Wayne Bennett says keeping together the most promising group of young forwards the Broncos have ever had will be a priority as he made it clear to winger Corey Oates that he had no chance of becoming a back-rower at Brisbane.
The Broncos coach was in fine spirits on Saturday as he covered a variety of topics, including Oates's press conference in Maroons camp, Sam Thaiday's unforgettable retirement announcement and more speculation about his coaching future at Brisbane.
The Brisbane coach's wry humour came to the fore when he was asked about Oates' strong pitch to be a second-rower on Wednesday.
"He might be pitching but I'm not listening," Bennett grinned.
"He begs me each week to play on the wing. He loves the wing. He knows he can't handle [second-row]. When he gets around you [media] guys he just goes all soft and watery and says he wants to play on the edge, but he is only kidding you."
Bennett was asked about Oates's statement that he would eventually wear Bennett down and swing him around.
"That won't happen. I'm not moving him to the back row," Bennett said.
"If he was an edge forward he wouldn't be playing State of Origin. That's a decision he has got to make.
"If he doesn't want to play Origin anymore or have an opportunity to play for Australia he can devote his life to being an edge forward."
Bennett said the Broncos would be doing their best to re-sign Oates in the coming months.
The coach was asked whether he could remember such a talented group of forwards all coming through at the same time, and his answer did not include Oates.
"Probably not. Not at the Broncos," he said.
"Payne Haas is not there at the moment with an injury. We've got a team for the present but we've also got a group of men here for the future and it is important for us to hold them with Sam [Thaiday] retiring. Matt Lodge is 23. Tevita [Pangai jnr] is 22 and Joe Ofahengaue is 22, so they will hopefully be part of the Broncos pack for a long time to come.
"Alex Glenn is at the other end of [his career] but Matt Gillett and Josh McGuire still have plenty of good football in them, and Macca [Andrew McCullough]. We are in a pretty good position."
The Broncos already have 18-year-old stars Haas and David Fifita wrapped up long term and are working on re-signing 20-year-old back-rower Jaydn Su'A.
"They are young. We are rebuilding a team here at the moment and they are part of that rebuilding process," Bennett said.
"We haven't had Matt Gillett all year. We've had a lot of injuries in our forwards so a couple of guys have got opportunities and done a really good job of that.
"They are learning how to play with intensity and with a minimisation of mistakes week after week. It is all part of the process for them."
Bennett was not aware of reports Ivan Cleary had been sounded out to coach the Brisbane Broncos in 2020 and had a chuckle as he said "not the media again."
The Brisbane coach continued his good spirits when discussing Thaiday's retirement confirmation, which was done in fine style at a Brisbane retirement village on Friday with the veteran forward dressed up as an old man.
"It was good entertainment. I loved it," Bennett grinned.
"We all love Sam and he's playing real good football. He's in a good place, and yesterday put him in a better place I hope.
"It was a nice day. I was glad they weren't trying to keep me in there. I was pleased to get out."
On a more serious note, Bennett said debutant hooker Jake Turpin had earned his call-up to replace Andrew McCullough against the Gold Coast Titans on Sunday and was a strong defender, tough and a good decision-maker.
A former Ipswich Brothers junior, Turpin was contracted to the Melbourne Storm last year before joining Brisbane where he has impressed while playing for the Redcliffe Dolphins in the Intrust Super Cup.
Turpin will likely share the dummy-half role with Alex Glenn.
Rising star Fifita has been called into the 17 for his second NRL game where he will provide punch in the forwards, with Tom Opacic dropping out of the side.
Bennett said Fifita, who play 47 minutes in the win over Canberra, had impressed in his debut match.
"For an 18-year-old I thought he went really good. He's confident, and confident around the players, and that's all you need from them," he said.
"He has plenty of ability. He's got an opportunity a little earlier than we thought he would but it is there for him and he's grabbed it."
Match: Titans v Broncos
Round 17 -
Venue: Cbus Super Stadium
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