Opacic shoulders load at centre for Broncos
If you are seeking a reason why Wayne Bennett has named an unchanged backline this week look no further than centre Tom Opacic.
With Kodi Nikorima returning from injury on the bench, the Brisbane Broncos coach has elected to stick with the halves pairing of Jack Bird and Anthony Milford against the Melbourne Storm and leave Opacic at left centre where he had an outstanding match in the 27-18 win over the New Zealand Warriors.
Opacic had 15 runs for 139m, including 55 post-contact metres, and made 16 tackles with none missed against the robust and in-form Warriors.
It was a massive confidence boost for the 23-year-old after two shoulder reconstructions and ankle injuries saw him not play any NRL in 2017.
Bennett told Opacic last year that he would be in contention for selection again if he worked on the things he was good at.
He applied that to all areas of his preparation.
"I am stronger in the gym now than I was before my shoulder operations, about five to 10 kilos better than what I was before surgery and working on all the little muscles around the shoulder and chest area so I don't have those issues again," Opacic told NRL.com.
"On the weekend when the Warriors front-rowers were running at me and Alex Glenn off the tap full bore I had no hesitation in putting my body in there and there were no dramas.
"I am feeling good now and I am ready to rip in."
Opacic said his biggest challenge in rugby league came after making his NRL debut in 2016 where he played nine games and cemented his spot at the back end of the year.
"The next year I didn’t play any first-grade games and missed half of the year in [Intrust Super] Cup as well," he said.
"I wasn't playing the best footy [for Redcliffe] to be honest so it was good to get last year over with and get fit and strong in the pre-season.
"The start of this year felt like my debut year all over again.
"I came off the bench against the Cowboys when Jordan Kahu went off with a broken jaw and played 60 minutes and that was fast and quick and a good way to get back into it."
If Opacic can keep firing it makes Bennett's decision to stick with the Bird and Milford combination a lot more straightforward.
"Jack just brought something a little bit different the other day in Auckland," Bennett said of his move from left centre to five-eighth.
"We didn’t plan for that to happen, but Kodi was injured.
"I just think it is worthwhile persevering with at the moment. It was tough on Kodi. He didn’t deserve to not be in the team but he is still in the 17.
"He’s been really positive and he knows he is valued and there will be opportunities for him."
Bennett had assured Nikorima he would be his half this year but the injury and team dynamics forced the shift in direction.
"In team selection nothing is permanent and nothing is temporary," Bennett said.
"We’re at that stage where we’ve made another decision and we’ll see how it works."