Cowboys join race to sign Broncos star
THE Broncos are facing a major battle to retain Corey Oates with their Queensland rivals, the Cowboys, emerging as a contender for the Maroons Origin winger.
Brisbane's decision to part ways with coach Wayne Bennett in 2020 has ramifications for off-contract Broncos trio Oates, Matt Lodge and Tevita Pangai Jr, who have yet to sign new deals for next season.
Bennett has the strong support of the playing group and there are fears his impending departure could also trigger a player exodus from Red Hill led by Pangai Jr and Oates.
A fortnight ago, Oates revealed he might not stay at the Broncos if Bennett was jettisoned by Brisbane bosses.
Now, with Brisbane finally confirming Bennett's departure for 2020, the situation is real for Oates, who is on the radar of three NRL rivals, Newcastle, the Dragons and North Queensland.
The Courier-Mail understands a Cowboys staffer has made inquiries about Oates after North Queensland ramped-up their recruitment drive on Tuesday by signing Ben Barba to a one-year deal.
The Broncos have salary-cap pressures and face paying around $500,000-a-season to have any hope of keeping Oates at Red Hill.
Oates' newly-appointed manager George Mimis acknowledged the Origin ace's close ties with Bennett but says the 23-year-old's preference is to remain a Bronco.
"Corey has a wonderful relationship with Wayne," Mimis said.
"But he also has complete faith in the Broncos' management and their future plans for the club beyond 2019.
"Whilst our negotiations are ongoing, Corey aspires to be a long-term Bronco player."
Despite Bennett's impending departure, Lodge is expected to ink a new two-year extension to remain at the Broncos following an impressive season in his return to the NRL.
Bennett and recruitment chief Peter Nolan were the pivotal Broncos figures in resurrecting Lodge's career this season following a near three-year exile from the game.
Pangai Jr is incredibly close to Bennett and there were fears the Tongan powerhouse could depart Red Hill alongside Bennett.
The Broncos remain privately confident he will ink an extension with the club once he is able to sever ties with his current manager in November.
The Broncos have not been active in the player market this season, instead opting to retain the bulk of the promising squad Bennett and Nolan have assembled since 2015.
The club's only notable recruit for 2019 so far has been young Roosters halfback Sean O'Sullivan who has only played one NRL game.
Oates recently claimed the Titans were also interested, but the Gold Coast have since dropped out of the race.
"We won't be making an offer for Corey Oates," coach Garth Brennan said.
"Corey is a wonderful player and I imagine he could attract big offers on the open market, but I'm very happy with our wingers and that's the position I see for Oates. I also don't genuinely think he is a chance of leaving the Broncos. I'd be very surprised if Corey left given the success he's had there."