Young Broncos vie for Hodges' spot
Brisbane's brigade of young and talented outside backs will receive their first audition in the race for positions next season following Monday's announcement that Justin Hodges will retire at the end of 2015.
The veteran centre will miss Friday clash against the Dragons with the Broncos accepting a one-match ban offered to Hodges after he was charged with a grade-one careless high tackle for contact on Canterbury's Brett Morris.
Talented 24-year-olds Jordan Kahu and Dale Copley are battling for a place in Brisbane's line-up next season as Wayne Bennett looks at his options in the right centre position set to be vacated by Hodges.
One of the reasons behind Hodges' announcement was to allow the club to free up enough space in the salary cap to allow for the likes of Kahu and Copley to remain at the club beyond the length of their current contracts – which expire in 2015 and 2016 respectively.
"We've got so many wonderful players here and I don't want to stand in the way of their dreams," Hodges said on Monday.
"I've had a pretty good run and there are so many wonderful players here with Jordy Kahu and Dale Copley and all those guys, and I don't want to stand in the way of them and of the club from bringing those young guys up as well."
Another youngster looking to cement his place as a Broncos player is winger Lachlan Maranta and the 23-year-old believes the Broncos will miss Hodges' wealth of experience next season.
"He is a massive loss to an organisation like this because he's been here for so long. It'll be sad not to have him here next year but we're more focussed on playing our game now," Maranta said.
"In the team meeting [on Monday] morning he told us that there was going to be a press conference but we'd already read about it in the papers.
"It's all about the team and he's obviously going to have his moments at the end but we are focusing on ourselves and that's what we've been doing well this year."
Maranta has been one of Brisbane's most consistent performers this season with 14 tries from 18 games and has a chance to reunite with left centre Jack Reed after starting last Friday's 18-16 loss against the Bulldogs from the bench.
Corey Oates scored two tries in Maranta's place, however the bulky back-rower will miss Friday's match at Suncorp Stadium due to knee soreness.
"I'll be back on the left side with Jack which is good. We've got a pretty good rapport out there at the moment so I'm looking forward to doing my job," Maranta said.
Maranta's 14 tries this season places him within striking distance of the NRL's leading try scorer, Parramatta's Semi Radradra, who has 18 four-pointers with Canterbury's Curtis Rona second best with 17 tries.
A return of 10 tries in his past eight games, including a hat-trick against the Wests Tigers in Round 19, has propelled the son of former Bronco Brett Plowman into second place on Brisbane's points-scoring list this season behind Corey Parker.
However, season 2015 has been more about establishing himself in Brisbane's backline rather than chasing any personal accolades.
"I haven't really thought about [being top try-scorer] but it would be a nice thing to reflect on at the end of the year but at the moment I'm just taking it one game at a time," he said.
"I've had some pretty inconsistent seasons by my standards over the past couple of years and I guess this year I've really enjoyed my football which has helped me get to where I need to go."
Maranta said his breakthrough season was the result of a conversation with Bennett during Brisbane's pre-season trip to England where they took on Wigan in the World Club Series.
The Wests Panthers junior managed to catch Bennett's eye at DW Stadium with one try and a gain of 115 metres from 15 carries, while opposite winger Daniel Vidot endured a difficult night with his late defensive error forcing the game into extra time.
"I spoke to him after the game in England to see where I stood," he said.
"Obviously with Wayne being the man he is, he was pretty up-front and honest and I don't know whether he thought I'd be able to take that criticism on board but it's helped me play good football.
"I got a kick in the arse and I've rolled with it since."