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Young buck Staggs back to boost Broncos as another halves shuffle looms

Big name Broncos Corey Oates and Brodie Croft are in line for NRL revivals as Kotoni Staggs prepares for his first game in nine months in a much-needed boost for Kevin Walters' struggling side.

Brisbane are scheduled to host Cronulla on Sunday after a 17-day "season reset" which has included key off-field changes at the flagship club, with premiership-winner Ben Ikin taking charge as head of football and renowned trainer Alex Corvo also now involved with the NRL set-up.

Having pledged on Monday to high-price forwards Matt Lodge and Tevita Pangai jnr that they "won't be going anywhere" before the end of this season, Walters is also bidding to create stability on the paddock too with the return of experienced campaigners against the Sharks.

Staggs headlines the inclusions in his return from an ACL rupture and NRL-imposed suspension for off-field indiscretions, offsetting the loss of lock John Asiata to season-ending neck surgery.

But it is Oates's recall to the left wing at Monday's training session, and Croft's own return to the halves alongside Tyson Gamble that caught the eye after a last-start 46-0 drubbing from South Sydney that put Walters's coaching methods and relationships at Red Hill under the microscope.

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Croft and off-contract marquee man Anthony Milford are available once more having recovered from four-week layoffs due to knee operations.

Albert Kelly's hamstring issue is likely to sideline him for another two weeks.

With Milford training with the reserves on Monday while Croft was running alongside Gamble at the expense of veteran Karmichael Hunt, yet another shake-up at the scrumbase looms for Brisbane.

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"There's lots of different ingredients in that, some form as well," Walters said of his playmaking choices.

"But we've got some good options back there now with Milf and Crofty certainly available. They weren't available for the last three or four weeks.

"Again, the more depth we can have in those key positions, the better we'll be. It's up to those guys now to really work hard and fight to get that position."

Queensland Origin winger Xavier Coates will not return to Red Hill for another 48 hours per Project Apollo guidelines, which require Origin players to isolate until undergoing final COVID-19 tests.

While Jamayne Isaako trained on the right wing in Coates's absence on Monday, Oates is expected to remain on the left flank for the Sharks clash with Isaako making way for Coates.

Oates's relationship with Walters has been queried given the ex-Origin flyer's absence from first grade since round 10, with the Broncos coach forced to deny a rift between them.

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Earning around $500,000 a season, Oates ranks as one of the best-paid wingers in the NRL and is understood to have had his attitude questioned at times as Brisbane's season circles the drain.

Oates has a contract option to test the market for 2022 but at this stage he remains committed to seeing out the final 18 months of his Broncos deal.

He has responded to his NRL snubbing in recent weeks with strong performances for feeder side Souths Logan, and appears to have forced his way back into the top side once again.

"I just want Corey to be Corey Oates - the player that we know he can be," Walters responded when asked what the veteran winger had to prove.

"Very strong out of yardage, good carries, nice and safe with his errors and scoring tries, that's what he does.

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"He's a big unit and he just needs to add to our team.

"He's a good player, a very good player and at his best he's one of the best wingers in the game. I look forward to giving him an opportunity."

Asiata has undergone neck surgery after he was taken from Suncorp Stadium on a medicab against the Rabbitohs.

According to interim Broncos head of performance Dave Ballard, a likely season-ending operation was decided upon as "the best option to ensure the longevity of John’s career".

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"He will undergo a couple of months of rehab before we look at a return to the field," Ballard said.

Staggs meanwhile is expected to play out the rest of 2021 in the centres before targeting a potential shift to five-eighth in the pre-season.

The 2020 Dally M centre of the year has not played since rupturing his ACL in September, traversing several off-field incidents and re-signing on a rich four-year Broncos deal en route to his playing return.

"Already we've seen the influence that he can have over the side just here at training," Walters said.

"We just want him to slot back into his centre position. I'm sure he'll have a few nerves having not played for some time.

"We just want Kotoni to go out and make his tackles and run hard - that's what the game is."

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National Rugby League respects and honours the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.

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