Broncos coach Kevin Walters is confident Brisbane can retain all their off-contract young guns as the Gold Coast’s poaching threat creates a fiery subtext to Friday’s derby showdown at Cbus Super Stadium.
Not content with luring David Fifita south in a multimillion-dollar deal, the Titans have earmarked Broncos trio Xavier Coates, Kotoni Staggs and young half Tom Dearden as part of their 2021 recruitment drive with the Gold Coast determined to build a premiership-worthy roster under coach Justin Holbrook.
Walters is facing the first major test of the juggling act required to be a first grade NRL coach. He must wade through the rubble of a Broncos salary cap mess whilst trying to ensure Brisbane no longer lose their best talents to rival clubs.
With Queensland Origin winger Coates, gun centre Staggs and emerging half Dearden all off contract this year the rookie NRL coach faces a battle retaining all three in the face of interest not just from the Titans but even further afield from the likes of the North Queensland Cowboys or Melbourne Storm.
On Thursday, the Broncos lost one promising youngster, with Reece Walsh signing a multi-year deal with the Warriors.
While flattered at the interest in his emerging youngsters, Walters remains confident the Broncos have the salary cap space to retain all three.
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“Yeah we certainly are (confident). We’ve got plans around maintaining all those players here in the Broncos jersey and at this stage nothing suggests that isn’t going to happen from my end,” Walters said.
“They’re all good players and it’s nice to know other clubs are interested in our players for a team that is meant to run last.
“Every club tries to pick your best players. We do the same to other clubs. It’s just nice knowing that other clubs actually want our players.”
Staggs is one of the hottest talents off contract. Canterbury and Gold Coast are reportedly at the top of the queue of clubs keen to lure him away from Red Hill while Maroons winger Coates (Storm) and out-of-favour half Dearden (Cowboys) have already met with rival coaches in a sign they too may be tempted to leave the Broncos.
Walters denied his club would have to lose one to keep others, believing they’re armed with enough salary cap space with 15 players off contract this season to ensure they retain the highest-priority targets and he believes the players would be encouraged by the change in culture since the new coach came on board.
“We’ve got enough space in our cap to make sure all those guys get re-signed. Not just next year but we want them to be long-term players for us,” he said.
“(Staggs) has been in our system for a long time now. Kotoni is a very loyal person, I get that but also I’m sure he can see the turnaround in a short time here at the club.
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“Everyone is happy. We haven’t had a win yet but the wheels are turning and that win I am sure it isn’t far away.”
Titans coach Holbrook wasn’t buying into the fevered speculation his club was specifically targeting the Broncos roster with their recruitment drive, but admitted his club had made signing Queensland players a priority under their system.
“I think they’re all great players, I’m happy for the club to be looking at all great players but that is all it is at the moment. You tend to know more than me so whenever you find out (who we are signing) can you let me know?,” Holbrook said.
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“It makes sense because those players are in this area. That is why we want them. They love being in Queensland and love living in a good place and playing their rugby league.”
Holbrook said there had been no movement on a new deal for halfback Ash Taylor, although he is expected to be facing a substantial cut to his $1 million salary to remain at the club as the Titans focus on bringing more talent into their roster.
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