Corey Oates had admitted the pain of last year’s late-season fadeout has been a huge driving force behind the rise of the Broncos this season, with the side currently sharing top spot on the ladder as they draw closer to their first bye of the season.
Brisbane will host Newcastle Knights this Saturday afternoon and will be looking to make sure they don’t stumble against a tricky opposition so they can take winning momentum in their first weekend off the year.
“We've had a really big start of the year with the teams we've played, not having a bye yet, I think it's been a really good start,” the Broncos winger said.
“The way last year ended, you learn a lot from that and I feel like a lot of boys’ focus was the way that we ended, how bad it felt and how much of a letdown it was for everyone involved; the fans, the club and the players.
“I think that's been a big driver for us, we want to show that we are a side in the NRL that is going to be competitive for the whole year.”
What a try! Mam to Oates to Mam!
As one of only three teams yet to have a bye, alongside North Queensland Cowboys (first bye this weekend) and the Rabbitohs (who will have their first break in Round 16 with the Broncos), Brisbane appear to be much better placed than they were at this point of the competition last season where they were also riding high before taking a tumble to close their season outside of the eight.
In 2022 after 14 rounds, the Broncos were on 20 points with a 9-4 record with two points collected from their Round 13 bye.
This year after 14 rounds, the side are on 20 points with a 10-4 record and also have three byes to come, which will be a guaranteed six points in the bank, giving them a big head start on last season.
For Oates however, nothing is promised, with the whole club working to make sure they were focused on the long-term goal of playing finals football this year.
“I wouldn't think we're in a better position – on the table probably – but I don't think we're going to face anything different this year than what we did last year,” Oates said.
“We've started really well and now we've got to use the byes, rest when we can and when we go out and play, put everything on the line because it's a long season and like last year proved, you only need to be a little bit off and it can hurt us … all the boys here know that.
“We know what it takes to win and now we have just got to go out there and put the performances together.
“We have just got to keep doing that, we have got to keep focusing on the end goal.
“We've got a long way to go still to be honest ... we've just got to keep thinking we can improve and we all know we can, there's so many things in our game that we don't get right.
“We're in a great position, but everyone would have thought that last year too, so there's a second half of the season still to go and I'll be honest with you, I'm pretty excited for it.”
Oates - who made a successful return from a PCL strain suffered in Round 8 in last weekend’s win against the Sharks - has endured an injury-riddled season after missing Round 3 to Round 7 with a broken jaw, said he was also excited to be playing in back-to-back matches for only the second time so far this season after being named on the wing for the match at home at Suncorp Stadium against the Knights.
Match: Broncos v Knights
Round 15 -
Venue: Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
“It was good (to be back out there), I was a bit nervous before the game, it's been a while since I've been pretty nervous leading to a game,” Oates said of his return.
“I was happy to get through it all and once the first half was done, I was really happy. I think it's the biggest stint I've had out with an injury.
“But really happy to get a game under the belt and I'm hoping to try and go two in a row now.”
At this time of the season, injury and representative selection are the major factors which can cause disruption to a settled team line-up, with the 2022 Game Three winger saying while he would never turn down a Queensland jersey if the “opportunity arises”, selection in this year's squad was not really “on his radar”.
However, he was happy to endorse the selection of his skipper and halfback Adam Reynolds into the New South Wales side, saying he deserved the opportunity.
Reynolds all class
“I'd love to see Reyno get the opportunity … I think he's deserved it for a long time,” Oates said.
“I think he's been up there with the best – top two, top three – halfbacks in the game for his whole career.
“For his sake, I really hope he does get the call …
“I think for Queensland's sake; I honestly hope they don't pick him, because I think he'll just make it that much harder.”