The size of their forward pack can be used against the Cowboys according to former Origin prop Ben Hannant. Photo: Evan Morgan
The size of their forward pack can be used against the Cowboys according to former Origin prop Ben Hannant. Photo: Evan Morgan

How Broncos can expose Cowboys’ big men

THE sheer size of the Cowboys pack has made them the premiership elect of many experts; former Test prop Ben Hannant says it is a physical mismatch that the Broncos must exploit.

The Broncos were kept to just 1,009 run metres in Round 1 against the Dragons - the lowest return of all 16 teams - and a far cry from the average of 1,481 metres per game that had them ranked second in the NRL last season.

With a smaller, more mobile forward pack, the key to Brisbane's ability to make metres in 2017 was a willingness to shift the ball to the edges early in sets and stretch the opposition defence on both sides of the ruck.

With Kevin Walters assuming the role of attacking coach in the off-season in Brisbane that tactic - and an inability to complete more than 63 per cent of their sets - appeared to be absent in round one with Benji Marshall also telling Triple M that he thought he noticed a change to how they attacked.

With a forward pack that is the envy of the league in 2018 and given the weight of possession their way the Cowboys were kept to a relatively small 1,348m against Cronulla but are expected to target the Broncos' middle in the battle for momentum at Suncorp Stadium on Friday night.

Rather than being intimidated, Hannant told that the Broncos should see the Cowboys' big bodies as something to be taken advantage of.

"You've got to play to your strengths. The Broncos aren't going to put fear into anyone but they've got to use that to their advantage," said Hannant, who played 149 NRL games for the Broncos and 53 for the Cowboys in his 12-year career.

"Everyone has got strengths and weaknesses so I guarantee if you make those big guys get up off the ground three or four times a set they're going to get fatigued and become a target.

Broncos forwards wrestle Paul Vaughan to the ground in round one. Photo: Mark Kolbe
Broncos forwards wrestle Paul Vaughan to the ground in round one. Photo: Mark Kolbe

"Let's be honest, the Cowboys have got three forwards well over 110 kilos, guys like Jason Taumalolo. If you make him move from one scrumline to the other, get off the ground three or four times in a set of six, you tell me how he is supposed to get behind the ball and have a strong carry. It's not possible.

"But if you make errors and don't run at him and make him make tackles and repeat efforts, he's going to be fresh as a daisy and run over you like a bull in a china shop.

"You've just got to play smart footy and ask good questions and that comes back to their game-plan.

"What are they trying to achieve? Unfortunately watching last week there was no structure and no method to their madness.

"It was like park footy where you just do your best.

"I just don't know whether they've bought into that attack plan yet."

The Broncos 1,009 metres last week was not only the fewest of Round 1 but also the least number of metres they had made in a game since Round 1, 2015 against South Sydney, a year in which they went on to make the grand final with Adam Blair and Sam Thaiday as their starting front-rowers.

In the past nine matches between the two teams the Broncos have lost four of the five games in which the Cowboys have bested them for metres made but Hannant is adamant the home side can win that battle on Friday with the right approach.

Hannant has no doubt that used correctly this Broncos team can be just as effective.

"It is only round one but there is a lot they need to work on going into a game against a side that was in the grand final last year and have got their stars back," said Hannant.

"I think they can definitely bounce back but they need to make sure they complete well, they know their role and they execute their role.

"When you've got smaller bodies with footwork like Josh McGuire you're going to have to start moving the ball around a little bit between each other to get to the certain spots that you want to get to and then you want to hit certain points on the field.



"You're making their big guys have to move either side of the ruck and be in positions that they're not used to being in.

"If you're hitting a back-rower and a halfback outside the scrum line, they're in the tackle so you've got two fat front rowers on a short side who aren't used to being there so you take advantage of that.

"You just need to do your role. Unfortunately, looking at that game on the weekend, the Broncos were probably the first to admit that it didn't look like anyone was doing their role."

So much of the Cowboys' momentum through the middle of the field last year on their run to the grand final came via Jason Taumalolo and Scott Bolton but Broncos hooker Andrew McCullough concedes stopping Taumalolo can't be their sole focus.

"He's obviously a quality player but you can't stop at one," McCullough told

"Obviously they've recruited well with Jordan McLean, Australian front rower, Matt Scott's an Australian front rower so I wouldn't pencil one bloke in there, especially in this derby.

"Anyone of them can step up and they've got some good experience off the bench.

"Scotty Bolton did a great job for them last year without Matt Scott there so it just shows the depth they've got there."