Broncos find of the season fighting for future
JAKE Turpin has become such a find this season, the tough-as-teak rake is keeping Brisbane's No.1 hooker of the past decade, Andrew McCullough, out of the Broncos starting side.
The challenge now for the Broncos is what to do with three off-contract hookers at a time when Turpin is banging down the door for an upgrade at Red Hill.
McCullough, Turpin and James Segeyaro, recruited last month after McCullough suffered a freak knee injury at training, are all without deals for next season and three is quickly becoming a dummy-half crowd at the Broncos.
McCullough has a two-year option in his favour, so his future at the Broncos is technically secure, but there is no such safety net for Turpin as he prepares to face the Titans this Sunday at Suncorp Stadium.
Since slotting into hooker to replace the injured McCullough, the unsigned Turpin has helped the Broncos to three consecutive victories.
But beyond his unblemished 3-0 record, it is the manner in which the no-frills, tough-tackling 22-year-old has played that has raised the prospect that Turpin might just unseat McCullough for the long haul.
The evidence is compelling. Returning from injury, McCullough will play off the bench this Sunday in the No.14 jumper. Turpin retains the coveted No.9 slot.
An Ipswich Brothers junior, Turpin spent time with Intrust Super Cup side the Jets before his shift to Melbourne at 17 and Ipswich co-coach Shane Walker urged the Broncos to keep the clever hooker.
"Jake has done a fantastic job at the Broncos," Walker said.
"He was actually a halfback with us, not a hooker, but there were a lot of things to like about him.
"You could see he had footy craft and he was a real competitor.
"One of the first things we mark a player on is how competitive they are and he had that in spades.
"He came through our junior grades and he would join us for pre-seasons and from day one, he was a competitive, crafty little bugger.
"We never wanted to lose Jake, but when the Storm came knocking, it was going to be difficult to convince him to stay."
While Turpin never cracked the big league in Melbourne, his apprenticeship was priceless. He gleaned an insight into premiership professionalism from Cooper Cronk and Billy Slater and received mentoring from the greatest hooker of all-time, former Maroons skipper Cameron Smith.
"Since he came back to the Broncos from Melbourne, you can see he has been working on his craft as a hooker," Walker said.
"He is working on physical angles before he gets into dummy half, faking and passing the other way.
"Jake is a talented guy with the work ethic to have a long career in the NRL."
After the Broncos' most recent win over the Warriors, headlined by textbook Turpin tackles, Brisbane coach Anthony Seibold conceded he had a big decision to make with his trinity of hookers.
"It's a good headache to have," he said.
"Jake has been really solid for us, he has brought a lot of energy and a lot of effort."