Matt Harris, Queensland Correspondent
Broncos coach Anthony Griffin has dismissed suggestions of a rift between himself and Ben Hannant after the long-serving prop was dropped for Friday night's Queensland derby against the Cowboys.
With Hannant off contract at season's end, the 29-year-old faces an uncertain future at Red Hill given their recent front-row investment of Martin Kennedy and the continued development of young forwards David Hala, Jarrod Wallace and Corey Oates.
The veteran of 178 NRL games will now turn out for the Ipswich Jets against the Central Capras on Saturday night at North Ipswich Reserve instead of taking on a Cowboys' pack containing the likes of Test bookends Matt Scott and James Tamou.
Hannant's omission is a surprising one given his output this season has far outweighed the numbers that Kennedy, Hala and Wallace are producing.
Based on average run metres and tackles per match – a front-rowers 'bread and butter' – Hannant has amassed an average of 103 metres per game and 27 tackles, while big money recruit Kennedy has only averaged 71 metres per game with 23 tackles. Hala (55 metres, 11 tackles) and Wallace (39 metres, nine tackles) have also produced lower numbers than Hannant, although they've had fewer minutes on the field.
Griffin was coy on his reasons for leaving a man of Hannant's experience out of the crucial Cowboys clash. Given that Sam Thaiday is still struggling with calf injury, a player like Hannant with 12 Origins and six Tests behind him would have been a welcome addition to the Broncos' pack.
"What I say to a player about selection is between me and the player," Griffin said.
"I'm trying to get the guy to improve his football and I'm here to help him.
"I care about all of our players and as I've said before, sometimes telling them what they don't want to hear is the [best] way to help them the most.
"He knows where he needs to improve and I've got 100 percent confidence that he's going to do that."
With Thaiday, Hannant and 18th man Todd Lowrie all likely to miss out against the Cowboys, Brisbane lose 564 games of NRL experience and have replaced them with the combined 60 games of experience that Hala, Oates, Wallace and Jake Granville provide.
Griffin didn't seem deterred after dropping Hannant, one of the few players left over from the Broncos' victorious grand final side of 2006, backing his younger brigade to do the job in Townsville.
"It was a very tough call [dropping Hannant]. I wanted to give Dave Hala a chance off the bench," he said.
"He [took the news] alright – the same way Todd Lowrie would have taken it a couple of weeks ago.
"I made a call and Ben knows what I want him to improve [with] and he understands where I'm coming from and we'll move forward from there – it's not a major issue."
The pressure is now firmly on the broad shoulders of Hala, who started the season unconvincedly with the Redcliffe Dolphins, although his form has improved in recent weeks, catching the eye of Griffin.
"He hasn't been at his best every week. He's got an opportunity to do a job for us tomorrow night and we'll see what happens," he said.
"I've got a lot of confidence in Dave. He was in our top 17 at the back of 2011 and it's only injury that halted his progression.
"He's got a few games under his belt now and I'm sure he's going to do a job for us.
Hannant's name will provide another exciting addition to this weekend's Intrust Super Cup matches with a handful of his Bronco teammates appearing throughout this weekend's Round 11 action.
David Stagg and Jordan Kahu will turn out for Wynnum Manly again as they travel to Papua New Guinea to take on the Hunters, who a coming off a bye.
Meanwhile, Cowboys' trio Robert Lui, Kyle Feldt and Joel Riethmuller will play for Northern Pride as they travel south to take on the Tweed Heads Seagulls in Sunday's TV game. The Seagulls will lose Matt Srama for the clash as he has been named for the Titans in their clash against South Sydney at Robina on Saturday evening.