Broncos turns to Oates for do or die clash with Cowboys
STRAPPING teenager Corey Oates is seen by many as the future of the Brisbane Broncos and a player incoming coach Wayne Bennett can build a premiership around.
After sweating through 160 minutes of football on the weekend when both results fell their way, Brisbane coach Anthony Griffin will now be able to at least end his days with the Broncos playing finals football.
And he is likely to hand former Baralaba Panthers junior Oates the biggest assignment of his budding NRL career as injured English international Jack Reed's (shoulder reconstruction) centre replacement against a white-hot North Queensland in Saturday night's NRL elimination final at Townsville's 1300Smiles Stadium.
Reed is headed for his third consecutive shoulder reconstruction operation, leaving Griffin with the choice of either unsettling his established back row by shifting utility Matt Gillett into the three-quarters or setting young Oates a career challenge in a hostile environment with the club's season once again on the line.
Brisbane has a 27-9 winning record over the Cowboys.
But that was built on an early domination when the Broncos won the first 16 games between the Queensland rivals.
Ironically, the Cowboys snapped the streak winning their 2004 finals clash at the same ground, a match which was former captain Gorden Tallis' last game for Brisbane.
The only other time they've faced off in a final was in 2012, also in Townsville, with the Cowboys easy 33-16 winners.
North Queensland won a record 10th game straight at its Townsville fortress at the weekend to deny Manly - which meets South Sydney on Friday night - the minor premiership.
Both clubs finished the 26 rounds on 34 points but the Roosters had a superior points percentage.
Oates started last weekend's game against Melbourne in the second-row filling in for Sam Thaiday who returns to his north Queensland birth-place after serving a week's suspension, but finished up in the centres after Reed was forced from the field.
He is expected to take on another crucial role on Saturday night depending on what side Griffin wants to play the versatile Dale Copley.
Meanwhile, Gillett, who played much of the second half against Melbourne with his left arm hanging by his side, is expected to be fit to tackle the Cowboys.
The Cowboys, who came through their impressive 30-16 win over Manly without any injury dramas, are 1-1 with Brisbane this season and playing much better than they were when they beat them 27-14 at home in May.