QUEENSLAND coach Kevin Walters has urged Brodie Croft to use his lifeline from the Broncos to prove he can be the halfback to succeed Maroons captain Daly Cherry-Evans in the Origin arena.
Croft’s omission from Queensland’s 33-man squad which gathered for a pre-season camp last month was evidence Walters wants to see the Dalby product make the jump from junior-representative star to elite NRL playmaker.
Groomed to be the next Cooper Cronk at the Storm, Croft surprisingly lost his way at Melbourne.
In the space of 18 months, he went from the precocious halfback who steered the Storm to the 2018 grand final against the Roosters to an out-of-favour discard axed by coach Craig Bellamy on the eve of last year’s finals series.
By season’s end, Croft hit the AAMI Park exits after Melbourne brokered a release with the Broncos, who are showing more faith – handing the 22-year-old the decorated Brisbane No.7 jumper made famous by Allan Langer.
For now, Croft is focused on firing at the Broncos, but Walters is adopting a big-picture view. Cherry-Evans only needs to hold his form to retain the Queensland No.7 guernsey for this year’s Origin series.
But with the skipper turning 31 this year, Walters must start cultivating the next generation of Maroons halfbacks.
Croft represented the Queensland under-20s in back-to-back seasons in 2016-17 – captaining the team in his second year – and Walters hopes his stint at Red Hill can turn him into an Origin player.
“I think the Broncos will be good for Brodie,” he said.
“He’s been a part of our Queensland system at junior level, so I’m aware of his ability, and the challenge for Brodie is now taking that next step.
“I’m not sure what happened to him at Melbourne, but he’s certainly on my radar and I believe having Anthony Milford beside him at the Broncos will be beneficial for both of them.
“It’s a big year for Brodie, and there will be a lot of interest in how he performs at the Broncos.
“From a Queensland perspective, we’re certainly hoping he settles in and plays well.”
It is a measure of the esteem in which he is held by Broncos coach and former Queensland assistant Anthony Seibold that Croft was invited to a Brisbane senior leadership camp in Tasmania over summer.
Despite Croft having compiled just 39 games in the NRL, Seibold wants him to take charge of Brisbane’s attack.
Rather than be daunted, Croft is excited, confident he has the skill set to become a long-term shot-caller at the Broncos.
“I’m looking forward to the challenge ahead. Hopefully I can stamp my mark on the team,” Croft said.
“The time I was down in Melbourne, in the first three years we were part of three grand finals and you start getting used to it, thinking, ‘Wow, this is how it is’. We just kept making grand finals.
“I learnt a lot from playing in that grand final (loss to the Roosters), and hopefully I can bring that knowledge to help the Broncos squad.”
Asked if he is relieved to remove himself from the shadow of Queensland Origin legend Cronk, Croft offered a wry grin.
“Hopefully I can ditch that name tag (the next Cronk) off,” Croft said.
“I just want to be the best player I can be, and do the best job for the team.
“I think I am a good communicator, that I can organise and lead a team around the park. I’d like to think with my last-tackle options, I kick well, and in defence I pride myself on my tackling, so I’d like to toughen up that right edge.
“It’s been a good move for me so far. I’m really happy to be back near my family and friends in Queensland.”