Josh McGuire believes the emerging group of young Broncos forwards is the best in the NRL and predicted prop Matt Lodge was destined to play representative football in the next 12 months.
When the Broncos lost Matt Gillett to a season-ending neck injury in round five there were question marks over whether they had enough forward leaders to make a dent in the Telstra Premiership.
In the ensuing 20 rounds the form of 23-year-old Lodge, 22-year-old Tevita Pangai jnr and, in the past 10 rounds, 18-year-old David Fifita, has been at the forefront of Brisbane’s quest for a seventh title.
Tongan international Joe Ofahengaue, who played in the 2015 grand final, is still just 22 and has had huge games when called on to start at prop, as he did in the wins over top-eight sides Penrith, Cronulla and South Sydney in recent weeks.
"I'm just excited to be part of a forward pack that has a very promising future and in my opinion is the best young forward pack coming along in the competition," McGuire said leading into Sunday's elimination final against St George Illawarra at Suncorp Stadium.
"I’ve been fortunate to watch them through pre-season, and the season, and I am not surprised at the ability they show. They are getting better at doing the little things right and are absolute freaks of nature when it comes to physicality."
Lodge threw an intercept pass for Ben Hunt to score in the halfback's first game for the club in round one in what was an inauspicious start to the season for a man who has attracted more controversy than most.
McGuire said the way he had responded had blown him away with Lodge now one of the competition’s leading front-rowers.
"It was like he was debuting all over again but I have never seen a player have so much pressure on him and perform at such as high level for a young fella," McGuire said.
"I've played with a lot of first-class front-rowers and he’s definitely Origin calibre. I am glad he didn’t get chucked in the mix this year. He didn’t need that added pressure but I will be very much surprised if I don’t see him there next year."
McGuire said the young forwards were hungry for success and physical "monsters".
"They are starting to believe in themselves and contributing on a weekly basis which is a hard thing when you are a young football player."
Pangai was a "genetic freak … who has taken this year by storm" and could “physically do anything in the competition”. He has played through the pain of a neural issue with his calf and McGuire said while that was expected of NRL forwards it was a credit to the maturing Tongan behemoth that he had the mental strength to do it.
Brisbane hooker Andrew McCullough said Fifita, who started the season in the under 18s, had approached his task in the NRL like he was playing in the park.
"Dave hasn’t play a finals game yet, but he’s just gone out and had some fun and run the ball hard," he said.
"Mentally he is certainly very strong but you will see an even stronger David Fifita in 18 months' time."
McGuire said he had adapted his game at lock with the young forwards stepping up.
"I’ve played a different role this year and am very fortunate we have some big forwards now so I don’t have to do as much on-the-ball work as in running,” he said.
"I’ve tried to be a lot more efficient in my line speed and aggression around the ruck and a lot more efficient in utilising our big boys and getting them onto the ball and playing off them."