On the up? Brisbane may just have the right stuff in 2014.

On the up? Brisbane may just have the right stuff in 2014. Photo: Getty Images

Coaches, tacticians and influential players are still trying to work out the question. But if you begin to slice up this microscopic portion of the NRL season, are Brisbane shaping as a possible answer?

We’re only in the second round of the 2014 edition and the collective lungs of the league are burning to a crisp. A rule change on paper, a flick of a pen, has seen a seismic shift in the speed, form and philosophy of the code almost overnight.

Eradicating ‘the wrestle’, a tactic synonymous with a clinical, totalitarian rule over the tempo of the contest, was always going to spice up game play.

But I doubt even the rule makers in the deepest, darkest bunkers under NRL HQ would have predicted the impact of penalising third and fourth men into tackles. It’s rugby league – but not as we’ve come to know it, or at least not for a long time.

The first round of the season saw an avalanche of tries. The early games of the second round saw fluid defences quickly adjust and react, although the pace was no less frenetic.

A number of leading coaches and players have already predicted it will take more than a month, possibly six weeks, for the full impact of the revamped game to really hit home. By then, they hope, some of its mysteries and subtleties will become apparent.

In the meantime, could the Broncos be one squad that fits the bill more than most? Unwanted by almost everyone before the season, Brisbane beat the Bulldogs last week, before winning a quasi-epic 16-12 derby against the Cowboys on Friday night.

Nobody was quite sure what sort of team might best suit the looser, flowing shape of the game, which has seen lightning ruck play and defences constantly back-peddling and scrambling.

Was it sheer size? Was it small men with sharp feet? The Broncos, criticised for not really excelling in either of those categories, might have unlocked the treasure chest by having bits and pieces of everything. Perceived weaknesses may be relative strengths.

Brisbane coach, Anthony Griffin, was worried that the extra room and time would see players like Johnathan Thurston dominate the game like never before.

That might yet ring true – but it’s also allowed lesser players like Ben Hunt a fraction of a second more when it comes to making decisions. His pass to Dale Coley, who set up Andrew McCullough for the winning try, was pivotal.

Brisbane captain Corey Parker said the intense rush was taking a huge physical toll. Both sides were so short of fuel the final 10 minutes of a round two game looked more like a semi-final. Players were digging for reserves they barely knew existed, then throwing themselves under trucks.

“I don’t know If you saw me for the last two minutes of the game but you can certainly feel it in the lungs. It has quickened up around the ruck. I listened to a few players talk over the first few rounds and that’s certainly where the game has taken off,” Parker said.

Parker is one of the fittest forwards in the NRL but said the defensive line often felt in a state of controlled panic as wave after wave of attack descended.

“You can find yourself at times, feeling like you’re on the back foot and it’s going quite quick. Both teams are part of that and you just have to do your best,” he said.

In that case, defensively at least, it may simply be a case of who can stand up to the punishment the most, then make the key tackles at the right time when the body is ready to shut down.

“With any game of football, if you can walk off and know you’ve worked hard for each other, there’s some satisfaction in that. We did that tonight.”

New-school rugby league has adopted on a decidedly old-school feel. Faster play means more physical drain, which translates to effort trumping the kind of cold execution served to perfection by dominant clubs like Melbourne over recent years.

It won’t take long for teams like Brisbane to be labelled as ‘surprise packets’. In reality, they are just early adaptors.