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Bennett braced for nightmare rep season

Written By Unknown on Kamis, 16 April 2015 | 23.34

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WAYNE Bennett is braced for the poisoned chalice of Brisbane's flying start to the NRL premiership with a "nightmare'' representative season that could feature up to nine Broncos.

As Bennett's Broncos tonight head to Kogarah Oval to face St George Illawarra and stretch their winning streak to six games, he was facing the fact his team would soon by decimated by a rep schedule that could threaten Brisbane's quest for a top-four finish.

Maroons Justin Hodges, Corey Parker, Sam Thaiday and Matt Gillett are certain to play major roles through the Origin season and possibly be selected for Australia next weekend, while Ben Hunt is a Test incumbent, Josh McGuire an Origin contender and Dale Copley a possible bolter.

Justin Hodges during a Broncos training.. Pic Darren England. Source: News Corp Australia

Front-rower Adam Blair, who is close to a comeback from corked thigh injury, starred in New Zealand's Four Nations triumph last year while Kiwis second-rower Alex Glenn is back to his best as he plays for his future at the Broncos.

ORIGIN DISRUPTION: Why the Broncos can't win the title

NO THANKS: Why Merrin said no to Bennett

Bennett said Parker, Thaiday and Glenn had consistently been Brisbane's best over the opening six rounds and the Broncos needed to keep those performance levels high tonight against St George Illawarra and next week against Parramatta before the mid-year disruption.

"It will be a nightmare,'' Bennett said. "We have two weeks of clear air, this week and next week, then after that the season goes into meltdown for about two months.

"It's just a completely different season.

"(After the bye) you won't see the same team probably for the next two months you've seen at all the clubs who will be heavily affected by (rep season).''

The Brocnos will be withuot Corey Parker during the Origin period. Pic Darren England. Source: News Corp Australia

Once again the rep season appears to be the biggest obstacle Brisbane must conquer to turn a bright start into a top-four finish. In 2012 they were 7-1 before fading faster than curtains during daylight saving.

If Bennett can navigate the rep period in reasonable shape the club could live up to the latest betting markets which have Brisbane equal favourites for the minor premiership with the last two champions Souths and the Roosters.

Bennett said he had offered NRL administrators a solution on how to fix the rep season, but despite constant claims the game was trying to improve player welfare they continued to ignore a major strain on the elite stars of the game.

"It will always raise its head again,'' Bennett said. "I know what the solution is and I've talked to the administration about the solution, it's just a case of what they will do about it.

"It's really in their court but I know everybody is going on about player welfare and nothing changes.''

Darius Boyd is a marginal chance of playing Origin. Photographer: Liam Kidston. Source: News Corp Australia

The Broncos do have greater depth in the squad this year to cope with the inevitable rep drain. Bennett has given more game time to his fringe forwards such as Jarrod Wallace and Mitch Dodds.

Bennett also expects Darius Boyd to be back playing in less than six weeks, making the Test winger a marginal chance of playing the first Origin clash on May 27 but more likely to return for Brisbane's May 25 clash with Newcastle, their only NRL game this year without Queensland stars.

"Look I don't know about Origin I, I don't know how far away that is and I haven't looked at it, but (Boyd) has been remarkable.

"He is such a dedicated athlete. He is on track to come back before the six months is done, that will be a miracle in itself.

"He is doing everything now it's just a bit more time.''

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Rookie Roo not fazed by being dropped

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TEENAGE star Sione Mata'utia says he is not fazed by the prospect of having to play NSW Cup if Newcastle coach Rick Stone opts to go with specialist hooker Tyler Randell on the bench at the expense of him against Parramatta on Sunday.

Less than six months after becoming Australia's youngest ever Kangaroo, Mata'utia has featured in every game for the Knights this season, starting at fullback and on the wing in two matches and coming off the bench on the other four occasions with Stone using skipper Kurt Gidley as a makeshift hooker just to accommodate the 18 year old in his squad.

Tyler Randell takes on the Panthers defence. Source: Getty Images

But while there has been nothing wrong with his form, there are suggestions Mata'utia will be squeezed out this week with Gidley to play exclusively at fullback and Randell to deputise for hooker Adam Clydsdale.

Adding further weight to the speculation, the NRL and NSW Cup squads trained together on Thursday with Mata'utia part of the NSW Cup contingent.

But while Stone is yet to tell him officially where he will be playing, Mata'utia claimed going back to NSW Cup would not worry him.

"Going down a grade doesn't mean anything to me," he said.

"I've still got to wear that Knights jumper with pride and play hard for it.

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"I love going back and training today with the reggies was good. I get a bit of confidence where I can talk a bit and guide the boys around."

The incumbent Kangaroos winger, who is no chance of holding onto his place in the Australian side but could get a Country Origin call up, was philosophical when asked about the selection of the Test side coming up.

Mata'utia said:

"I haven't really been thinking about it. Watching the NRL teams now, all the players that were missing last year are back playing footy every weekend.

"The reason why I played was injuries so the players are back.

"It's all good. I'm still here playing for my club and if I do get a Country jersey it would be good and hopefully I can get a crack at that but if not, I'll play every weekend here."

Sione Mata'utia says he's not fazed by playing in the NSW Cup. Source: Getty Images

Stone's plan for Mata'utia could hinge on the fitness of five-eighth Jarrod Mullen, who along with backrower Tariq Sims, is being hampered by a shoulder injury.

Both Mullen and Sims trained yesterday but weren't involved in any contact and will need to prove themselves during the captain's run on Saturday morning.

If Mullen is forced out, Mata'utia would get a reprieve.

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Johns: Bennett’s the master of manipulation

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Wayne Bennett is known as one of the finest man managers in rugby league history. He's famous for knowing his players inside out and understanding how to get the best out of them.

But man management is not just about a shoulder to lean on or a comforting arm around you in a time of need.

Case in point, Sam Thaiday.

Bennett's return to Brisbane has coincided with Thaiday being put under the blowtorch.

From round one, Thaiday has had his attitude and desire questioned from "sources within the Broncos."

Sam Thaiday and Jared Waerea-Hargreaves face off during. Source: Getty Images

Thaiday has been benched and the media alerted that Thaiday's future at the Broncos was in doubt and that his form would be closely monitored.

ORIGIN DISRUPTION: Why the Broncos can't win the title

NO THANKS: Why Merrin said no to Bennett

We all know who these "sources within the Broncos" are. Well played Wayne.

Last Friday night Thaiday exploded onto the park and put together one of his finest performances against the Sydney Roosters.

Thaiday's aggression was the cornerstone of the Broncos' victory.

Bennett has no plans of getting rid of Thaiday, otherwise the "sources within the Broncos" would have said the Broncos were under severe salary cap pressure and the retention of Thaiday was appearing unlikely.

The questioning of the Queensland legend's work ethic and desire was a personal attack, designed around reigniting his fire.

It did exactly that.

Sam Thaiday and Wayne Bennett during training — Photo Steve Pohlner Source: News Corp Australia

But turning up the heat on Thaiday was about more than just getting Sam back to his old self, it was about putting the whole playing roster on notice. Actually, it put the whole Brisbane club on notice.

The Brisbane Broncos had lost their way and putting one of the club's most experienced and decorated players on notice was a signal that much higher standards were again expected from everyone in this organisation.

Suddenly the Broncos have won their last five in a row and sit top of the table. Yep, the Brisbane Broncos are getting their swagger back.

When the Broncos were the dominating force right through the 90s, they were an arrogant bunch.

There was an arrogance right through the organisation — they were the best and they knew it.

You'd play against the Broncos and a young rookie who'd only played a handful of first grade games felt the right to sledge opposition players who were 200 game veterans.

Even the trainers would give you a bit of lip if they had a chance.

Andrew Gee and Paul Harragon & Brisbane Bronco trade blows — both were sent to sin bin. Source: News Corp Australia

I remember Knights v Broncos in Newcastle 1995, and suddenly a brawl breaks out early in the match. Our skipper Paul Harragon squares off against Brisbane's enforcer, Andrew Gee.

They were trading blows when suddenly Broncos trainer Kelvin Giles runs into the thick of the action, grabs Chief from behind, holds him while Andrew Gee lands 4-5 straight right hands to the Chief's chin.

That was the Broncos. They played by their own rules because they believed they deserved to.

I miss that Broncos!

So do the people of Brisbane, but they're coming back.

On Friday they take on a team who are suddenly rediscovering the better version of themselves, the Dragons.

After the Dragons lost their first two competition games, plenty of drama unfolded. The Old "Oust Doust" banners were dragged from under the house, as fans with a whiff of a disastrous season in the air demanded answers to the question: "Where is this club headed?"

There was an early season crisis looming and they needed a win, fast.

An Oust Doust banner at Oki Jubilee Stadium in Kogarah. Source: News Corp Australia

They got one, a tough, gritty, come-from-behind victory over the Raiders 22-20.

It wasn't the type of win that gave you the feeling they were going to go on to win four in a row, but that's exactly what's happened.

The Dragons have got better every week.

The coach Paul McGregor deserves huge credit. He kept his cool, tinkered with a few things and has rightfully been rewarded.

Their defensive effort is at the core of their success.

Nothing gauges attitude like defensive energy and the Dragons have plenty. They are the NRL's best defensive team. In attack they've loosened their rigid structure which in the past put them in a creative straight jacket.

They allow themselves to jump into a bit of ad lib football while not losing discipline.

Benji Marshall's form is grabbing headlines, and while everyone continues to focus on Benji's flicks and tricks, it's his willingness to play to a plan and use the fundamentals of direct ball playing, which is at the centre of his revival.

Keeping Benji's focus away from flash highlight reel moments is critical to the ongoing success of the team.

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Rugby league nations still growing

James Tedesco is one of a number of NRL stars to represent Italy at international level. Source: AAP

RUGBY league secured a significant victory on the world stage on Thursday, with the game officially recognised as a legitimate sport in Italy.

While Italy competed in the most recent World Cup, with Aidan Guerra in their team, the sport has not been recognised as a stand-alone sport in that country since the 1960s, when the all-powerful Italian Rugby Union banned any player sound to have participated in the 13-a-side code.

Until Thursday, league was merely a breakaway version of union in Italy — a rebel code not officially recognised by the powers that be.

Finally, sensibly, that has all changed.

The international game will get another major boost in a fortnight — but this time, a little closer to home — when southeast Queensland hosts a "representative round" at Suncorp Stadium and Cbus Super Stadium on May 1-2.

On the Friday night, Brisbane will host the Test match between Australia and New Zealand, as well as the women's international between the Jillaroos and the Kiwi Ferns.

Then, on the Saturday, the Gold Coast will host a Test double-header, with games between Tonga and Samoa, and PNG and Fiji, as well as the Junior Kangaroos and Junior Kiwis.

FLIPPED: Queenslander Keary could be Blues solution

RIVALRY: Aussie-Kiwi Tests should be as big as Origin

The Pacific Tests between Tonga and Samoa are a great sign of rugby league's development. Source: Getty Images

The Pacific Tests are another terrific step forward for the development of the game in those countries.

As we saw with Samoa's performance in the Four Nations last year and during the 2013 World Cup, the best way for these developing nations to improve their performances is by having greater exposure to quality matches against quality opposition.

The number of players from the Pacific nations playing in the NRL will undoubtedly lift standards, but the long-term development being done by rugby league in these countries is where the real gains will be made.

The inclusion of the PNG Hunters into Queensland's Intrust Super Cup was a massive step forward, just as Fiji's inclusion in the NSW Cup from next year will accelerate development there.

Hopefully, if the right financial backers can be found, Samoa and Tonga can follow suit with a team in one of the state leagues in the next few years.

But the representative round could also pay big dividends for the gam in Australia as well.

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The scheduling of the representative round should be the first step in creating an expanded representative window, that could include State of Origin.

Stand-alone Origin games have been suggested for a long time as a way to minimise the impact on the NRL clubs that lose players to the interstate series, the workload on players, and the dilution of the NRL competition because of the number of players being stood down because of representative duties.

But for a true representative window to work, Origin cannot do it alone.

Test matches like this Pacific series, Tests involving England and New Zealand, and perhaps even an international Nines tournament could be looked at as a way to beef up a potential representative schedule for television audiences and venues across the region.

Given more opportunity, the development of the international game will continue to grow, and that is great news for rugby league.

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Bennett drops wrestle to go on defensive

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BRISBANE are trying to lead a defensive revolution of the NRL with Wayne Bennett tossing out the wrestling textbook and urging his players to "hit and stick" to gain dominance in defence.

The proof of Bennett's madness is how the Broncos have emerged as one of the grittiest teams in the NRL competition over the opening six weeks to create a defensive wall that is the envy of the league.

The Broncos and Dragons have been the two most impressive defensive outfits to start the season with the two clubs ranked at the top of the charts for goal-line defence.

Brisbane is ranked No.1 for fewest tries conceded from inside 20m at just nine, one ahead of the Dragons who are ranked No.2.

KNOCKED BACK: The reason Merrin said no to Bennett

NRL LATE MAIL: Hodges fit, Maranta in doubt

The Broncos average just one try conceded inside 20m per 20 tackles, while the Dragons are more efficient at one try per 25 tackles.

They are the two leading teams for tries conceded by line breaks with the Dragons No.1 with just eight and the Broncos No.2 with 12.

The Dragons have largely bolted to the top of the charts in the past three weeks where they've conceded a total of two tries in wins over Manly, Newcastle and Canterbury.

Bennett said his team had changed their defensive focus in 2015 on the back of the new wrestling guidelines, opting for strong contact rather than the "cuddling" method of holding players up.

Wayne Bennett talks to his troops at Broncos training. Source: News Corp Australia

"The rules have changed the game, you just can't have three guys laying on the ground anymore. You're better off hitting and sticking than falling down on top of them and have to get off quickly," Bennett said.

"We're just trying to get less in the tackle but be more effective with our tackle technique.

"There is nothing scientific about defence, it's all about what you want to achieve with your teammates and how you want to play for each other and that's what (the Dragons) are doing really well.

"We're a pretty good defensive team right now as well … I'm pretty pleased with where we are at defensively."

Bennett said the crowd reaction to the way Brisbane muscled up against the Roosters last week showed fans wanted to see more old school hits and less dancing.

"The crowd loved it. Every time there was a good hit below the ball they just got into it," he said.

"The fans showed that is what they want as well rather than the other way of just cuddling each other."

League Immortal Andrew Johns noticed Brisbane's driving technique in their win and believes it is putting pressure on the opposition in a new way.

"All Brisbane's technique is different," Johns said.

"A lot of teams are doing the catching and holding but they drive in with the shoulder and it's no coincidence it forced a lot of errors.

"When the shoulder goes at the ball, it's a bit of old school from Brisbane and I love the way they're defending."

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Falloon focused on finding form

Beau Falloon has vowed to get back to his best for the Titans. Source: Richard Gosling / News Corp Australia

GOLD Coast hooker Beau Falloon has vowed to make amends for his frustrating start to the NRL season and help lead the Titans to a breakthrough home victory against Penrith.

Falloon has endured a difficult season with any momentum he planned to carry over from his Titans player of the year award last year crushed by repeated disruptions.

First a hamstring strain cost him appearances in the first trial game or Nines tournament.

Next were the cocaine charges that resulted in him and four teammates being stood down for the first two weeks of the NRL season by the Titans.

WINNER: Douglas aims to set record straight

Falloon struggled as off-field pressures got to him. Source: News Corp Australia

Two games later Falloon was suspended again, this time copping two weeks for a lifting tackle charge that was his second suspension for the offence within a year.

Falloon was also lucky to escape a ban last year for an offence against the Storm, saved only because the tackled player landed on his arm despite being up-ended.

Now as he prepares to return against the Panthers, Falloon has vowed to tidy up his tackling technique and deliver the performances on the field that last year earned selection for NSW City Origin.

"It's been frustrating, I haven't had the best start to the year," Falloon said.

"It's been really disruptive but I've been doing some really hard training. The fitness is not a problem. I'm fit and raring to go.

"The suspension from that tackle didn't come at the best time. I just need to put all that behind me now and focus on stringing some really good games together.

"I'm planning on staying on the field a bit longer than the two weeks this time."

Falloon said as a smaller man he'd developed a tackling technique in his junior career of going lower on the big men and lifting them off the ground to halt their momentum.

Over the past fortnight he has worked extensively with coach Neil Henry and defensive co-ordinator Rohan Smith to develop a technique that is safer within the rules of the game.

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"I've got a bit of a not a bad technique, but just an old habit you can't do anymore," he said.

"I've been working on that the last two weeks so hopefully I can put that into practice and hopefully I don't get charged anymore with lifting tackles.

"One of my habits I have is trying to get under them and I tend to lift. That is what gets me in trouble.

"I've got to get it out of my game, which I'm trying really hard too."

It will be Falloon's second game alongside rookie five-eighth Kane Elgey but he said the 21-year-old was showing positive signs of being quality playmaker for the club.

"He has come along really good. He is out there playing his role and he is a good exciting young kid. Hopefully he just keeps building on his game every week," Falloon said.

"He is only young so he is just going out there and doing his job. That is all we expect of him. "He doesn't have to set the world on fire or anything like that. As long as he goes out and does his job that is the main thing."

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Raiders land Sezer, Tamou could be next

Written By Unknown on Kamis, 09 April 2015 | 23.34

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CANBERRA coach Ricky Stuart proved himself every inch a Raider, poaching Titans five-eighth Aidan Sezer and then locking his sights on Cowboys Test prop James Tamou.

Gold Coast's $4 million pursuit of Daly Cherry-Evans has cost them Sezer, who will on Friday sign a $1.5 million deal with the Raiders after the Titans failed in their last-ditch bid to keep him.

The Titans only tabled a formal offer to Sezer on Friday morning but it was too little, too late.

Stuart had been privately wooing Sezer for weeks when many thought the Bankstown junior was mulling over potential moves to the Roosters or Sea Eagles.

Aidan Sezer of the Titans is tackled during the round five NRL match between the Gold Coast Titans and the Brisbane Broncos at Cbus Super Stadium on April 3, 2015 on the Gold Coast, Australia. (Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images) Source: Getty Images

Sezer did not return calls on Thursday night but his manager, Sam Ayoub, said the five-eighth and wife Raziye were not desperate to return to Sydney.

"Ricky had a number of chats with him. They made a good offer and it's a club that's building and on the rise," Ayoub said.

"That's nothing against the other clubs that have shown interest but it's a club that's appealed to him. They're a good club that's been down a little and they're recovering."

Titans CEO Graham Annesley declined to comment given the signing had not been confirmed and Ayoub said the Gold Coast only tabled an offer at the eleventh hour.

"We only received an offer from the Gold Coast (yesterday) morning," he said. "He's got a really good relationship with Neil (coach Henry).

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"He's not unhappy there. He's bought a property at Palm Beach.

"There was an opportunity for him to move on.

"The Titans have a bit invested in that area and weren't prepared to go to the dollars Aidan deserves going forward."

Stuart, already an enemy of the state as a star half-back and then successful coach with NSW, will not endear himself to fans north of the border if he backs up his Sezer coup with the signature of Tamou.

Despite being contracted to the Cowboys until the end of 2016, Tamou has fielded inquiries from three rival NRL clubs as speculation intensifies he is mulling over a release on compassionate grounds.

Cowboys hierarchy are aware Tamou has options and will consider granting a release, but will not subsidise any deal that sees him playing against North Queensland next season.

James Tamou takes on the Broncos defence. Source: Getty Images

Ayoub, who also manages Tamou, confirmed the Raiders had inquired about Tamou's"contractual position".

And while he insists the approach was not formal, The Courier-Mail understands it is the first step in Canberra's hope of snaring the 113kg prop Stuart turned into an Origin enforcer.

In 2012, Tamou was aligned with New Zealand when Stuart — then coach of the Blues — convinced him to defect to NSW and Australia.

Stuart was tight-lipped yesterday, but made no secret of his admiration for a player he helped mentor into one of the NRL's top props two years ago before Tamou's struggles with a neck injury.

"I keep hearing we are interested," Stuart said.

"Look ... James is a great player and I enjoyed coaching him in State of Origin.

"At the moment, there's been no formal communication. We can't fit him into the salary cap at the moment, but there are always balls up in the air at any club.

Ricky Stuart says the Raiders can't afford Tamou at the moment. Source: News Corp Australia

"Don Furner (Raiders CEO) looks at the salary cap here and that's fine by me."

It is understood family is a key factor in Tamou's possible move to the Raiders.

His partner Brittney McGlone is close to giving birth to the couple's second child and has links to Canberra, with her family owning a 269-hectare farm at Braidwood, 87km southeast of the nation's capital.

McGlone previously trained at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra and it is believed she still has career ambitions in track-and-field.

Tamou's wife, Brittney McGlone wants to continue her athletics career. Source: News Corp Australia

Tamou began the season slowly after neck surgery but the Cowboys are determined not to lose him after his outstanding display against Penrith last Monday night.

The loss of Sezer has added even more intrigue to who will partner Cherry-Evans next year at the Titans.

Rookie half-back Kane Elgey is also off-contract and being heavily pursued by Manly, who have lost Cherry-Evans and Kieran Foran to Parramatta.

Elgey is expected to tour Manly's headquarters next week after he knocked back a three-year contract extension from the Titans.

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Lockyer to ensure Thaiday stays at Broncos

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THE Titans have ruled out chasing Sam Thaiday as the influence of Darren Lockyer and a $250,000 NRL allowance emerge as key factors in saving the Test star's career at the Broncos.

Thaiday has three more games, including tonight's clash with the Roosters at Suncorp Stadium, to convince Broncos coach Wayne Bennett he is worth retaining beyond this season.

The Courier-Mail can reveal Brisbane's recruitment and retention committee, of which Lockyer is a key member, will leverage the NRL's salary cap laws to ensure Thaiday remains at the Broncos.

Darren Lockyer and Sam Thaiday. Source: News Limited

The notion of Thaiday taking a pay cut to remain at Red Hill fuelled talk he would join the Titans but Gold Coast says they have no plans to table an offer.

COACH'S CALL: Bennett voices concerns over concussion rules

While Bennett largely dictates the Broncos' hiring and firing, his opinions on recruitment are shaped by trusted advisers. They include Lockyer and list manager Peter Nolan, who are part of a retention team that will use the NRL's long-serving player allowance to table a palatable offer for Thaiday.

A Sydney rival has lodged interest in Thaiday, but Lockyer last night strongly indicated the 29-year-old has a future under Bennett.

Lockyer can empathise with Thaiday after benefiting from NRL salary cap allowances in his final years at the Broncos.

"Sam is giving himself the best chance of remaining a Bronco," Lockyer said.

"From the outside looking in, Sam has responded well to the challenge the coach has given him.

"All he can control is his performances on the field and the training paddock. The rest is out of his control.

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"At this point in your career the best deal should not be judged by the biggest number put on the table. Pathways in his post-playing days should be a big consideration.''

Under the code's recently-amended veteran's allowance rule, clubs are eligible for incremental salary cap allowances depending on a player's continuous years of service.

Thaiday and 15-season stalwart Corey Parker are the Broncos who can benefit most from the discount.

Thaiday is playing his 13th consecutive year at Red Hill, meaning he qualifies for a maximum $250,000 dispensation for any salary lodged with the NRL's salary cap auditor.

That enables the Broncos to pay Thaiday less under the salary cap while rewarding the former skipper for his long service. Factor in the high-level backing of Lockyer, who won a premiership with Thaiday in 2006, and the Maroons ace appears safe at the Broncos.

Wayne Bennett says he's happy with how Sam Thaiday is progressing. Pic Darren England. Source: News Corp Australia

Bennett was tight-lipped on Thursday, saying: "I couldn't be more pleased with Sam's efforts right now but he understands my position. There's a mixture of players that we have to make decisions on and we haven't done that yet.''

Thaiday's agent George Mimis said Thaiday had been a loyal to the Broncos and he hoped to open discussions with the club over the next few weeks.

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Tallis: Coote’s a smart choice

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GT'S Socialites have been dealt a harsh double blow this week.

I suspect most NRL SuperCoaches are facing a similar issue thanks to a glut of injuries and the fallout from the game between Canterbury and Souths, but that solidarity doesn't make it any easier for me to take.

My two grievances come in the form of an injury and a suspension as a result of last Friday's drama.

First I lost Canterbury's Brett Morris to a hamstring injury for about three months and then the news came that his captain James Graham will be serving two suspensions for four weeks.

While we continue to reign supreme in the head-to-head stakes, this is not great news for GT's Socialites.

Jack Bird celebrates after scoring against the Roosters. Source: Getty Images

I thought I was pretty lucky to already have "must-buy" cheapie Jack Bird in my ranks but now I've had to do some scrambling and trading anyway.


I have recruited former Panther and blossoming Cowboy Lachlan Coote to replace Morris.

The North Queensland No. 1 has played three games this season and is on track to make some good money over the coming rounds.

He's only averaging 40.33 points at the moment but as he and the Cowboys get stronger, I think his points will get a lot better.

After spending a fair amount of time in rehab and on the recovery table, he is certainly striking up a solid combination with Johnathan Thurston and Michael Morgan.

He is a smart player and really showed his ability against his old club last week, earning 59 points.

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With my other trade, I have booted Graham for Trent Merrin.

Merrin is one of the top 10 players so far this year and it is my priority to start getting as many guns as I can.

I have Ethan Lowe, Corey Parker, Cameron Smith and Simon Mannering already from the top 10, with Merrin a great addition.

This will also leave me with $184,100 in the bank for next week, meaning I should be able to continue picking up top players.

Hopefully my captain, JT, will also start to make his way into those top 10 players.

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Free Bird the man to help Sharks fly

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SO often when a club is enduring the most difficult of times, it opens a door of opportunity for a young star to emerge. For the Cronulla Sharks this period of adversity has unearthed Jack Bird.

Bird was all class against top notch opposition last Sunday.

Normally an outside back, Bird was shifted into five-eighth and his speed, skill, but more than anything, his confidence, was exactly what the Sharkies needed.

Tough too! His backstory will reinforce that.

Bird suffers from a severe arthritic condition that requires fortnightly injections to keep the pain at bay and control his arthritis.

The injections are expensive and the working class family relied on the help of community fundraising to ensure young Jack got the medical help he needed.

Sharks skipper Paul Gallen was the star attraction at that fundraiser for the Bird family and four years later Gallen once again championed Bird's cause by going to Cronulla coach Shane Flanagan and pleading with him to put the kid in first grade.

Last Sunday Bird repaid his skipper. And from his first touch you could see he was a little special.

BAD BOY: Bird's unexpected mentor

SuperCoach Last Word: Discount guns

Jack Bird celebrates scoring in the Sharks' shock win over the Roosters. Source: Getty Images

The way he moved, the way he held the football and held himself at the point of defensive contact.

His first big moment came in the 32nd minute, off an inside ball from Luke Lewis. Bird exploded into the open field and found himself one-on-one with Roger Tuivasa-Sheck.

Bird didn't hesitate. Instead he challenged Roger to a sprint for the corner post…..with ball looping low in his right grip, he looked every bit the footballer and athlete.

Then he showed his strength, timing and confidence to put a mighty fend into Sheck's chest which left the Roosters star flat on his face, as Bird smiled and slammed the ball over the line.

Five minutes later he showed toughness and talent when surrounded by Roosters. Seemingly trapped in-goal, Bird stepped and accelerated into the teeth of the Roosters kick chase and surged himself into the field of play by an inch.

Only minutes before half-time, it was a mighty play.

With the Sharks leading 4-0 they needed another boost after half-time to cement their belief, and Bird provided again.

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On the last tackle, 20 metres out, he skimmed across the defence and convinced Roosters winger Daniel Tupou that he was about to throw a long ball. Tupou raced up, Bird kicked behind and Valentine Holmes collected the ball for an easy try.

Young Jack was having a blinder, but how would he go with the game on the line?

In the NRL, when the scoreline is tight and the clock is showing only minutes to go, the game becomes a completely different beast.

Like playing $5 hands at the Blackjack table, then suddenly you're sitting in the High Rollers.

What you do, good or bad, has far greater consequences.

Here's how Bird handled his first trip to the High Rollers.

Bird is mobbed by his teammates after scoring. Source: Getty Images

Cronulla's 14-0 lead was evaporating quickly, the Roosters were surging and with five minutes to go the Sharks looked like a boxer about to be given the standing eight count, holding a slender two-point lead.

Cronulla were on the attack but seemed to be just chewing up time rather than getting the vital try.

It's last tackle, Mick Ennis is dummy-half and looking for a ball handler. The television replays would show a young Jack Bird saying to the experienced Ennis, "Here! Give it here!"

Ennis did exactly that, Bird accelerated and then stepped inside young defensive tyro Dylan Napa to slam the ball over the line to ice the game, and get try number two for the afternoon.

Sharks fans should be excited. Bird may still only be a player of potential and will no doubt have his share of lows, as well as highs in 2015, but you can see the class.

Last week the Sharks rediscovered their style against the high flying Roosters. They hustled and bustled defensively and exuded energy with the football. They were once again a difficult and awkward opposition to play.

Tonight they face another team who have rediscovered themselves in 2015, the Newcastle Knights. For a town built on coal and steel, the high flying Tinkler/Bennett era was never a good fit. Under Rick Stone they are fighting with the underdog spirit the people of Newcastle best identify with.

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