Forward-thinking Oates on crusade to get respect for wingers

Corey Oates wants to put wingers on the map. At the centre of the rugby league universe in fact.

The Broncos and Maroons flyer has done a good job of it too, so good that it has buried his dreams of playing in the back row in the short term.

Oates, who has signed a one-year extension with Brisbane, waxed lyrical to NRL.com about his desire to get respect for wingers, his innermost wrestle with the quest to be a second-rower and his "love/hate" relationship with former coach Wayne Bennett.

In the NRL marketplace the best second-rowers are mostly on more lucrative deals than the best wingers but Oates's public utterances about a move to the forwards were not about that. Once Bennett had consigned him to the flank, a burning desire to further the cause of wingers became a crusade for the 24-year-old.

"It's never been a money thing," Oates said.

"Once I realised I would be on the wing, I got this thing in my head to prove that wingers aren't just blokes who sit out on the paint and count numbers.

"Look at what wingers do these days. They change a game. There is a lot more to a winger now. There was a period where they almost said you don't need wingers in a team but we have shown wingers are needed more.

"Look at Blake Ferguson this year. What he did for the Roosters was unbelievable. The size of the wingers now is incredible. Nene Macdonald is tough to handle. He's a great player … fast and deceptively quick."

He was too modest to say it, but equally it could be said "look at Oates". His stunning one-handed try in the corner at Shark Park with the rest of his body levitating over the sideline was the crème de la crème of the winger's art, but hardly a surprise. He produces something stunning most weeks.

Oates and Bennett had a running joke during the year about his desire to play in the back row.

The country Queensland lad from Baralaba kept throwing out the bait. Bennett took it but would not be hooked on the line. The coach’s line was that "as a back-rower, Corey is a good winger".

Oates is not shy about taking a bullocking run into the teeth of the defence

In 2018 he was the Broncos leading try scorer and won a recall to the Maroons side, as a winger. So does Oates believe he will be a wingman for the rest of his days?

 "Yeah, the way I'm playing. It's what everyone keeps telling me," he grinned.

"I trialled in the back row last [pre-season] and I was pretty happy. I thought I had done a good job and they said 'yeah you did'. They put me on the wing and back row in the same game and then they said 'just stay on the wing'.

"I never played wing in my juniors ever, not once. I was a back-rower, lock, centre … Then they threw me on the wing and I had a go."

A theme that recurs each time Oates talks about his positional dilemma is the need for self-improvement. The words "give up" are not part of his vocabulary. So when you ask him if he has ditched the desire for a forwards switch Oates wriggles, sighs and wrestles with a demon on his shoulder.

"I will never give up on it, but it slowly just gets further and further away with the young talent we have coming through,” he said.

Brisbane winger Corey Oates.
Brisbane winger Corey Oates. ©Jason O'Brien/NRL Photos

"A lot of people will say I should, but I just want to improve. You don't want to be the player to have a good year, and then you don't get seen at all the next year."

It is that pursuit of perfection that had Oates filthy about his poor game in the 48-18 first-round finals loss to the Dragons, one he said "still burns" after having one of his most underwhelming games of the year.

"I don't want to drop a bomb or knock on a grubber or drop a pass. I want to try and be one of the safest wingers in the game, and in attack I want to be involved,” he said.

"I want as many carries as possible and help the team where I can and be happy with my game every week. The worst feeling in the world is finishing a game of football and feeling ‘I did nothing. I don't feel a part of this win’ or ‘I'm the reason why we lost’."

Oates insists new coach Anthony Seibold will get the best out of the young rising stars at the Broncos.

He said Bennett's sacking was "sad" but his old coach's departure to South Sydney does not mean he is set to follow him in 2020.

In an interview on League Life in September, Oates said "I wouldn't want to re-sign with the Broncs if Wayne is not there".

Another try for Corey Oates.
Another try for Corey Oates. ©Robb Cox/NRL Photos

Bennett was sacked and Oates re-signed although, to be fair, the process was in the works before the Brisbane coaching saga exploded.

"Did I sound serious? I don't remember saying that. I don't know what was going through my head," Oates grinned when asked about the Fox Sports interview.

"I always want to stay here and my preference will always be the Broncos, but it's whether they want me."

I got this thing in my head to prove that wingers aren't just blokes who sit out on the paint and count numbers.

Corey Oates

His relationship with Bennett was one of mutual respect for each other’s abilities, with a healthy dose of humour thrown in.

"I'm just a friendly person. I like getting on with everyone. You don't want enemies in your life,” Oates chuckled.

"I got on well with Wayne, really well. We had a love-hate relationship. I loved him and he hated me. He loved that part of it [the back-row speculation].  I don't follow a coach just because he is leaving. I'm not like that.

"I will always get on with every coach we have. I will always have a friendship with my coaches. I wish Wayne all the best with his career as a coach. I hope he can finish it off well."