The biggest risk to Broncos in Oates backrow shift
COREY Oates wants to further his career by moving from the wing to the backrow but there's a chance the Brisbane Broncos will be worse off because of it.
Oates will take the first steps in his goal to transition into an NRL backrower when he lines up against the Titans on Saturday night in Toowoomba but being named in the No.21 jersey on an extended bench shows just how far he has to go.
The Broncos are blessed with an all-international backrow but are light on for NRL experience out wide, giving the decision by Oates - a four-time Origin representative on the wing - the potential to cause coach Wayne Bennett headaches in two separate positions.
A backrower all through his junior football, the 23-year-old played four games in the forwards at the back-end of the 2014 season but in his 67 career games on the wing has scored 50 tries and contributed to 45 Bronco wins in that time.
Statistics obtained by the Fox Sports Lab show the impact that Oates made on the wing last season and the output the Broncos are going to have to find elsewhere from a young player yet to make their mark in the top grade.
In 57 kick returns last season, Oates racked up 687 metres at an average of 12 metres per kick return, fourth in the NRL for all players who returned at least 50 kicks, behind Valentine Holmes, Dallin Watene-Zelezniak and James Tedesco.
This doesn't take into account the play one carries that regularly generated momentum early in Broncos sets for a team that finished the season second only to the North Queensland Cowboys for total metres made.
In the 47 games in which Oates has scored a try, Brisbane's winning percentage is 72 per cent, although he did cross for three four-pointers in the four matches in which he started in the backrow in 2014.
Oates will only earn a place in the Brisbane forward pack if he can prove to Bennett that he deserves it and veteran Bronco Sam Thaiday concedes that the team will miss the contribution he makes on the wing.
"We will miss him there but that's the beauty of rugby league because now there's another young guy that will be wanting to fill that position," Thaiday told foxsports.com.au.
"When you've got a player that does 12 hit-ups a game, averages over a hundred metres per game and his ability to score tries... Defensively he's been pretty good as well for us on the wing.
"He's definitely set himself a challenge to play in the forwards and I think it's a move that he wants to make to really enjoy his footy and maybe even further his career.
"It's probably his own fault because he's such a good winger that we've relied on him so much on that wing.
"He's looking forward to the challenge of it and he's fairly hungry, especially for this weekend against the Titans in Toowoomba.
"It's going to be good to see how he does go in that position.
"The ball is in his court now. He's just got to make sure that he cherishes that opportunity and shows Wayne that he is a damn good forward as well."
Bennett has already raised the prospect of pushing Oates back to the Intrust Super Cup as he relearns the position but another Broncos great in Justin Hodges believes he has what it takes to be an NRL backrower.
"He's a big kid, he's strong. He's just got to work on his fitness level," Hodges said.
"When you move from the wing into that forward spot you've got to be making a lot of decisions, you've got to work with the three men outside you.
"It is a big change of position but he can do it.
"At the end of the day there's only one way to learn, and that's to get him out there in the middle.
"You might have to expect him to stuff up a few times but that's what happens, that's how you learn.
"Wayne will put him in there at some stage, or he might even go back and play Queensland Cup while he gets used to the position.
"Once he gets that fitness behind him I think he'll be a good second-rower."
Oates has been accused by Bennett over the years of not thinking enough on the football field and Thaiday warned that he'll have plenty more decision-making to do at the defensive end.
"The few games that I've seen him play in the back row he's been pretty damn good," Thaiday said.
"The biggest thing for him is that he's got to be on the ball all the time.
"When you play on the wing it's more about looking up and seeing things defensively. Playing in the backrow you have to be more active defensively.
"It won't take him too long. He's played in the forwards for the majority of his footballing life."