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Broncos eye market, Staggs bid after McCullough departure

Brisbane are expected to both hit the player market and ramp up their retention bid for Kotoni Staggs with the salary cap space freed up by Andrew McCullough's mooted Dragons move.

McCulllough was given time off from training by coach Kevin Walters on Thursday to finalise his future, with a three-year offer from St George Illawarra set to see him released from Red Hill.

The veteran hooker's exit will free more than $300,000 in the Broncos 2021 salary cap given they have already paid three months of McCullough's wage – estimated at roughly $600,000 – since November.

Walters' son Billy Walters has been flagged as a recruitment target by the Broncos, though his current club Wests Tigers have so far resisted approaches for an early release.

A move north for Walters jnr would not break the Broncos bank with 28 of the club's top 30 roster spots filled.

Keeping Staggs at the club beyond 2021 however looms as the tougher task given interest from several rival clubs, with Walters stressing on multiple occasions that the injured 22-year-old ranks as a retention priority.

Everybody’s heading to Magic Round

Staggs is in no rush to sort his future given his ACL recovery will keep him sidelined until mid-season.

But once both McCullough's future and Brisbane's cap are confirmed, Walters said "a clear direction with our club" will help determine where they go on both the recruitment and retention fronts.

"There are options available if Andrew does decide to move on," Walters said of going to market, without naming names.

"We'll look at that if and when we have to do that.

"Outside of Andrew we've got three or four hookers still here that have been training with us for the last seven or eight weeks.

"All rosters are moving all the time, they're changing and ours is no different. I'd expect there to be even more changes throughout the season."

Former Kiwis hooker Danny Levi has joined Intrust team Norths Devils for this year and has been identified as a potential option, while another Kiwi rake in Issac Luke – a mid-season signing last year – is still around the club on a train-and-trial basis.

Jake Turpin and Cory Paix are the hooking options in Brisbane's current squad outside of McCullough.

Walters said the club does not want to lose McCullough given the leadership and experience he offers to a youthful side, but understands the job security presented by the Dragons offer.

"Andrew as everyone knows has had an offer from a rival club so we've decided to let him sort himself out," Walters said.

"We want a clear direction with our club and where we're heading in the next few weeks and into round one so we've given Andrew a couple of days off to sort himself out and see where he wants to play for 2021 and beyond.

NRL 2021 - 30 days to go

"Of course we do [want him], he's been a great player for the Broncos. Very experienced player. That's not the question mark. We want him to stay that's for sure.

"We've offered him for this year, we want to see him come back and play and play the way Andrew McCullough can and I'm sure his future will be bright when he can do that.

"We like to work with our players, we like to work and be flexible with our players. The decision hasn't been finalised yet with the rival club so we'll just see what transpires in the next 24 hours."

Another player on a train-and-trial at the club is former Sharks, Titans, Hull KR and Hull FC half Albert Kelly.

Kelly joined the club before Christmas but was sent away to work on his fitness and get his hamstrings right and has since returned to provide valuable training depth while Anthony Milford is sidelined with a broken hand.

All rosters are moving all the time, they're changing and ours is no different

Brisbane coach Kevin Walters

"Albert's got great experience; with the loss of Anthony Milford with his hand we just needed another half in at training and he's been very impressive," Walters said.

"He's quite an experienced player. He had a lovely career over at the Titans then over in England. He's welcome back and he's lost a bit of weight as well which is great, he's in good nick.

"He had a hamstring problem so we felt it was best he went away and fixed that and he did that over the Christmas period and now he's back and he's training really well which is great to see."

Walters said a decision on the captaincy would be made closer to the season proper, with last year's club captain Alex Glenn firming for the job again.

"We'll make that decision sort of two weeks out from round one but Alex Glenn did a great job last year, he's one of our most experienced players and he understands what being a Bronco is about and wearing that jersey and leading that team," Walters said.

"We want everyone who pulls that jersey on to show the qualities a real Broncos player shows."

Some of the Broncos' NRL roster will feature in next week's trial against Wynnum Seagulls on February 19.

Per agreement with the RLPA, only players who played 12 or fewer NRL games in 2020 can feature in the opening week of trials but Matt Lodge and Tevita Pangai jnr would be among them, Walters said.

Broncos in 2021

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