It was evident in the pre-season. The gentle jibes from a master coach to a laconic youngster from Central Queensland with a world of potential.
'Is Oatesy going to be doing any weights today?' Wayne Bennett would quip in the general direction of giant 20-year-old Corey Oates over summer.
To an outsider it was difficult to tell whether he was mucking around or having a dig at his work ethic but for Corey Oates... well, he couldn't tell the difference either.
And more to the point, after 26 rounds under his tutelage he still doesn't know when Bennett is joking or pushing his buttons so that he will perform at his very best.
When media-types gush over the 192-centimetre, 107-kilogram frame that Oates brings to either the wing or the back row and which delivered one of the tries of the season a fortnight ago against South Sydney, Bennett instead is intent on ensuring his brain is engaged when he takes the field.
He's a young man who has taken his rise in the NRL ranks in his giant stride but told NRL.com that the arrival of Bennett in the pre-season put him on edge.
"I was scared. I was scared of him," Oates said.
"I don't think he was joking, he looked pretty serious with the look he had on his face but you never know with him. He has a pretty dry face old Wayne.
"You just can't read him sometimes. Unless he's got a bit of a giggle on him, you never know."
Rotated between the wing and a spot on the Broncos' bench throughout his 22 games this season, Oates is one of a host of Brisbane players benefiting from the Bennett "tough love" approach and says behind the tough exterior is a man intent on uniting a group of individuals into a formidable unit.
"He's just trying to get the best out of me," said the Baralaba Panthers junior. "There have been a few games where he's noticed that I've just been going through the motions and just trying to get through a game and he obviously sees a lot more in me and I'd like to think I do still have a lot more in me.
"Each week you don't want to be letting your teammates down, you don't want to be the only one doing that.
"I think there were a couple of games where I was that person and it's a pretty bad feeling and he points it out so you know you don't want to do it again.
"He just wants you to be playing good and playing for the team and not anyone else thinking you're going to let them down the next week."
It's been five years since the Broncos spotted Oates playing fullback in a state under-15s carnival in Mackay and signed the talented teenager who also fancied himself as a cricketer (he once scored 125 off 62 balls.)
He would regularly travel down from famed rugby league school St Brendan's at Yeppoon to attend training camps in Brisbane but said it wasn't until he left home to pursue his dream in the big smoke that the fear kicked in.
"You never think that the team you grew up supporting would want you to be signed up with them," Oates said of signing his first contract with the Broncos.
"After school I was very scared. It was me, Brandon Lee and Ajuma Adams so three boys in the house, none of them could really cook but the club helped us out a lot, let us come down for dinner every night.
"The first year leaving home you're pretty scared but it was pretty enjoyable. I loved it but that first pre-season camp was the scariest thing I've ever done.
"There have been plenty of [tough times] but you love playing the game so you don't want to drop out just from a bit of training.
"My first two years were tough, going from the first 20s pre-season to the first grade one was probably the toughest thing I've ever done but you look back and think, Why was I thinking that at the time?"