Bronco Oates impressing old heads
Experienced campaigner Todd Lowrie likes what he sees in Broncos team-mate Corey Oates, with the youngster beginning to shine after a disrupted start to the season.
Oates will start from the bench again for the Broncos on Monday night when they face the Raiders seeking a fourth win in succession, his 10th game of the season after undergoing off-season shoulder and suffering a knee injury during the pre-season.
For those outside the Broncos' Red Hill bubble, Oates burst onto the NRL scene at the back-end of last season, seemingly plucked from obscurity by coach Anthony Griffin as the Broncos looked to revive a 2013 season that would eventually flat line.
Oates, a former under-20s star, faced a daunting debut when he took the field against the Storm at AAMI Park in Round 17. The hulking back-rower was thrust into action just prior to the half-hour mark due to a shoulder injury sustained by Jack Reed.
Country boy Oates was only 18 at the time, but became a rare shining light for the Broncos in what was otherwise a dim season for the glamour club, who missed the finals for only the second time in 22 years.
Prior to his debut against the Storm, the Broncos had only won six of 15 games and although the first two NRL games of Oates' career were defeats, the Baralaba Panthers junior helped spark a mini revival for Brisbane's finals ambitions as they won four of the next seven matches, with one draw.
Positioned on the left wing for all bar one of his nine NRL games, Oates crossed for eight tries and showed the type of finishing you'd expect from a seasoned first-grader.
Upon turning 19 in October of last year and receiving the 2013 award for Broncos Rookie of the Year, Oates battled a string of niggling injuries which included shoulder and wrist surgery parlayed into a knee injury suffered in pre-season that halted his progress.
The wash-up from his stints on the operating table meant that he was underdone heading into his NRL return. Oates came off the bench in Brisbane's heartbreaking 30-26 loss to the Roosters in Round 3 and has been impressing new teammate Todd Lowrie since his return to the field in late March.
"On the field he's been pretty good for us," Lowrie said.
"From what I understand he's had a pretty disrupted path to first grade. He's had a fair few injuries which have limited a lot of his training.
"I think he is a guy that over the [future] years when he gets a few more pre-seasons under his belt and starts to learn what first grade is about then he'll become a very good player."
Lowrie, 30, has seen many boom youngsters soar through the ranks over his 12-season, 194-game first grade career and rates Oates, who stands at 192 centimetres and weighs 106 kilograms, as a deadly weapon for the Broncos to have around the edges of the field.
"He's a big unit and he runs pretty hard and defends well. He's been [playing] on the fringes for us and playing really well," he said.
"His size and how hard he runs his footy [are his strengths]. His leg speed into the line is very good for us on the edge – he hits those holes very hard and because he's a big unit he takes some stopping.
"He also pretty good in defence too – for a tall fellow he can get pretty low to the ground and put some shots on as well."
After scoring a double for the 'baby Broncos' in their nail-biting 16-14 victory of the Wests Tigers in Round 11, Oates saw an increase in his regular game time against the Sea Eagles last Sunday as he covered for Origin star Matt Gillett and the injury return of Sam Thaiday.
Oates played 48 minutes against the Tigers and 35 minutes in the Manly clash, which was up from the usual average of 15 minutes he was receiving in his first four matches of the season while he was being eased back into first grade.
Meanwhile the laid-back Lowrie has also seen an increase in playing time, averaging 21 minutes at the completion of Round 6; the Scone Thoroughbreds' junior has seen his playing time double in recent weeks due to the Origin period.
Lowrie played 66 minutes in his preferred position at lock for the Tigers clash and although he turns 31 next month, he doesn't fear that his playing minutes will be allocated to Oates who his 11 years his junior.
"Corey's a very different player to me so the two of us aren't directly competing for minutes," he said.
"That [kind of] thing doesn’t bother me to be honest. I've been around long enough to know that things like that happen and I've done that myself when I first came in [to first grade]."