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Broncos cop seven-figure cap hit as veteran targets take shape

Brisbane will pay more than $1 million for Matt Lodge and Tevita Pangai jnr to play elsewhere over coming seasons but insist the move leaves their salary cap in better shape as they target an experienced, cut-price replacement up front.

Pangai jnr's release to link with Canterbury, via a short-term stint at Penrith, is understood to have the Broncos contributing around $250,000 to his salary next season given his 2022 contract at Red Hill was set for a six-figure bump-up.

Lodge's shift to the Warriors three weeks ago will see Brisbane also contribute the best part of $1 million over the next few years to his wage with the Kiwi club, having already paid freight on Andrew McCullough and Jack Bird to move to St George Illawarra this season.

Coach Kevin Walters acknowledged on Friday that Pangai's exit was green lit to "get our roster in order, we were top-heavy with middles so we had to move a couple of players on to free-up space for other positions in our roster".

Brisbane are now hunting experienced, cheaper options in the middle with football manager Ben Ikin confirming Canberra veteran Ryan James 'ticks a lot of boxes', while fellow Raider Dunamis Lui also shapes as another potential target.

Panthers v Broncos - Round 19 understands that Canberra would consider letting James out of his 2022 contract given their own glut of middle forwards if he was able to further his career with a longer deal at Red Hill.

Lui meanwhile remains in the Raiders plans with a one-year deal in the works for the Queensland Origin prop, but the club can understand the appeal of a potential return to his hometown after more than a decade of NRL.

The Broncos have registered early interest in James but are well aware of the shifting sands in a volatile player market.

Ikin told that decisions to pay a seven-figure sum for Pangai and Lodge to play elsewhere – with Lodge's payout able to be spread over multiple seasons – were not ideal, but necessary to fast-track the Red Hill rebuild.

"There's been examples here in the past where players playing at other clubs still have had payouts from the Broncos, everybody knows that is the case for us heading into next year," Ikin said.

"But that's just something you need to manage and to be fair, if you ring around you'll find it's not that uncommon across the game.

"Even after some of the churn we've had in the roster and the press around some of the players that have moved on - Lodge, Pangai, [Anthony] Milford - we're also bringing in Adam Reynolds and Kurt Capewell.

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"So we've got some money left there [for 2022] but we'll be very patient with it."

The Broncos will also add Brenko Lee (Storm), Corey Jensen (Cowboys) and Billy Walters (Tigers) to their roster next season as extension talks with Tesi Niu and Albert Kelly continue.

Pangai's mid-season exit opens up a top 30 roster spot for this season which Ikin believes will be filled from Brisbane's current stocks rather than the market.

Walters' Friday press conference illustrated just how rapidly things can shift as he outlined why Queensland Origin centre Dane Gagai was an attractive recruit.

The Broncos coach was at the time unaware Gagai had only just told his Rabbitohs teammates he would be taking up a three-year deal with Newcastle next season.

Brisbane's hierarchy are well aware of the experience void in their ranks as they hunt for roster additions.

The likes of James, Lui and off-contract Sharks prop Aaron Woods are among the front-rowers believed to be sitting within Brisbane's price range as the club works through a recruitment hit list.

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"We've got our list of different players that are off-contract and Ryan ticks a lot of boxes," Ikin said.

"He'll remain on the list, he hasn't been struck off. And then if we think he'd be a valuable addition based on other things that happen in the coming weeks then we start the conversation but that's all it is at the moment.

"We're interested in seasoned players. We're trying to get the right amount of experience around some of these great young players we've got.

"We're balancing what we think we need from outside and then what we've already got in our system.

"Particularly the young guys and making an educated guess on how quickly they're going to develop.

"When you strengthen the senior part of your squad, through players like Reynolds and Capewell, the environment those young guys are in can have them learning quicker and fast-tracking that process."

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