PL: You could make an argument that the Broncos has never gone into a season under so much pressure. Give me an insight into the mood at the club and some of the things that have been happening behind the scenes since last year.
PW: “Nobody is harder on us then ourselves, despite what people write or comment on. We understand that when we don’t make the finals, we will be criticised and analysed. In terms of the mood, it’s very good. Off the field, we’re in a position of strength. The business is in good shape. We know we need to get our footy team winning and we understand that is our key objective.
“But we’re building from a strong base. Some of the things off the field, sponsors, memberships, that all helps. But don’t think we are distracted from the fact that our primary objective is to win competitions. That is what ultimately drives us.
“What’s written, what’s published, what’s commentated on, particularly when our fans and members have a view, that’s important. Because they want us to win. They’re real, our players are real, our coach is real, our staff is real. Everything else is noise. That’s how we keep focus.”
PL: Brisbane has won six premierships since 1988. The fans have been blessed by success. So what are some of the things you are hearing from supporters now the road has become a bit tougher?
PW: “There is some frustration. They want us to be successful. I understand that. They are the lifeblood of our club.
“I love spending time with members and supporters – that’s one of the environments I’m most comfortable in.
“What they want to see from us is competence, work ethic, determination and the same passion they have for their club. One-on-one conversations with fans are important – you don’t get to have them all the time.
“They need to know how much we understand there is some hurt out there and how hard we’re working to turn that around.”
PL: There were changes made during the off-season, including new captains for the club. Do you have complete faith that Anthony Griffin and the football department are on the right track to improving results?
PW: “I do. I do. And as you know, there has been some tough decisions made.
“People always have opinions about that but what people want to see is that people are accountable for those.
“The coach coaches the footy team; he’s responsible for the performance. But as CEO, I’m accountable for that performance as well. I know the boundaries. You don’t interfere in the football decisions.
“But I’m fully consulted on major decisions, things are always discussed inside the organisation.
“As tough as decisions are, the club, the players, the fans and the team will be better going forward. Sometimes there is short-term disappointment. I’m across all of that.”
PL: Josh Hoffman was never far away from the headlines during the break. How pleasing is it that his future has been resolved before your the season begins?
PW: “It’s great. My background is from regional Queensland. I know people that are his mates, people within his extended family and I know him as an individual.
“He’s a terrific young man. I can only tell you about my conversations with Josh Hoffman.
“One, I know he’s committed to the club because I’ve looked him in the eye and had that conversation. ‘Two, I also know that he’s happy here. They’re the only two questions I put to Hoffy. It’s as simple as that.
“It’s not complicated. We’re moving on and hopefully he plays the house down at number six for us.”
PL: A gripe I tend to hear from Brisbane fans revolves around planning, particularly in the era post-Darren Lockyer. Has that transition been more difficult that imagined and have any lessons been learned?
PW: “You don’t replace someone of Darren Lockyer’s calibre, either as a player or person. He’s absolutely blue chip. What you have to do is build a structure knowing that you’ve got that void to fill. Part of that is just who plays his position, part of it is to build leadership capability.
“As for planning, we’re considering what’s in front of our nose. But we are also looking ahead. We’re dedicated to building from within but you can see from what’s happened over the past 12 months in particular, we’ve made some tough calls and taken advantage of opportunities when they come.
“People don’t always see and appreciate the structures that brings players on from 15-year-olds and turn them into first grader footballers. That will continue to be a focus and a strength. But so will our ability to attract players to the club and identify those when we see a need. We will unashamedly do that when opportunity presents itself. And they do present themselves.”
PL: The Roosters, South Sydney, Melbourne and Manly are being tipped as a potential top four this season. This is a blue-chip franchise, a financial powerhouse. How important is it for Brisbane to get back into the discussion when talking about the elite clubs in the NRL?
PW: “Paramount. Simple as that. Paramount. We’re the hunter. We’re chasing those clubs, we know that. It would be dishonest to say anything else. My performance is measured on that basis on making ourselves a top-four team. And there’s reasons you want to be in that top four. Your chance of converting that into a premiership are far greater. That’s at the forefront of our thinking.
“People ask why we keep throwing that out there, when they might suggest top eight is more realistic. But we’re the Brisbane Broncos. That’s simply where we need to get to. The reality of sport means there are no certainties.
“Everyone starts equal. But so much can change over the course of a season. On balance, you always have to be making decisions around that top four framework.”
PL: Anthony Milford is coming to the club next season. There’s been talk of Cameron Smith. Can you shed any light on that matter?
PW: “I’m not going to discuss individuals but I will say this. When the opportunity comes for our club to add to our football team, we’ll always investigate that.
“We’ll never do that in a public way and for that, some people may be critical. But over a longer term, players will want to talk to us and managers will want to talk to us because we conduct dealings with integrity. I’m very confident that we’re an attractive proposition.”
PL: The Reds and Lions are ravenous for members and a share of the pie. Is this club doing enough to engage fans in a high-stakes market?
PW: “Absolutely. We’re investing heavily in fan engagement, not with words but structures and systems. We understand, quite clearly, the value of members to our club. Our players understand it.
“We held a fan day at Suncorp Stadium, on our field, in our dressing room. We hold events across the border. It’s not new and we’ve lifted that over three years. It’s a core part of our business.
“The NRL has an aggressive ambition with membership. We think as a club, working with the NRL, we can do more with that area. One option is to possibly link junior participation, even touch football, with membership. It’s something the AFL and the Reds have done extremely successfully.”
PL: It’s fulltime in the final game of the season. What makes you walk away with a smile?
PW: “That we’re in there still fighting. The quality of the people in this organisation, the commitment they have, I want that for our members and supporters, people who have stuck with us in these hard times.
“I don’t often get a chance to talk about that but if fans saw the dedication here, they’d be well pleased.”