NEWS Broncos rookie at heart of fight to overcome concerning trend


Xavier Willison looms as one of the biggest pieces of the Broncos’ premiership puzzle, as the club turn their attention to overcoming a concerning second-half trend that threatens to derail their title tilt.

In defeats to the Sharks and Titans, Brisbane have squandered half-time leads, allowing errors to creep into their game, while their interchange forwards’ inability to match the intensity of Payne Haas and Pat Carrigan has proved costly.

Willison, who missed Saturday night’s loss for the birth of his child, will make his comeback against the South Sydney Rabbitohs determined to cement his status as the team’s future enforcer.

The 21-year-old has taken huge strides in 2024, overcoming a spate of setbacks that included Lisfranc (mid-foot) surgery last year, to average 108 running metres, two tackle busts and 20 tackles a game off the pine.

That loss of impact was felt in the 22-12 defeat to the Sharks, with the Broncos’ interchange trio of Fletcher Baker, Kobe Hetherington and Jack Gosiewski combining for just 143 metres.

All three of Cronulla’s second-half tries came while Haas was off the field and ultimately blew Brisbane off the park, the visitors charging for almost 700 more metres as Jack Williams (161 metres), Tom Hazelton (90 metres) and Royce Hunt (91 metres) regained the momentum.

Willison’s reinjection will need to mimic that influence if the Broncos are to ensure Haas and Carrigan get through the gruelling Origin period unscathed and remain in finals calculations.

“I feel like our bench had a solid game, but all round, we were pretty disappointed in the result, so I didn’t put that down to a few players,” Broncos back-up hooker Tyson Smoothy said.

“But that’s our role, to come on and make a difference. [Willison] has been massive for us this year … I think he’s going to make a big difference for us.

“He’s a big body, he’s been massive in defence for us, and he just makes an impact when he comes on. Xavier’s still so young, he’s only played a handful of games, so he’s only going to get better.

“Hopefully, he can keep improving and show what he can do.”

But Brisbane’s return to the winner’s circle will depend on how they handle a Rabbitohs outfit – spearheaded by a resurgent Latrell Mitchell – potentially without two key men.

Fullback Reece Walsh remains sidelined (concussion), while veteran winger Corey Oates is in serious doubt after leaving training early cursing his own luckless injury run.

The former Maroons flyer copped a knock to his knee against the Sharks and left Tuesday’s session at Red Hill cutting a sombre, frustrated figure after physical concerns cruelled his 2023 campaign.

Josiah Karapani has been named at 18th man as cover for Oates, but it is Walsh’s replacement, Tristan Sailor, who will be most eager to reverse an uncharacteristic performance on Saturday night.

The 25-year-old has been praised for the way he has filled the Walsh void, but came up with three unforced errors – two of which led directly to Sharks’ tries.

Admittedly, it was Sailor’s first game back from an ankle injury, returning two weeks ahead of schedule, but the man himself denied rustiness was at the heart of his performance.

“I did some things that I wouldn’t usually do. I was very angry at myself because it was unforced, and I usually pride myself on not doing that,” he said.

“I couldn’t really put my finger on what it was. The ankle was a bit sore on the weekend – it was my first surgery and stuff like that, but we rehabbed it really well.

“I was pretty devastated getting injured, and it was my first major injury. The goal was around the Warriors game … I must be a super healer.

“I love taking opportunities, and I feel like this weekend’s a very good opportunity to do that again against some great opposition.”

Sydney Morning Herald


NRL Player
Feb 25, 2015
I think you could see against the Sharks why Willison shouldnt be a starting prop. He is invaluable to us for that bench impact and we missed that.
I'm ashamed to say it, but the bench we had last week would have to be bottom 8 at best, bottom 4 more likely.

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