Matt Harris, Queensland Correspondent, NRL.com
Young Broncos back-rower Corey Oates has admitted that being dropped for going out on a mid-week drinking session was just what he needed as he comes to terms with the demands of his second season in the NRL.
Still just 19 years of age, Oates was thrust into the limelight with a stunning entry into the NRL at the end of the 2013 season but has failed to recapture that same form this season, the combination of a truncated pre-season through injury and the dreaded second-year syndrome working in tandem.
Along with Jack Reed and Daniel Vidot, Oates was dropped from the Broncos team to play the Warriors in Round 19 for going out drinking on the night of Origin III before being reinstated tha following week after a week in the Intrust Super Cup.
Oates has been named on the bench for Friday night's all-important clash with the Bulldogs and said that while he is currently contracted at Red Hill until the end of 2015 he's looking for a strong finish to the season, not only to raise the eyebrows of incoming coach Wayne Bennett, but to also redeem himself for his off-field indiscretion.
"That was a wakeup call for me; obviously I got up myself for that," Oates told NRL.com.
"I was upset with the decision, but I probably needed it and it was good to get something like that out of the way while I'm a young fella so I can learn from it.
"Each week now I've been training as hard as I can to try and get the respect back from the players."
That road to redemption will continue tonight for Oates and the Broncos as they look to bounce back from two-straight defeats in what shapes as a must-win clash against an equally desperate Bulldogs side.
For those outside the Broncos' Red Hill bubble, Oates has been around the traps since his eye-catching displays for Brisbane's under-20s side in 2012. Then becoming a rare shining light for the Broncos senior side in what was otherwise an ugly 2013 season for the glamour club, who missed the finals for only the second time in 22 years.
Oates went on to snare the Broncos' Rookie of the Year award before battling a string of niggling injuries, including post-season shoulder and wrist surgery, but he says he now feels in a much better place compared to this time last year as he eyes up his 24th NRL appearance against the 'Dogs.
"I feel I've done a lot better training-wise and mentally also. I was sort of just in the motions last year," he admitted.
"I still couldn't believe what I was doing every game, but then I got to realise that this is my life.
"It's been a really different year. Last year I was in the 20s and I didn't expect it at all. This year I've had to work a lot harder to be in the squad and get into the team each week.
"Last year was probably the best thing – those nine games coming in [to first grade] – I was just loving it. This year I feel a lot better around the boys and I feel like I'm fitting in a bit better, but obviously I'm still a young kid."
After making his debut in Round 17 last year, Oates went into his first assignment with the Bulldogs in Round 26 with six tries from eight games, a tally he took to eight from nine as the Broncos finished the year with a 16-11 victory.
However Oates says he never expected to play more than one match for the Broncos when he was named on the bench against the Storm in Round 17 last year. But circumstances would change for the Baralaba Panthers' junior 30 minutes into that match when he was unexpectedly thrust into action at AAMI Park.
Oates replaced Jack Reed when the English international injured his shoulder after colliding with an advertising board while attempting to score a try. Reed subsequently missed the next two matches, opening the door for Oates who took his place in the centres the following week against the Sharks and crossed for his maiden NRL try in the process.
He then gained selection for a third week, this time on the wing against the Cowboys, scoring a classy try in the corner to guide the Broncos to a must-win victory in Townsville. It was at this point the Biloela-born back-rower thought his number was up, as Reed had returned from injury earlier than expected.
"I thought I was just there for the one or two weeks while one of the boys (Reed) was injured, so to get those nine games was unreal," Oates said.
"I actually never thought I'd be there every week, he (coach Anthony Griffin) just told me at the start of the week that I'd be training on the wing and mid-week he'd tell me I'd be playing, so I was just going week by week with that.
"When you know you're playing good you feel a lot better about it, but when you have an off-game you feel nervous and you're on your heels thinking, I won't be playing this week.
"But it was good to get those nine games out of the way, everyone says those first five games or so are the toughest."
He may still refer to himself as a kid but at 192 centimetres and 106 kilograms, Oates is no man-child and has found difference between the NYC – a competition he dominated, earning a place in the 2013 Team of the Year – and the NRL to be poles apart.
"It's a lot different, in under-20s there's a lot of attack and not much defence. You look at the scores and some of them are ridiculous, so there's a lot of difference in defence," he said.
"It's definitely harder and a lot slower, but more hostile and the boys are a lot bigger."
His position on the wing last season meant Oates didn't see as much action as he would have liked too, with the back row now his preferred position despite playing fullback as a junior.
"I grew up playing fullback but I've never had a position that I've stayed in for consecutive years," he said.
"I love the back row though – attacking and defending – you can do as much in attack as you can in defence. I love tackling and I also love running off the edge where I've got a bit of freedom so I prefer back row more than anything. "
Knowing that his stint on the wing was only a cameo and the back row was his future calling, Oates made the most of his pre-season despite his minor injury battles.
"I felt like it was the best pre-season I've had, I felt a lot fitter and when I realised I'd be playing in the forwards and off the bench in the middle I knew I'd be getting tougher minutes," he said.
"It's the best pre-season I've had at the club so I was stoked about that and hopefully I've got plenty more to go."