McCullough injury blow to Broncos
The Brisbane Broncos suffered a major injury blow in Friday night's comprehensive 30-8 win over the South Sydney Rabbitohs at Suncorp Stadium.
Experienced hooker Andrew McCullough will undergo scans after going down in the 24th minute with a suspected calf injury when his leg hyperextended in an awkward tackle by 120kg Souths forward Tom Burgess.
McCullough did not return to the field and it meant livewire bench utility Kodi Nikorima played 56 minutes – well above his season average of 29.
Nikorima is now set to have an extended run in the starting side, with the 22-year-old impressing in his performance that included a brilliant solo try from the back of the Broncos' scrum.
Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett told NRL.com that he is confident Nikorima can fill the huge void left by McCullough's absence.
"It looks like McCullough's injured his calf. He has no medial or cruciate ligament damage," Bennett said.
"I expected Kodi to cope with the extra workload. He's been playing 25-30 minutes for us each week. He trains like everybody else so it wasn't an issue for us.
"The game had plenty of breaks in it so he had plenty of opportunities to have a rest. It wasn't up and down the field type stuff.
"It was a tough sort of game. It wasn't all about sweeping attack and defence, it was just a tough game of footy.
"We have to have confidence in him but there are other options at the club so I'll look at those as well."
The Broncos will miss McCullough's impact in defence dearly; with the 26-year-old consistently topping Brisbane's tackle count each week.
Even after playing just 24 minutes last night, McCullough remains second in Brisbane's tackle count this season, with 258 made at an average of 32 per game, only bettered by second-row forward Matt Gillett.
McCullough is Brisbane's most reliable defender, missing just seven tackles in eight games of the 2016 NRL season.
This is where Nikorima may struggle to have the same impact as McCullough - for all the speed, agility and X-Factor that Nikorima brings, he does not carry the same influence in Brisbane's defence.
Broncos captain Corey Parker says McCullough's presence in the middle of the field has been vital so far this season.
"He's so important. He doesn't get the wraps he deserves. He's five foot high and he brings those big guys down week in, week out," Parker said.
"They'll assess him and the doctors will work out what's best for him moving forward. Kodi did a fine job for us when he came on."
Parker taking the field last night meant that the 33-year-old lock forward broke Nathan Hindmarsh's record of most appearances by a forward in the NRL.
He capped the performance off with a try and the Brisbane veteran could not take the smile off his face.
"It's been a while between drinks. It was just nice to get across the line and do the job for the team. I don't think I got one last year so it's a monkey off the back," Parker said.