Brisbane Broncos legend and current board member Darren Lockyer admits the twin departures of Ben Hunt and Ash Taylor within two years of each other have rocked the club's halves succession planning.
But with criticism of play-making pair Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima easing somewhat after a 24-20 upset of Telstra Premiership favourites North Queensland, Lockyer backed the current scrum base duo to keep Brisbane in title contention, provided they stick to their gun running games.
Much has been made of the healthy halves contingent across the NRL that has either once featured in the Broncos development systems, or been passed over by the club's scouts.
Hunt, who ran rings around Milford and Nikorima in round one, was lured to St George Illawarra on a six-year deal that is understood to have been almost $2 million larger than the shorter-term offer put to him by Brisbane last season.
Taylor's move to the Gold Coast, rubber-stamped by Wayne Bennett in late 2015 so the promising No.7 could get the first grade crack he deserved, has also backfired on his junior club given his rapid progress at the Titans and retention until the end of 2021.
Lockyer conceded the Broncos had been burned at times in regards to the club's retention, but wryly noted much of the commentary had already shifted after a quality 80-minute performance against the Cowboys.
"It's hard to keep them all," Lockyer told NRL.com at the NRL's launch of the new Hall of Fame on Monday.
"If we had all those players in the system, people are asking straight away 'how are they under the cap?'
"Our strategy was always Ben Hunt, Anthony Milford, Andrew McCullough and Darius (Boyd) at fullback. That was our spine and we were going to hold onto them as long as we could, because we know stability in those positions is key.
"But we lost Ben Hunt and just prior to losing Ben - and we didn't know he was going - we let Ash Taylor go to the Titans and we did that because he was ready to play first grade and he deserved that opportunity.
''So it's not like we haven't been able to identify this talent, it's just hard in that you can't keep them all.
"We're in this position now. But it's funny; one week you can have a poor performance and everyone's analysing it and picking it pieces. And then you have one big win and everything's fine again."
That big win saw Milford in particularly come out swinging with a rebooted running game, which saw him tally 15 carries for an impressive 119 metres opposite Johnathan Thurston.
The 23-year-old's kicking game remains a work in progress, as does the game management ability of he and Nikorima since Hunt's departure.
But pointing to the club's 10-2 record with the pair in the halves across 2017, which pushed Hunt out of position to hooker, Lockyer is confident the Milford-Nikorima combination will still bear fruit if they can make the most of their impressive talents with ball in hand.
"They can keep developing that game management but to play to their strengths, I just think what they learned the other night is that they need to get forward and hold onto the football," Lockyer said.
"Then let their running game take over a bit because that is and will be their strength.
"I did see some good signs there from Milford the other night; a few kicks early in the sets to get repeat sets and that's part of his development, but their strength is their running games.
"You can't take that away from either player there."
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