Corey Oates strolled over for his double against the Roosters, but there was plenty of doubt about the try assist. The decision wouldn't affect…
There’s a reason why halfbacks get the biggest pay packets despite being the smallest players on an NRL field – even 31-year-old playmakers who are supposedly injury prone and in the twilight of their career.
Adam Reynolds’ arrival at Brisbane this year has surpassed the expectations of even the most optimistic Broncos fan.
Heading into Saturday night’s showdown in Townsville with the similarly improved Cowboys, there is renewed optimism at Red Hill after they’ve surged into fifth spot following wooden spoon and 14th-placed finishes the past two seasons.
“We’re a different team when he plays,” was how coach Kevin Walters summed it up succinctly on Friday.
It’s not just been Reynolds’ presence that has transformed the struggling glamour club.
Kurt Capewell’s professionalism and work ethic has done wonders for the pack, the continued rise of Payne Haas, Patrick Carrigan, Selwyn Cobbo and, to a lesser extent, Kotoni Staggs has helped big time, the unexpected momentum provided by Te Maire Martin at fullback has been telling and, of course, Walters is ironing out the kinks in his coaching style in his second season after an at times turbulent rookie year in charges.
But Reynolds has been the catalyst for the metamorphosis and is the focal point of pretty much everything they do in attack.
You don’t need to be a graduate from Bovine University to see the impact Reynolds has had on the Broncos.
Last year, the Broncos finished ahead of only Newcastle (17.9) and Canterbury (14.2) for points per game at 18.6, ranked 14th for tries (3.2), were 15th in line breaks (4.1) and dead last for times tackled in the opposition 20 at 22.
This year, they’re up to seventh for points per game at 22.3, they are seventh for tries (3.9) and line breaks (4.4). Strangely they remain last for tackles in the opposition 20 at 23.6, which suggests they’re still not getting enough yardage from their kick returns and middle men.
The overall improvements have translated into a 9-5 winning record heading into the closing 10 rounds.
Whether they continue rising into genuine title contention could come down to Staggs, their most dynamic attacking weapon.
Despite getting his first Origin call-up for NSW in game one, the Broncos are still not getting the best out of Staggs.
He has only scored three tries in 13 appearances this season and two of those he pretty much conjured up himself against the Roosters and Sharks with barnstorming runs to the right corner.
Reynolds can unlock his true potential and if anyone should know how to do so, it should be Walters.
In the Broncos’ halcyon days of the 1990s, he performed the Reynolds role as the provider for star centre Steve Renouf and their near telepathic partnership was an ever-present threat to opposing defences out wide.
Walters’ sleight of hand combined with Renouf’s natural athleticism equalled points and plenty of them.
“Adam Reynolds will really bring the best out of Kotoni tomorrow night. He knows how to bring him into the game and get him involved in the game,” he said with an almost involuntary passing motion, harking back to his playing days inside The Pearl.
“That’s part of the plan anyway so let’s see how it all transforms. I’m very confident in Kotoni, particularly in his running game. He’s a great asset for us and we need all of that from him tomorrow night.”
Walters was adamant Reynolds was good to go despite missing the past two matches with rib damage and that it was not a risk putting him back in the firing line.
NSW prop Payne Haas has also been cleared after damaging his ankle in Origin II last Sunday night in Perth.
“We just want to make sure, first and foremost, Adam’s health and wellbeing is at the front of everything but Adam’s a 250-gamer so he knows more about his body than any of us and he’s informed us that he’s right to go. Ribs are one of those things that don’t fix themselves in a couple of weeks, 100%, but he’s a tough old bugger and I’m sure he’ll be able to manage it well,” he said.
“Payne just got a bit of bruising on his ankle and he’s looked after it all week and our medial staff are very confident he can get through the game.
“He’s looking forward to getting up there and playing. It’s a big game for both clubs and Payne wants to be a part of that.”
These clubs have a history of close contests but that went out the window in Round 3 when the Cowboys thumped their Queensland derby rivals 38-12.
North Queensland have not had a regular-season clean sweep of the Broncos since 2012 but have had the wood on them in recent times, winning nine of their past 10 encounters.
Most coaches don’t like to stir up rivalries pre-game but Payten is cut from a different cloth even though he doesn’t necessarily need to drum up interest with QCB Stadium already sold out for the biggest club game on the Townsville calendar.
“Absolutely, we do,” he said, when asked if his club still held a hatred for Brisbane. “They’re our arch enemy and I learned it pretty quick and it’s ingrained in me. Those guys got a taste of it in Round 3, really felt it, and we’re looking forward to tomorrow. Our players are ready to go.”
Payten said winger Kyle Feldt was a decent chance of being elevated from the reserves to make his return from a knee injury in the starting side with Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow to then be relegated to the interchange.
One player who will be on the bench is former Wests Tigers second-rower Luciano Leilua, who will be a Cowboy until the end of 2025 after making a mid-season switch.
“I think he’s enjoyed it, I know our players have enjoyed having him around,” Payten said.
“He’s copped a lot of information. Our players have been clear around their expectations for him coming to the team. He’s got to compete. He’s just got to get his job done. We don’t need him to do all the flashy things. It’s making tackles and taking his hit-ups, it’s as simple as that.
“He’s excited and he’s walking into the best game for us from a normal round perspective.”