura who played 13 games in 2023.

Piakura’s line running and impact is top notch but Walters said there were more gritty areas of his game that would be integral to success.

 “The way our back-rowers play and the way we coach them, it is an effort position. There is lots of kick-chase, kick-pressure and work off the ball,” Walters said.

“Capes was a leader in that space. 

“Brendan is not there yet but from what he has shown us he is getting better.

“We understand he does all the juicy stuff well. That’s good but the other side of the game is the hard work that teammates respect. That is where he needs his fitness levels to be really high.

“With the right coaching and team around him he can be a good long-term option for us on that left side.” 

Thomas Flegler
Thomas Flegler (L) and centre Herbie Farnworth are two big losses from last year. (Dan Peled/AAP PHOTOS)

Queensland prop Flegler was the right-hand man to elite Broncos prop Payne Haas last year. Samoan international Palasia came off the bench and continued the momentum.

They are roles that new recruit Fletcher Baker, from the Sydney Roosters, experienced duo Corey Jensen and Martin Taupau, and tyro Xavier Willison will be charged with.

“Fletcher is new to the club but the other three boys all know our systems,” Walters said.

“Xavier is an impressive younger lad coming through. Martin Taupau and Corey Jensen have all the experience and know-how. 

“Corey has had a really good pre-season and has reshaped his body and that has been rewarded. Those three guys that missed last year’s grand final side could have easily been in there and have been competitive at training.

“Fletcher is athletic and mobile. He has been in a good system at the Roosters and has been well coached.”

England international Farnworth made the Dally M team of the year in 2023 where his strong running and tackle-breaking ways came to the fore.  

Walters has shifted right winger Selwyn Cobbo to left centre to replace Farnworth. Wingers Jesse Arthars, Corey Oates and Deine Mariner will fight it out for the two wing berths.

Maroons winger Cobbo scored 20 tries last year but Walters had no qualms about the positional switch.

“I feel as though Cobbo is a naturally talented football player. He could play wing, centre or fullback equally as good for us and has played all of those positions at the Broncos,” ‘Walters said.

“We are going to lock him into that left edge for a period and give him some time there, where I feel he is more suited. I am sure he will do the job. 

“Selwyn is a different type of player to Herbie but equally as damaging with the ball. Defensively is where Selwyn needs to get his decisions right because it is a different position to wing.

“We have Jesse, Corey and Deine who can play wing – also Delouise Hoeter and Jordan Pereira can play there –  so we have good depth in our outside backs.”

The Broncos’ glory years were showcased by change.

Fletcher Baker
Fletcher Baker is one of the props in line to replace departed Thomas Flegler and Keenan Palasia. (Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS)

Second-rowers Trevor Gillmeister and Alan Cann were heroes of the 1992 and 1993 title winning sides. In 1998 their positions had been taken by devastating duo Gorden Tallis and Brad Thorn.

“These boys we have brought into the squad aren’t a Tallis yet but we believe with the right coaching and the environment, which we are providing, they can become whatever they want to become,” Walters said.

“They have the talent and I am sure they have the dedication and application to be really good NRL players and accelerate those skills.”

The Broncos commence their 2024 NRL season in Las Vegas where they will play Sydney Roosters.