Pressure Points: Reece and Reynolds were near-perfect last year – but backing it up might be the hardest part

As players, Adam Reynolds and Reece Walsh couldn’t be much further apart in style.

Where Reyno is a master of control, Walsh is an agent of chaos, and where the halfback exists to manage the game over the length of 80 minutes, the fullback is there to live in the present, attempting plays and then wiping them instantly from his memory.

Their differences are what makes them so strong, and without the other, each would be a much-diminished player.

They actually share a birthday – July 10 – but are 12 years apart in age, which is where the problems might arise going into a second season.

Last year, the Broncos perhaps overperformed expectations by making it to the Grand Final, with Walsh hitting the ground running and Reynolds, who has sometimes struggled to stay on the field (or to be 100% when he is there) playing in 23 of Brisbane’s 27 games.

As a result of doing so well, coach Kevin Walters finds himself in something of a bind. He needs to find cash to make Walsh and the third party in the relationship, five eight Ezra Mam, stick around.

Reynolds has a year left to run on his deal, but dropped a huge hint last week that he will extend that through 2025 in order to keep this team together for longer.

In the same interview, he also suggested that a move into coaching was on the agenda, and that might ultimately be what encourages him to take less cash to hang around, which is surely what will need to happen if the halfback is to stay.

Walters knows that the relationship between Walsh and Reynolds is at the heart of his side’s attack, the biggest improvement the team saw in 2023, and that his number 7 is the key to winning transitional moments, which was already their main strength from 2022.

Though the fullback is probably the most important player in their attack, Reynolds trumps him across all phases of the game.

Brisbane’s best are those two plus Payne Haas and Pat Carrigan, but the two middles are only able to be so effective because of the set ends, which come from Reynolds’ exceptional defensive kicking, and the backline carries that allow the big men to prioritise their energy and, crucially, play the ridiculous minutes that they do.

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

Haas averages just shy of an hour, behind only Jake Trbojevic among props, and Carrigan is up there too, with the most among locks that focus on running rather than ball-playing.

While both have above-average engines, they are enabled by the way Brisbane dominate transitions, which reduces the amount they have to do and allows them to keep up high-effort plays in attack, especially around push supports.

Carrigan averages 29 tackles per game in 66 minutes on field – more than a set fewer than Cam Murray, J’maine Hopgood, Tohu Harris and Victor Radley, all of whom see roughly the same amount of game time.

Haas is on 24, also makes fewer tackles than other props with similar minutes, but he does a heap more running than anyone else as a result.

Compare to Addin Fonua-Blake, the other standout prop with equivalent minutes, and Haas is running nearly double the number of push supports while making far fewer tackles.

The reprioritisation of effort comes almost entirely because of Reynolds’ kicking. 15% of his kicks find the floor, second only to Nicho Hynes, and his distance per kick is elite too, meaning that the Broncos start defensive sets on the front foot, invariably leading to ending them well, which in turns means they start attacking from a position of strength.

It’s this aspect that Walters is referring to in his frequent comments on how important his captain has been to his team’s defensive improvements.

It’s not the tackles he makes, it’s the tackles everyone else doesn’t have to make and, indeed, where they have to make them.

In 2022, we detailed extensively how important this style of transitional footy is to the Bronx (and the Panthers), and that only continued into 2023.

(Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

The problem in 2024 is going to be doing it without Herbie Farnworth, one of the most important cogs in the machine, and without Tom Flegler, arguably the best third wheel middle in the NRL.

Farnworth was a crucial player in starting sets and Deine Mariner, his stated replacement, has a lot of work on his hands to match up. Herbie was unmatched in 2023 in yardage, taking more runs, and more dirty runs, for more metres than anyone else.

Nobody else came close and, just like everyone in a Broncos shirt, his support numbers were off the charts too.  

These things matter because it is the last remaining part of Walsh’s game to develop. His yardage and kick returning remain a problem, but to date it hasn’t really mattered because it wasn’t his job to take part.

This isn’t new and lots of highly creative fullbacks are allowed to pass that dog work off to the outside backs – but without Herbie, the third best metre maker on the team from the centres, and with Corey Oates, who topped the list, a year older, that slack has to be picked up.

Staggs isn’t prolific in yardage and Mariner, in his four apperances last year, was well below what Herbie was.

Walters has to get those metres from Mariner stepping up (or Staggs becoming more effective) or risk Walsh taking hard, unnecessary carries. The alternative is to find a style change that allows him to tinker with the metre generation split across the team.

If those yards aren’t found in the backs, then they will have to be in the forwards, which in turn will cut into the available minutes for the most important players.

Much as the backline metre theory so beloved of Penrith and Brisbane help to spread energy across a team, it is a lot more holistic than, say, the forward-dominant style of Parramatta and South Sydney. They just roll their bench and get on with it.

At the heart of the whole thing is Reynolds. He is the key to the last tackle of every Broncos set and the first three yardage plays of every opposition set.

At 33, he can’t go forever but his peers are few, with only Daly Cherry-Evans and Ben Hunt able to combine the on-field generalship, kicking and organisation with the softer, more intangible leadership skills that has made him so vital to this Bronx outfit.

(Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)

Given that the market can’t yet replace him (and that Harry Smith just extended his contract at Wigan), it makes sense to go for broke on an extra year of Reynolds, simply because there isn’t another player like him to go out and buy. In a year’s time, there might be.

Last year saw the team go so close, but come up short. Though Farnworth and Flegler are big losses, neither are key position players and it shouldn’t weaken the Broncos too much.

That makes it extra important that this side continue to grow, and make the most of their veteran halfback while they still have him. Invariably, age catches up with everyone and his injury record has been patchy.

Without Reyno, the drop off is steep, and it might be that is irreplaceable in the market. Anything less than a Premiership this time around will be a disappointment.

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