'Winner' Walters on Broncos rescue mission

Kevin Walters has a big job ahead of him with the Broncos in 2021.
Kevin Walters has a big job ahead of him with the Broncos in 2021.

Brisbane's current crop of footballers are well aware that their new coach Kevin Walters won six NRL titles as a player.

He is happy to tell them about it, through a cheeky grin, all the time.

A five-time winner while at Brisbane, the probing playmaker was a key figure of the Broncos' glory days throughout the 1990s.

He's back at Red Hill in 2021, 20 years into a coaching career that has revolved around landing this very job.

And times have changed.

The Broncos are fresh off their first wooden spoon, winning just three games in a 2020 season marred by injuries, record floggings and constant off-field drama.

They've since lost one of their best players in David Fifita to the Gold Coast, and will be without gun centre Kotoni Staggs (knee) for a bulk of the season.

Recruiting conservatively in response, the Broncos are generally lacking the aura rugby league fans have been accustomed to of Brisbane sides over the last 30 years.

So will Walters make a better fist of it than Anthony Seibold, who won the gig ahead of him in 2019 but lasted less than two seasons into a five-year deal?

Or will it be a classic case of the dog who finally caught the bus?

"He's not the type to panic but only time will tell how he handles it," former teammate Wally Lewis told AAP.

"He hasn't been that experienced in losing games as a player and it's a totally different role that he's in now.

"It's the big time now; in charge of the Broncos, a one-team town and it's going to have some pressure attached to it."

Now Channel Nine's sports presenter in Brisbane, Lewis attends most Broncos training sessions and watches closely.

"The one thing I look for is when somebody starts talking, is how many are giving 100 per cent attention," he said.

"If you've got guys looking at the ground or the trees (that's bad, but) it's great to see these guys aren't and on the field the communication is really impressing me; they just don't shut up.

"Kev's had some great help in learning under Wayne Bennett and he's got guys like (assistant coaches) Alf (Langer), (John) Cartwright, (Terry) Matterson in his right-hand pocket.

"I'm sure there will be a bit of Bennett week-in, week-out in his coaching book and they enjoyed a golden run at the Broncos.

"It's an opportunity for mates to be mates and to get rid of the fear factor out of the side."

Retained captain Alex Glenn reckons it's working, the backrower confident Walters can get more out of a squad that crashed and burned under Seibold.

"Kevvy is a winner and he's always reminding everyone how many premierships he's won," Glenn laughed.

"He knows the balance between fun and hard work and that's something you really need.

"They (the coaching staff) love a good time and love to train hard and win games."

Walters is never far from cracking a joke but, with a glint in his eye, says it's time for his side to "draw a line in the sand".

"You've got to prove yourself every day; winning is hard and you've got to make some sacrifices and do things that others aren't to get those wins," he explained.

"I'm very confident in the group we have here that we want to make those sacrifices."

Lewis said the season would be a defining one for out-of-contract playmaker Anthony Milford and enforcer Tevita Pangai Jnr, who came close to having his contract terminated for off-field indiscretions last season.

But he said the side's fortunes may be determined elsewhere.

"Tevita is so explosive and can do things to inspire a side and Milf's the guy that everyone has been hanging their hat on, so it's enormously important that they start well," Lewis said.

"But the kid I've liked watching since the very first game he played is (halfback) Tommy Dearden.

"He's got a bit of mongrel in him, loves to grit his teeth and really have a go and, a lot like Alf when he started, just has a dig the whole game and goes searching for holes."

It's a heavy burden on a 19-year-old's shoulders but Lewis says after the season from hell, there is no point sugar-coating things.

"These moments aren't fun but it's when you learn the most," he said.

"People may think the worst possible thing is to remind them of last year.

"But it's a carrot to be dangled to incite better performances.

"There isn't a lot of pride attached to coming last, but what there is, is a real chance for them to prove others wrong."

BRONCOS' 2020 STRUGGLES

* Club's first wooden spoon and easily worse than their previous low finish of 12th.

* 3-20 season record after starting with two consecutive wins.

* Worst points differential (-356), beating the previous low of -57 set the previous season.

* Lost three games by 46 points or more after losing just four games by that margin previously in the club's history.

* First time they conceded 50 points twice in same season.

* Ranked last in NRL for points scored, tries scored, metres gained and line breaks.

KEVIN WALTERS BY THE NUMBERS

* 287 games for Canberra and Brisbane

* Six premierships (1989, 1992, 1993, 1997, 1998, 2000)

* 20 State of Origin games and 11 Tests as a player

* Two series wins and two series losses as Queensland coach (2016-2020)

* Three head coaching and four assistant coaching stints in foreign or second-tier club football since 2001.

Australian Associated Press