$200 bet that produced a Bronco

Mitchell Garbutt shapes as a key ingredient in Wayne Bennett's formula to re-establish the Brisbane Broncos as an NRL powerhouse but if not for a $200 bet he'd probably never have left Newcastle.

Now 25 years of age, Garbutt has had almost as many NRL pre-seasons as he has NRL appearances but if not for an unusual challenge given to him by his West Newcastle coach Craig Miller in 2011 his talent may never have fully blossomed.

Newcastle born and bred, Garbutt caught the eye of Miller as he came through the junior grades at the Knights but after two years in the under-20s squad was told at the end of 2009 that he would not be progressing to the senior ranks.

He went back to his junior club and played in the Newcastle Rugby League competition with the Rosellas and when Miller was appointed as head coach prior to the 2011 season Garbutt had to face some home truths.

He was average as often as he was brilliant but when Miller laid down a bet designed to produce more consistent displays from his big front-rower it was an offer too good for Garbutt to refuse.

"I told him I'd give him $200 for every successful offload and he had to give me $100 for every offload that hit the deck," Miller told NRL.com. "As it turned out, I think I owed him money at the end of the year so it worked.

"He was reminding me every week who was in front but it cleaned his game up and made him go through the line rather than playing a little bit of the basketball-type stuff.

"He was great one week and a superstar in the local competition and then the next week it would look as though he didn't really care so I just tried to get some consistency in him and set himself some goals.

"He had a really loose offload in him and we made some little personal challenges with each other and it brought the best out of him."

After three years in the Melbourne Storm system – a stint that yielded just nine NRL games – Garbutt is now slogging it out in his first pre-season with the Broncos with a golden opportunity to cement a spot in the 17 ahead of Round 1.

As he struggled to work his way into Craig Bellamy's team in Melbourne, Garbutt was sent to Brisbane to play with the Easts Tigers on 45 occasions across three seasons, an experience he said made the decision to sign with the Broncos even easier.

"It did appeal a bit more coming here because I'd spent half my time in Brisbane and half my time in Melbourne so I got to experience the city and meet new people," Garbutt said.

"So far my experience with the Broncos has been really good, everyone has been really good to me and I'm excited about the upcoming season.

"Coming up there and playing for Brisbane Easts you get to experience Brisbane city itself. It's a great city and I enjoyed my time coming up and playing for Brisbane Easts.

"I never got upset when I came up here because they're a good bunch of people and you have to improve when you come up here because it is a really good club with a lot of good players who I think could play NRL and hopefully they get an opportunity."

A proponent of the adage that you get out what you put in, Garbutt's shot at a regular NRL gig has come even more tantalisingly close with the departures of Ben Hannant and David Hala as a result of the Bennett broom that has swept through Red Hill.

At 190 centimetres and 113 kilograms, Garbutt is an imposing presence with impressive footwork and the skills of someone half his size.

He scored a solo try over 50 metres at the Auckland Nines in February that left the capacity crowd gasping and in 2013 while playing for Easts he took the first hit-up from a kick-off, burst straight through the defence, ran down to halfway and then gave a perfectly-timed pass for Junior Sa'u to race the rest of the distance to score wide out.

They're rare glimpses of what makes Garbutt such a pivotal figure for the Broncos in 2015 and Miller believes he is now in a position to make good on the talent he saw emerge a decade ago.

"I always thought that he was a talented kid but it wasn't until I joined Wests in 2011 that I got to actually work with Mitch and have a one-on-one with him," Miller recalled.

"I just expressed to him that I always thought he had a hell of a lot of talent and I just spoke to him about what was going through his head, where did he want to go to, what went wrong and how he could go about fixing it and whether he wanted to fix it.

"I probably just showed a bit more confidence in him and saw an absolutely fantastic athlete, very skilful, powerful, had all the qualities of an NRL player but probably didn't have the right mental application. I challenged him and said, 'It's not all over, let's see where it goes.'

"He had to find what he really wanted to do and we just took little steps and probably did challenge him to be a better footballer. Three years on and he's not the same person, he's a real competitor now and a man."