Culture crisis destroying proud history
Broncos chief Paul White has lashed claims Brisbane is suffering a culture crisis following accusations coach Anthony Seibold's appointment was a sham and a high-profile player manager has ruined the club.
In the second of a three-part series, News Corp has uncovered the reasons behind the Broncos' dramatic fall from one of Australia's top sporting franchises to the NRL's cellar-dwellers.
The Broncos boast one of the most powerful brands in the country and have grown into a $52 million operation on the back of six premierships in 32 years and the support of 37,000 members.
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But they are now languishing in 15th spot on the NRL ladder, thrusting the spotlight on Seibold's future and the demise of the winning culture fostered by some of the greats of the game over three decades at Red Hill.
"We've lost five games in a row and you can't sugar-coat that - we are all fronting up and doing our bit," White said.
"If the only window you look through is the fact we've lost five games then that's not a fair assessment of the culture of our club.
"I am absolutely comfortable with where we are. We are united as a club. In tough times you have to stick together."
The Broncos came to life in 1988 on the back of founding fathers Paul "Porky" Morgan, Barry Maranta, Gary Balkin and Steve Williams.
They wanted the club to be like no other. Mediocrity was not an option and excuses would not be tolerated.
"We made up our minds we would never be like the battling clubs and we put a lot of emphasis on loyalty, team camaraderie and involvement for the fans," Maranta said.
"We were a team for the Queensland people."
The most pivotal move the Broncos' founders made was appointing Wayne Bennett as coach.
With players like Allan Langer, Darren Lockyer and Kevin Walters at his disposal, Bennett went on to win six premierships with Brisbane from 1992-2006 before exiting the club for the first time in 2009.
Bennett's successors - Ivan Henjak and Anthony Griffin - struggled in the furnace at Red Hill and were both sacked.
Griffin was punted in 2014 to make way for Bennett's fairy tale return to Brisbane and he coached the Broncos to within seconds of the 2015 NRL premiership in his first season back at the helm.
After six years of mediocrity the Broncos were back to the top with Bennett angling to snap the longest premiership drought in the club's history.
Those plans unravelled in 2018 when the Broncos started making moves to replace Bennett with Melbourne super coach Craig Bellamy.
When that plan collapsed, White set his sights on Seibold at South Sydney, sparking one of the most tumultuous periods in the club's history which ultimately led to the sacking of Bennett in December 2018.
The Broncos' decision to appoint Seibold ahead of club legend Walters, who in his eyes had been given verbal assurances he was in line to succeed Bennett, alienated some of Brisbane's greatest ex-players.
Gorden Tallis, Steve Renouf and Chris Johns have been vocal critics of the appointment and numerous other Broncos "Old Boys" have silently protested.
"I don't think there is (an issue with ex-players)," White said.
"I know what people say and write and that's their opinion, but we've got 17 past players employed at our club.
"Everyone is welcome. Anyone can walk in or pick up the phone.
"The best respect for the past is trying to replicate the success they had. The old boys of our club will always be honoured, acknowledged and welcomed back at our club."
The Broncos limped into the finals in Seibold's first year at the club and were thrashed 58-0 by Parramatta, with revelations following some players spent match eve playing pokies until late in the night.
Over the past year the club has been engulfed in a spate of off-field incidents including Izaia Perese's sacking for drug offences, James Segeyaro's performance-enhancing drugs scandal, Joe Ofahengaue's court appearances and David Fifita's Bali jail ordeal.
They received a club record 59-0 hiding by the Roosters last month and are now mired in one of the most worrying slumps in Broncos history, sparking criticism the club's famed culture has been broken.
"Look, the culture can't be the same," said chairman Karl Morris.
"There is a big difference to being a start-up club in the 1980s and where we are today.
"There are now different rules in the NRL with the salary cap. The club has matured, it has become older.
"Does it have the same culture of the foundation years? Of course it doesn't. It's a different culture. It doesn't mean it's a worse culture, but times change."
The Broncos have internally been seen as a factional group. Players who have since left the club say the Broncos were broken into three parts.
There are the top dogs such as Darius Boyd, Sam Thaiday and Corey Parker. The Polynesian and Kiwi contingent who shared close ties based on heritage and cultural understanding and the fringe players who felt ostracised if they weren't picked for the NRL team each week.
The Broncos' recruitment has been reactive, with veterans Ben Te'o and Issac Luke, both 33, joining the club this year while stalwarts Josh McGuire and Andrew McCullough have been squeezed out the door, leaving gaping leadership holes.
The Broncos playing group have respected Seibold but have found some of his game plans confusing and rigid.
In pre-season, Seibold put a series of pictures up in his office and went through a multitude of game plans and how he wanted his playmakers Brodie Croft, Anthony Milford and Tom Dearden to operate in particular sections of the field.
The players were left in a daze. It was paralysis by analysis.
The coach is obsessed with meetings, note-taking, depth charts and revolutionary methods. Broncos players have been told to bring notebooks to meetings.
Seibold created a new leadership group this year and included Storm recruit Croft in it before he had even met his new teammates, raising eyebrows among some of Brisbane's more experienced players.
"There is definitely an issue there (lack of leadership) at the moment, but in a year or two I am confident it will be addressed," Morris said.
"No-one could criticise our current captain. Alex Glenn is giving 100 per cent every week, he is a great captain and leadership is a whole range of things.
"I know with the talent we have at the club and with a bit more luck with injuries, we do have a grand-final team. For whatever reason, the players aren't performing, but I don't believe you can just blame the coach."
MOSES PARTS RED HILL
The tenuous threads of mateship were not helped by the proliferation of players managed by the controversial Isaac Moses - the NRL's No.1 player agent.
The NRL recently decided to strip Moses of his accreditation, a ruling he has appealed, following an Integrity Unit investigation.
The game's moves to push Moses out of the code has brought to the surface Brisbane's dealings with the powerful, yet polarising, figure.
At the height of Moses' dominance at the Broncos he represented upwards of 14 players on Brisbane's books. He also manages Seibold.
Two years ago, a former Broncos player was approached on a weekly basis by teammates managed by Moses asking him to dump his agent and link with theirs.
The player felt under siege at his own club. It was part of the reason he sought a release to join another club.
Other player managers are now wary of sending the game's best athletes to the Broncos, fearing a poaching threat from Brisbane players and staff spruiking the benefits of being with Moses.
The Broncos recently released Moses clients McCullough and Gehamat Shibasaki to Newcastle, where he manages coach Adam O'Brien.
Moses' clients Kodi Nikorima and Adam Blair left the Broncos to join New Zealand under ex-coach Steve Kearney, who was also managed by Moses.
In a fiery press conference on Tuesday, Canberra coach Ricky Stuart claimed the Broncos and Warriors, both languishing near the bottom of the NRL ladder, had been "ruined" by the influence of Moses.
"The last thing that we are going to be is a club such as the Warriors or the Broncos where they've been ruined by manipulation and agitation of roster," he said.
Moses now manages eight players at the Broncos and White hit back at claims the club was being manipulated by the agent to the stars.
"I am totally comfortable - in 10 years we have never had more diversity in the player managers that work for our players than we have at the moment," he said.
"You recruit on the basis of talent. It's a by-product who they're managed by."
THE SEIBOLD SELECTION
Bennett wanted to exit the Broncos on his terms and sought a one-year extension to his contract to farewell Brisbane in 2020.
Morris and White thought otherwise, first pursuing Bellamy before offering Seibold a five-year contract on the back of one season as head coach in the NRL.
Bennett's assistant Jason Demetriou, Souths premiership-winner Michael Maguire, Walters and Seibold were interviewed as part of the process to find Bennett's successor.
Bennett last month claimed he urged Demetriou to not bother being interviewed because the process was simply window-dressing and it had already been decided Seibold would take over the Broncos.
White rejected claims Seibold was appointed because of their connection as Rockhampton products.
"That's a total mistruth. It's not a perception, it's a mistruth," he said.
"I had never even met Anthony's wife before he came up here. Seibs is 10 years my junior.
"I hadn't spoken to Anthony for three years prior to his appointment in the role.
"It's ridiculous. We said (we were comfortable with the process) at the time and I'm not revisiting that."
The Broncos are now backing Seibold to lead the club out of this mess.
With games against the Warriors (Saturday night) and Bulldogs to come, the opportunity is there for Brisbane to get their season back on track.
"It's definitely the toughest period I've faced," said Glenn.
"Our backs are against the wall. The only way we can get out of this is to stay tight as a group together.
"Only we here, the 17 players collectively, can change things."
If they don't, the rumblings at Red Hill will become even louder.
Originally published as Culture crisis destroying Brisbane's proud history