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Croft's expected exit has Broncos eyeing reinforcements

Brisbane's Brodie Croft has begun negotiations around an early exit from Red Hill as the Broncos continue freeing up salary space for another tilt at the 2022 player market. understands Croft has received several offers from the Super League as the Broncos confirmed he has been given permission to explore his options for 2022.

Next season is the last in Croft's three-year Brisbane deal worth around $450,000, with suitors from the NRL and UK expected to push the Broncos to contribute to his salary next season.

"We are open to Brodie and his agent exploring opportunities beyond the Broncos next year," football manager Ben Ikin confirmed on Wednesday.

Moving Croft on would give Brisbane added clout in their bid for further reinforcements, with coach Kevin Walters indicating another playmaking option would be in line to replace the former Storm half.

An experienced middle forward remains the Broncos signing priority after missing out on Newcastle-bound veteran Dane Gagai, with the likes of Ryan James, Dunamis Lui and Aaron Woods among the off-contract big men that fit Brisbane's bill.

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"I haven't thought about 2022 with cap space to be honest," Walters said ahead of the Knights clash.

"Obviously if Brodie Croft did leave we'd have to replace him with someone similar.

"We've got Billy Walters coming into the squad next year who plays in that position but I feel that's an area we can strengthen up a bit as well."

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Salford is understood to be the leading Super League contender for Croft's services at this stage.

The 24-year-old's preference is to remain in the NRL, or sign a shorter-term Super League deal with an eye to returning to Australia after a season abroad.

Croft will start in the No.7 for the Broncos against Newcastle on Thursday night with veteran Albert Kelly elevated to the 17 at the expense of TC Robati to provide dummy-half back-up.

With Kelly negotiating a one-year extension, South Sydney star Adam Reynolds and Wests Tigers Billy Walters both arriving next season alongside five-eighth options Tyson Gamble and Kotoni Staggs, Croft's slip down the playmaking pecking order has prompted his management to look at other options.

The Broncos have indicated they are happy to honour Croft's 2022 contract.

Granting Croft permission to move on in 2022 continues a rapid re-shaping of Brisbane's roster, with Xavier Coates (Melbourne) and Anthony Milford (South Sydney) joining mid-season departees Tevita Pangai jnr and Matt Lodge.

Coates and Milford were left out of the 17 to face Newcastle, fuelling the view that Brisbane are looking to next season with team selections.

The repeated snubbing of Coates over the past month – he has not played since an Origin III outing at the end of June – has raised eyebrows and an early release approach from the Storm if his cards have been marked never to wear the Brisbane jersey again.

Melbourne's query was refused as Walters repeatedly denies the 20-year-old has been blacklisted, saying on Wednesday that Coates "has been a lot better this week around the group" in his bid for an NRL recall.

"There's no story with Xavier," Walters said.

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"We're very happy with the form of Jamayne Isaako on the right wing and Corey Oates on the left wing.

"We know he's a good player, he's an even better person so we'd like to think that Xavier can get a couple of games in at the Broncos before he departs at the end of the year.

"He's been a lot better this week around the group Xavier. I think he's got his head around the position that he's in and he's working with all of us to try and get that win tomorrow night.

"I've just got to be honest with Xavier. That's all you can do as a coach, be honest with your players.

"I said to Xavier 'just hang in there. Keep training well, preparing well'."

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