Walters: Broncos have time to recover
Losing Andrew McCullough during the finals series would have been fatal to their premiership aspirations but former Broncos assistant coach Kevin Walters believes Wayne Bennett's men have enough time to make up for his loss and form new combinations.
With confirmation on Sunday that McCullough had suffered both medial and anterior cruciate ligament tears in his left knee due to accidental impact from teammate Adam Blair, attention turned immediately as to who could possibly fill the void of a player who has played at least 20 games in the Brisbane No.9 jersey every year since 2009.
Bennett on Tuesday named McCullough's good friend Ben Hunt to assume the mantle for the Round 22 clash with the Titans and Kodi Nikorima to reform a halves pairing with Anthony Milford that represents the club's future playmaking nucleus.
On Monday back-rower Sam Thaiday spent time sharpening his passing skills should he also be required to fill in, but despite the disruption Walters is confident that five weeks is long enough to find the right formula to take into September.
"It's a big blow for them," said Maroons coach Walters, who brought McCullough into Queensland training camps in preparation for two of this year's Origin games.
"Obviously he's a good player for them, plays 80 minutes but I think they are a bit fortunate that they have got some capable players in their squad to fill the void and they have got some time before finals to sort out who that person is going to be.
"If this happened in the finals, you would have to say their season would probably be over but I think that they have got enough time up their sleeve the next few weeks to find a capable replacement."
One of the only two games in which Hunt has started at hooker saw the Broncos record a 28-6 win over this Saturday's opponents the Titans in 2010 but much of the early part of his career was spent coming off the bench and playing dummy half.
Like Walters, Gold Coast coach Neil Henry is adamant the Broncos have enough time to recalibrate their options around the hooking role and go into the finals with momentum, highlighting their strength in other key positions.
"Whoever goes there will do the job," said Henry. "I think they'll get by without McCullough but he certainly will be a loss to their squad.
"I think there's enough experience in the team that they'll keep it pretty simple. The fact that Milford has recovered from his shoulder injury and Darius Boyd's back there too they've got a very good squad.
"They'll be a force in the finals so it will be a good test for us against them and hopefully we can go one better than last time."
Although he endorsed Nikorima as the man to partner Milford in the halves given the pair orchestrated six wins from six games together this year when Hunt has been absent, Walters said that with Benji Marshall also at his disposal he wouldn't be surprised to see Bennett make some late changes.
"I probably would give Nikorima the opportunity," said Walters. "He’s the long-term [halfback] for the club and Benji is obviously a capable player as well so again Wayne has got some good options there. Either way I don’t think you could go too wrong.
"I wouldn't be surprised if Kodi Nikorima started at nine and they kept Ben Hunt and Milford together. They have got some good options there which is the key for Brisbane.
"They have got some good options and some good experience with Benji there to call on as well so Wayne will be no doubt doing his best to keep that as quiet as he can."