Rising Broncos face big call on Titans defection
David Fifita may be just the tip of the iceberg in the increasingly incendiary battle between Brisbane and Gold Coast as the Broncos brace for decisions from Titans targets Kotoni Staggs and emerging star Brendan Piakura over their respective futures.
Staggs and Piakura are believed to be close to making calls on where they will play next season as they weigh up staying in Brisbane, moving to the Gold Coast or shifting to Sydney, where interest in both has been strong.
Both are regarded as key pieces of Brisbane's future and the last thing the Broncos can afford is to lose one or both. They remain quietly confident that they will stay, but that hasn't stopped the Titans having a dip at the pair as they continue to strike at the heart of their near neighbours.
Fifita was the biggest warning shot yet across the bow of the Broncos. The Queensland and Test forward made his premiership debut for the Titans on Saturday afternoon against the Warriors and while it may have been a tepid showing, it later emerged he had spent time in hospital in the lead-up dealing with an infection in his foot.
The barnstorming backrower still ran for 110 metres but he lacked his usual punch and power. He will no doubt be better for the run and intent on proving a point against his former club and teammates when the Titans host Brisbane on Friday night.
Fifita spent months mulling over his future, at one point apparently agreeing to stay in Brisbane only to change his mind and take up a multimillion-dollar deal with the Gold Coast. It was a sledgehammer blow to the Broncos.
Gold Coast coach Justin Holbrook has preached patience with his new recruits and you can understand why after watching them labour against the Warriors. For all the hype that has shadowed the club in the pre-season, the Broncos looked the more likely finalists as they gave Parramatta a fright at Suncorp Stadium.
It was the first real sign that the Broncos have made progress under Walters and will no doubt help their cause as they valiantly attempt to convince Staggs and Piakura to remain in Brisbane, not to mention winger Xavier Coates and halfback Tom Dearden.
Staggs also has big-money interest on the table from Canterbury, as does Piakura. It is hard to imagine either would have been impressed had they watched the Bulldogs get bashed by Newcastle on Friday night.
Then again, the Titans were far from impressive in their loss to the Warriors while the Broncos had a red-hot go against Parramatta, but still couldn't get across the line. Their cause against the Titans hasn't been helped by injury - Matt Lodge will miss the game with a hamstring problem while Coates and John Asiata are in doubt.
"I thought the Warriors were really good," former Brisbane forward Gorden Tallis said on Triple M NRL.
"The Titans didn't lay the platform. It was 10 or 12 minutes before they gave their big signing David Fifita the ball.
"There are some combinations they will be working on. They will need to be better on Friday night aghast the Broncos because the Broncos actually had a red-hot go against the Eels.
"But to where they were last year, I think they are better."
Tallis also called for calm in relation to the performance of Fifita and fellow new recruit Tino Fa'asuamaleau. The pair have been cited as evidence of a shift in the power balance in southeast Queensland, where the Broncos have long been the dominant force.
Yet the pendulum has swung back to the Gold Coast over the past 12 months and the Titans can make an emphatic statement with a win on Friday night. If that is to happen, Fa'asuamaleau and Fifita will need to be at their best.
"Tino had 16 carries and 30-odd tackles," Tallis said.
"Dave Fifita at the end of the game had 15 carries or something like that. It was the way they're used. That was the first time they have played with those guys.
"Sometimes it takes time to strike up a combination - it took me 12 months when I went to Brisbane to strike up the combination.
"Sometimes it can take longer than you think."
Originally published as Rising Broncos face big call on Titans defection