The rookie halves who could ignite Broncos
FORMER Queensland Origin star Scott Sattler has hailed Brisbane rookie Tom Dearden the NRL's next halfback superstar and says the 18-year-old is "ready now" for a Broncos baptism.
As first-choice halves Anthony Milford and Kodi Nikorima come under mounting pressure to ignite the struggling Broncos, we ran the rule over Brisbane's playmaking depth and whether the club has better alternatives.
Playmaking legends Andrew Johns and Johnathan Thurston have lashed the game management of the Milford-Nikorima alliance and believe the time has come for Broncos coach Anthony Seibold to wield the axe.
Brisbane enter this Sunday's clash against the Raiders floundering in 13th place with a shaky 1-4 record and if Milford and Nikorima can't engineer victory at GIO Stadium, the calls for their sacking will intensify.
Sattler is adamant Dearden is the answer in the Broncos' No.7 jumper made famous by Allan Langer.
A premiership winner at Penrith in 2003, Sattler is a foremost authority on Queensland's premier league competition, having worked for the past eight years as Channel 9's expert commentator on the Intrust Super Cup.
The 203-game NRL veteran has watched every second-tier affiliate player on the Broncos' books and believes Brisbane are about to unearth their great hope at halfback.
TOM DEARDEN (Wynnum Manly)
The Mackay sensation only qualified for NRL selection last month when he turned 18 just 24 hours before Brisbane's season-opener against the Storm at AAMI Park.
For the first month, Dearden was kept away from the football field. Broncos coach Seibold ordered him into the gym for a specific bulk-up regimen that has seen Dearden stack on 8kg of muscle in just four weeks.
Now 84kg, Dearden played his first senior Broncos trial against Souths Logan in Warwick in February. Then just 17, he scored two tries in the first 31 minutes in a stunning display in senior company.
Dearden was outstanding in his Intrust Super Cup debut against Mackay, setting up a try and making five tackle busts. After just three games, Sattler says the time has come from Dearden to partner Milford at the Broncos scrumbase.
"I compare Tom to Nathan Cleary (Panthers whiz-kid) and Luke Brooks (Tigers halfback) at the same age.
"They were thrust into the NRL as teenagers and Tom is every bit as good as Cleary and Brooks.
"For an 18-year-old to debut in the Intrust Super Cup and dominate in his first outing, that underlines his class. He has great confidence for a kid, he's vocal and isn't afraid to point forwards in the right direction and control the game.
"He's also got a very sound defensive game for a smaller guy, so I'm confident Dearden will be a long-term NRL player."
SEAN O'SULLIVAN (Norths Devils)
An off-season purchase from the Roosters, O'Sullivan is the only back-up Broncos playmaker with NRL experience.
The 20-year-old made his top-grade debut against the Titans last year, scoring a try in his one and only game thus far.
NRL Immortal Johns recently called for Milford to be axed in favour of O'Sullivan, claiming the former Rooster has the game management to stabilise the Broncos.
O'Sullivan recently missed two weeks with a minor leg injury but has played the past two games for Norths, steering the Devils to consecutive wins over PNG and Ipswich.
The knock on O'Sullivan is that he lacks the speed to cut it in the NRL, but he produced two try assists, three tackle busts and a line break in Norths' 31-14 defeat of the Jets.
"We called O'Sullivan's game for Norths last week, he was very good," Sattler said.
"There are some concerns about Sean's speed, but that's not a concern if your No.6 has an abundance of it, which Milford does.
"Sean is only 20, so he has a fair bit to learn. He is a busy player with a good controlling game. Plus he offers a left-foot kicking game, which is a handy asset in the modern game."
TANAH BOYD (Souths Logan)
With his short frame and blond hair, Boyd has physical similarities to Broncos halfback legend "Alfie" Langer.
The 20-year-old has superb skill, a precise kicking game and has represented the Australian Schoolboys. Boyd was blooded in the Intrust Super Cup late last year and has played six games. The one concern is his defence: Boyd has missed 17 tackles in the opening four rounds this season.
"Tanah is a fantastic talent," Sattler said. "He is a very dominant half who likes to take control. His dad is a former NRL player and his mum is a fitness fanatic, so from an early age Tanah was exposed to weights and that's reflected in his strong build for a young guy.
"I've seen games where Tanah is quiet but then the game is on the line and he steps up to win it. That's what you want from a playmaker. He has an unshakeable confidence but defensively, he has to make some improvements to make the jump to the NRL."
CORY PAIX (Redcliffe)
A Cooper Cronk lookalike, Paix played alongside Dearden in Brisbane's pre-season trial at Warwick.
Handed a debut at Redcliffe this year, Paix has lost his first four games in the Dolphins No.7 jumper. The 19-year-old has traditionally played in the halves but played at hooker for the Queensland under-18s last year in the Origin curtain raiser at the MCG.
"Every time I look at Paix I think of Brodie Croft (Storm halfback)," Sattler said.
"Cory is a very intelligent, articulate young guy with a very mature outlook.
"I actually believe he could end up being an NRL hooker. Not everyone can play in the halves for the Broncos, so if Paix stays at Brisbane, he has the skill set to be like a Ben Hunt (Dragons playmaker), who can play halfback or hooker. He has the perfect build for a No.9."
TROY DARGAN (Norths)
The 21-year-old former NSW under-20s ace is in his second year with the Broncos, but has struggled to live up to his potential due to hamstring injuries.
"Troy got injured again last week so at this stage he wouldn't be an option," Sattler said. "I haven't yet seen him really dominate an Intrust Super Cup game. He would be behind others in the pecking order."
Sattler believes Milford and Dearden are the halves to deliver Brisbane's first premiership since 2006 with Nikorima moved to a game-breaking utility role in the No.14 jumper.
"I really think Nikorima is a supersub," Sattler said. "Kodi won't agree with that assessment but the Broncos would really benefit from his acceleration through the middle of the park.
"Andrew McCullough (hooker) can absorb the early exchanges but at the 25-minute mark they need someone coming on and splitting teams apart through the middle with sheer speed.
"You would see a better Milford if Nikorima had time at dummy-half with Dearden steering the team around.
"It's a big ask for Dearden, but the good ones are ready at any age."