Broncos warned against half measures in Hunt replacement
RUGBY LEAGUE: Retired Broncos skipper Corey Parker has urged the club to spend big on a long term halves replacement for Ben Hunt to keep the premiership window open at Red Hill.
With a smorgasbord of Brisbane's best and brightest off-contract at the end of the season, Parker says the club's success on both the retention and recruitment fronts - particularly for a star halfback beyond 2017 - will decide if and when the club ends the longest title drought in its history.
The Broncos currently have 12 of their top 17 - or roughly $6 million of premium talent - on the open market, and their former leader admits more big names could exit yet.
Hunt is the first casualty of the club's salary cap squeeze after a five-year, $6.2 million offer from the Dragons, starting in 2018, proved simply too good to refuse.
The Broncos have tabled a three-year extension worth around $3 million to priority signing Anthony Milford, while Darius Boyd, Adam Blair, Andrew McCullough and Jordan Kahu also rank high on Brisbane's retention list.
But while veteran Benji Marshall has moved north and Kodi Nikorima headlines the next generation of halves at the club, Parker says Wayne Bennett must look elsewhere for Milford's new scrum base partner.
"At this stage I think they have to go to market,” Parker told foxsports.com.au.
"There's some quality young players within the system of the club. But in terms of them being an NRL No. 7, you've probably got to invest a couple more years into them.
"If you're prepared to do that there's certainly some players that are worth that, or you go to market in the meantime.
"But again the tricky one there is if you're going to the market you obviously want a No. 7 you want there for a while.
"You don't want to be changing your plans all the time. You want them for four years, three years, five years or whatever.
"You want a No. 7 for the long term, not to plug a hole for a year or two because that just keeps disrupting you.”
At 31 and on an NRL lifeline, Marshall fits that bill. Fellow Broncos great Justin Hodges also recently declared Nikorima not yet ready for the pressure that comes with guiding the one-town team around the park.
There is however a number of quality halves in their early to mid-20s on the market.
They include the Shaun Johnson, Mitchell Pearce, Josh Reynolds, Luke Brooks and Mitch Moses - all of whom are one-club players with strong junior ties to their current sides and healthy asking prices.
Also among the off-contract playmakers are Cronulla title winner Chad Townsend, troubled star Kieran Foran and one of Bennett's personal favourites in Titans livewire Tyrone Roberts.
The No. 7 jumper is not Parker's only concern in the Broncos bid for a first title since 2006.
The decorated 34-year-old famously rejected big money on offer elsewhere to remain at Brisbane throughout his career.
But he says no player can be judged for taking rival dollars on offer given the fleeting nature of the modern game, a critical factor in the Broncos retention battle.
"You hear these conversations about taking less to stay together in sport, but until it's in front of you, those conversations are really hard to answer,” Parker says.
"Ben Hunt's got what is essentially, a once in a lifetime opportunity. It's a five-year deal worth astronomical amounts of money.
"One I thing I learned is I played for 16 years, but I was very fortunate. The average lifespan of an NRL player is two years. You don't know what tomorrow brings.
"To win premierships you need a lot of luck and quality players. The luck side of it - injuries and the like - you can't control.
"But there's certainly quality players and moving forward they'll look at buying some more with Ben Hunt's departure.
"I think the youth of the group is certainly a big positive ... The (premiership) window's definitely open, the challenge is trying to maintain as many young players as you can.”