The Hunt is over, let the search begin

A 56-point drubbing and continued allegations of off-field dramas are the latest grey clouds hovering over the Broncos ’ 2009 season, but the two men charged with securing the club’s long-term future are confident blue skies await with the next wave of stars are not far away.<br><br>Karmichael Hunt’s defection to the AFL, following the departure of stars Petero Civoniceva, Ben Hannant, Michael Ennis, David Stagg, Brent Tate and Darius Boyd has many pundits death-riding the Broncos into the next decade.<br><br>Overnight it has created an unwanted experience drain, which captain Darren Lockyer is urgently trying to fill as the club attempts to come out the other side of their already well-documented injury woes.<br><br>However, recruitment manager Paul Bunn and Toyota Cup coach Anthony Griffin believe some good talent remains.<br><br>Twenty-year-old Josh Hoffman has been anointed the short-term successor to the no. 1 jersey – previously held by teenage prodigies Lockyer and Hunt – by Griffin and coach Ivan Henjak.<br><br>“Josh is the obvious one,” Griffin says. “He has played first grade last year and this year, and performed well in the Toyota Cup. I would think he is someone the club can look to in the future.”<br><br>“Josh has done a good job and we’re quite pleased with how he’s going,” Henjak agrees. “He was injured earlier in the year and he’s done a good job to get back. He’s a big chance for next year, but you never know, someone could just come out of the ground and into that position.”<br><br>Nipping at young Bronco Hoffman’s hooves are teenagers Dale Copley, Dane Gagai and Jharal Yow Yeh. <br><br>“Most people would think we were dead and buried, but ‘K’ is a champion, he’s been with us since he was 14,” Bunn says. “There are others that will come behind him and we have a few good young kids. In the Toyota Cup the fullback Todd Murphy is a good prospect. Dale Copley is really a fullback, Dane Gagai is only young and Yow Yeh is there too.”<br><br>The talented trio are graduates of the Broncos’ development program which includes junior and senior academies. It has been in place for three years and participants of the program are just starting to surface in the NRL.<br><br>Ben Hunt, Andrew McCullough and Josh McGuire have recently made their debuts after coming from the senior academy, which takes a ‘holistic’ approach to development.<br><br>With the club again fending off allegations of player misbehaviour, Brisbane remain satisfied with the measures they’ve put in place to weed out troublemakers at a young age.<br><br>“We have put a lot of man hours and dollars into this program,” Bunn explains. “We don’t just want to use competition to develop our players. We train our players in how to train and look after their bodies.<br><br>“Our welfare person Scott Czislowski works closely with the kids’ school teachers and receives reports about their progress from the teachers and principals. The schools love it; we have not had one kid leave our program because of disciplinary reasons at school. The kids really respond to it.”<br><br>However, as Griffin says, there is no “quick fix” to the playing personnel problems currently plaguing the Broncos. Most of the players who have left in the past two years were established first graders and that is where the club is currently hurting. Nurturing rookies through their first steps into the NRL is critical, and with injury and loss of numbers being heavily felt this season, their youngsters are taking some time to adapt to the rigours of NRL football.<br><br>“We’ve been copping a lot of flak but a lot of it is to do with the senior groups which we’ve lost over the past few years,” Bunn says.<br><br>“The new wave coming through now though will be strong… we’ve got some really good kids coming through, both on and off the field.<br><br>“Sometimes people forget the work that goes on behind the scenes.”<br><br>Broncos fans have been spoilt throughout the past decade, with Lockyer and Hunt graduating straight from high school to success in the NRL – but players like that are not the norm. As the current crop of rookies struggle through a tough period with the club, Griffin reflects how it is absurd to expect every player to have an impact like those superstars.<br><br>“I would say they are the exception to the rule,” he insists. “It is not normal for a player to come straight in and play at that standard.<br><br>“It is about being patient and understanding their talent. Players need time to develop and they are not a quick fix.”<br><br>Under-siege coach Henjak is learning all about being patient. He too is aware of the workload on his young players, but is equally excited about the prospect of what this side can develop into in two or three years’ time when those players have acquired the necessary experience.<br><br>“It is hard to be patient but it is what we have to do,” Henjak tells Big League. “I know we have a good system and some of those kids aren’t ready right now, but we need them. There is always a fine line between keeping those experienced players in your team, and holding onto the juniors. When you lose so many players you throw the young kids in after a few injuries and just do your best to get it right.”<br><br>The balance of blooding young players and avoiding over-working them is a difficult one. While in the long-term most will be better for the experience, right now it is a constant management process. <br><br>“Hoffman has really been thrown to the wolves because of the injuries we’re dealing with,” Bunn says. “It’s hard for the young guys, you really should drip-feed them into the NRL. It’s been a baptism of fire for a lot of them but with the injuries it was the only option we had.<br><br>“I don’t believe you are really a first grader until you’ve played 50 games though, and just wait until all these kids have played 50 games. When Hoffman plays his 50th we will see he’s a great player, the same thing is possible for Dale.”<br><br>Copley is understandably disappointed Hunt will be leaving the club at the end of the year, but competition for his spot will be fierce. And he believes suffering through a game like the thrashing received last weekend will only benefit the club in the future.<br><br>“It’s been really exciting playing with guys I grew up idolising, even though the results haven’t gone our way,” Copley says.<br><br>“But I suppose it teaches the young guys how tough the NRL is, so from the development side of things it’s been good, I suppose.<br><br>“It’s obviously not good to have a player like Karmichael leaving but it opens his position up and there will be a couple of young guys fighting for it.”<br><br>Remember names like Copley, Hoffman, Gagai, Aaron Whitchurch, Lachlan Maranta and Korbin Sims. These guys are the Broncos of tomorrow – all they need is a little patience.<br>