Young gun Opacic earns Bennett's praise
Out of all of the surprises that have come Tom Opacic's way this season, perhaps what shocked him the most was hearing praise from coach Wayne Bennett.
Bennett described the Brisbane centre as "[his] type of player" because of his steadiness and the way he always "gets the job done".
These comments came after another solid performance from Opacic against the Bulldogs, with the 21-year-old scoring a try and putting in a faultless 80-minute effort in defence.
In a year in which the Redcliffe Dolphin didn't even expect to play NRL, Opacic told NRL.com that he is humbled to receive praise from one of the greatest coaches in the history of the game.
"That's a massive thing for Wayne to say about me. I'm a bit shocked," Opacic said.
"I just want to be a solid player, but hopefully I can progress and become a flashy player as I develop."
Opacic has continued to improve since making his debut in Round 16 this year, with the Brisbane young gun now a regular in the Broncos' starting side.
But Opacic's NRL career hasn't been all plain sailing, injuring his foot on debut after just 23 minutes of football and subsequently missing the next three weeks.
Originally fearful he would be out for up to six weeks, Opacic returned ahead of schedule in Round 20 to face Penrith, with Bennett selecting him as soon as he was deemed fit.
It was a huge vote of confidence for Opacic who now believes he belongs at NRL level.
"I was really disappointed after my debut," he said.
"You see blokes make their debut and it ends up being a dream debut, and that's what I was hoping for. But that can't happen to everyone and that's football.
"I was just glad I could come back into the side and play another game this year. That's turned into six games now so I'm over the moon.
"Having a taste of the NRL made me want to work harder than ever when I got injured. I wanted to get back into the team and it's where I want to stay.
"Keeping my spot is up to my performances so hopefully I can keep playing at a standard that sees me selected.
"I still have things to work on. If I can keep working on them then maybe there will be a spot in the team for me next year as well."
Opacic's spot in the side originally opened up when England international Jack Reed succumbed to a shoulder injury earlier in the year.
Reed is out indefinitely, but to his credit he has used his time off to help Opacic develop himself as Brisbane's new left centre.
"Reed's been helping me out heaps. I'm playing in a position that he's played in for his whole career," Opacic told NRL.com
"He's been doing work with me at training and talking to me before each game. It's been a great aspect of my development.
"I didn't ask him, he just came over and started giving me a hand. It makes my job easier and it just shows that he's all about the team."
Working as a team is something the Broncos are built on, and Opacic has made it his mission to work with playmaker Anthony Milford in a bid to build a new combination that opposition sides have never seen before.
Milford said playing with Opacic on Brisbane's left edge has made life easier for him because of how well Opacic communicates on the field.
"He's really impressed me since he's come back into the side. He's really similar to Jack where he's really good with his talk," Milford said.
"The whole game he's talking to me non-stop, wanting the ball as well so he's showing good signs of being a future NRL player as well."
Opacic's communication is something that has even caught the eye of teammate Jordan Kahu – an impressive feat considering Kahu plays on the opposite side of the field.
Kahu believes that Opacic's inclusion has made Milford a better player, especially when it comes to the five-eighth's ability in defence.
"How they defend together shows how well they are going," Kahu said.
"Most teams seem to come and attack our left side a fair bit, but that seems to have changed a bit over the last couple of weeks seeing as Tom and Milf have got that connection now and have played a few games together."
Friday night's clash with the Melbourne Storm will mark match number seven that Opacic and Milford have played together.
They will have to be at their best if they are to help the Broncos knock off the premiership favourites, with a win needed for Brisbane to keep their top four hopes alive.