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In the space of just four years, Sam Thaiday has gone from youngster to veteran in the Broncos forward pack. This season will be a test for Brisbane’s big men.

Ben Blaschke writes in Big League magazine:

There is a poster adorning the walls of Broncos HQ – a depiction of the club’s most recent grand final success back in 2006 – that attracted the attention of big Sam Thaiday earlier this week.

The Brisbane enforcer has seen it before of course, but with the new season looming a thought suddenly occurred.

“I was standing there looking at that poster and I realised that we’ve only got five players left from that year!” Thaiday tells Big League.

It was notable because, with veterans Tonie Carroll and Joel Clinton gone and boom back-rower Dave Taylor now at South Sydney, Thaiday is suddenly the ‘senior’ man in a startlingly young forward pack.

In the space of just four years, the average age of Brisbane’s big men has dropped from older than 26 right down to 23. Incredibly, their starting six have fallen a full four years.

And at 24, Thaiday sits behind only Corey Parker, Nick Kenny (both 27) and Ashton Sims (25) in the age stakes.

“Which is kind of weird,” he says. “When I came through, I had blokes like Gorden Tallis, Andrew Gee, Brad Thorn, Petero (Civoniceva) – those blokes were a lot older than me when I first started playing.

“But we’ve got a really, really young side this year.

“When we play games at training and it’s the youngies v the oldies, I’ve actually been an oldie now for a couple of years! But it just goes to show how many people have come and gone the last four years.

“It seems that every time we come back to training each pre-season, we’ve lost another forward.”

Therein lies Brisbane’s dilemma for 2010 and, more particularly, this week against a Cowboys pack that has added veteran giant Willie Mason to a unit already boasting rep stars Luke O’Donnell, Carl Webb and Matthew Scott.

It will provide the first real test for a Broncos side that once had opposition forwards running for cover.

For so long the envy of the NRL, they have gradually seen their pack eroded away to leave only a handful of familiar faces from the side that stunned Melbourne in that thrilling and memorable 2006 decider.

Of the 10 forwards who took part that day, Thaiday and Parker are the last men standing with Carroll, Shane Webcke and Brad Thorn retired and Civoniceva, Ben Hannant, Shaun Berrigan, Dane Carlaw and Casey McGuire headed elsewhere.

What’s left is a talented but horribly inexperienced group of emerging players that has even coach Ivan Henjak admitting he is unsure what to expect in 2010.

“We’ve got some good young forwards coming through but whether they’re ready or not, we’ll soon find out, he says.

“We blooded a few kids last year and they did quite well so our expectations are that this next crop will be able to do the same.”

Henjak says it was a matter of showing faith in his youngsters, who certainly impressed during Brisbane’s late charge into the finals last season.

Twenty-year-old hooker Andrew McCullough surprised even himself by stealing the no.9 jersey away from PJ Marsh in 2009, Alex Glenn broke through to play 25 games in his maiden year, while props Josh McGuire (20) and ex-Storm recruit Scott Anderson (23) both impressed with 32 games between them.

“We had a lot of questions asked about us last year, too,” Henjak adds.

“A lot of people didn’t think we could get the job done but we went within a game of the grand final and you don’t do that unless your forward pack can get the job done.

“They were pretty dominant in the last seven weeks of the competition, apart from that last game against Melbourne.”

In response to losing so much experience – including fullback Karmichael Hunt – the Broncos have undergone a coaching reshuffle too, with Paul Green and Peter Ryan departing and former Toyota Cup coach Anthony Griffin moving in alongside Allan Langer as Henjak’s assistants.

“It means we don’t have a forwards coach as such,” Henjak says, “but Anthony has worked previously with a lot of the kids we’re bringing through, so that’s been a big help.”

More telling, though, will be the efforts of Thaiday and co. in leading such a young group around the park. Step one is making sure those that haven’t been around so long realise the role they have to play in Brisbane’s season.

“It’s about having that bond,” Thaiday says. “You want that mateship thing off the field because you know that if you’re close off the field you’ll do whatever you can for each other on the field.

“But all the boys are different with the way they lead. I’m more casual – I don’t like to boss people around, although if it needs to be done, it needs to be done.

“I prefer to lead by example on the field. I’d rather my actions speak louder than my words.”

And Thaiday – with five Test matches and nine State of Origin games for Queensland under his belt – insists he is ready for the leadership role that awaits this season.

“I’ve been around for a few years now and have slowly slotted into my role,” he says.

“It’s only the last couple of years that I’ve taken more of a senior role and have become one of the bigger names in the forward pack.
“But for me this year it’s really just a continuation from last year.

“Hopefully I can set a good example for these young forwards we’ve got coming through.”

Sam Thaiday :
Dream Team Value: $248,400 | Position: Prop / Backrow
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