NRL great Billy Slater has declared the Brisbane Broncos are the « team to beat » in this year’s premiership race, despite the two-time defending champs Penrith still being alive.
The Broncos will host the Warriors this weekend at Suncorp Stadium with both sides vying for a spot in the grand final. Slater believes the winner of that match is forgone conclusion.
« I don’t think the Broncos will get it all their own way, but I think that they’re in the box seat there, » he said on Wide World of Sports’ The Billy Slater podcast.
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« I feel the Broncos are the team to beat in the competition.
« I think they will make the grand final and I think they’ll take some stopping because when I think about premiership checklist, they tick the most boxes. »
In order to win the club’s first premiership since 2006, the Broncos will most likely have to go through the two-time reigning premiers Penrith, who host the Melbourne Storm in the other preliminary final this weekend. Slater tipped the Storm to beat the Panthers though, having made it clear over past few years he’d never tip against his beloved side.
The two sides have shared the spoils in their two meetings this season. Brisbane toppled the premiers at home by one point in round one, before the Panthers returned serve with a 15-4 win at Suncorp Stadium in round 12.
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After missing out on finals due to a late season capitulation last year, the Broncos welcomed the return of Reece Walsh to the club, and he has been one of the signings of the year.
While Slater did compliment his Origin fullback, the Queensland coach heaped praise on the majority of players Brisbane already had in the system.
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« They’ve got these three incredible power forwards … (Payne) Haas, (Patrick) Carrigan and (Thomas) Flegler, that just roll through the middle, » he said.
« They’ve got great skill in their game as well, and they’ve got good motors.
« They’ve got an old head in Adam Reynolds that just pulls the strings and channels the energy of all these young, enthusiastic players in the right direction, whether he kicks early, whether he organises shape, whether he gives it to Reece Walsh, whether he plays down the middle with his forwards. He controls things.
« Billy Walters is playing fantastic. Ezra Mam’s doing a great job. He’s a great ball runner, really fast and a great support player.
« And then their outside backs are just so athletic. Their centres are so powerful and so much strike.
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« And then on top of all of this, you’ve got this star young fullback in Reese Walsh that is just brilliant, that just wants to take the game apart at any time, whether it’s a kick return, whether it’s blowing through the middle of the field or getting out wide threatening on a bit of shape out wide. »
Slater also pinpointed the Broncos improvement in defence after only conceding 375 points in the regular season, compared to 550 last year.
« They tick all the boxes, they’ve got a great defensive system, » he said.
« It’s the one part of their game that they’ve really elevated this year which is a must if you’re going to win the premiership so in terms of the premiership checklist they’re right up there, they tick the most boxes for me. »