Revealed: How Broncos player told Fifita to quit the club
Brisbane's famed recruitment and retention system was once the envy of the NRL. Now, amid stunning revelations a Broncos teammate told David Fifita to walk out of the club, they are the laughing stock of the competition. Read part one of our broken Broncos series
A BRISBANE PLAYER urged superstar teammate David Fifita to quit the club last year in a bombshell revelation that shows how far the once mighty Broncos have fallen.
In the first instalment of a four-part series, The Courier-Mail has delved deep into the demise of the Broncos' famed system that brought six premierships to Red Hill and made the club an NRL powerhouse.
The Broncos were once the envy of their rivals, with super coach Wayne Bennett masterminding six titles across 15 seasons in a golden era from 1992-2006.
Now, they are the laughing stock of the NRL after collecting last year's wooden spoon and sitting second-last on the ladder in 2021.
Club legend and new coach Kevin Walters appears to be at a loss to turn around his beloved Broncos, making numerous team changes and losing highly-rated players since taking on Brisbane's top job this season.
Compounding the Broncos' plight has been the exodus of players that were tipped to guide the club back into premiership contention.
The Broncos lost halfback Tom Dearden, a player they pinned their future on, to the Cowboys this week and were last month rocked by the defection of gun fullback prospect Reece Walsh to New Zealand.
But it was the $3.5 million move of Fifita to South East Queensland rivals the Gold Coast Titans last year that proved the Broncos had lost their aura.
THE FIFITA BACKHAND
AT AGE 20, Fifita had already played State of Origin for Queensland and set the NRL alight with his unique power and dazzling footwork when he came off-contract at the Broncos last year.
The rhetoric from those in power at Red Hill was consistent: "the Broncos do not lose players like Fifita".
To a degree, that was true. The Broncos had long held a reputation for retaining the game's greatest players, with many accepting less money to remain at a successful club where playing finals football was nearly guaranteed.
But as the weeks wore on in 2020, the Fifita situation became more uncertain.
The Broncos went to great lengths to keep Fifita happy, even flying a club official to Bali in November 2019 to help broker his release from jail following a nightclub incident.
Former CEO Paul White hosted Fifita and his mother, Gwen, for dinner and the club held more than 20 meetings with his representatives in an attempt to secure the hottest signature in the NRL.
At the same time, the Broncos were hurtling into crisis. They crashed into wooden spoon contention, eventually costing former coach Anthony Seibold his job.
The Titans, meanwhile, were rising under new coach Justin Holbrook. There were positive signs on the Gold Coast and they were not afraid to splash cash.
The Titans blew the Broncos out of the water in the tussle for Fifita, eventually offering him a three-year deal worth $3.5 million to lure him out of Red Hill.
The money was insane and may have been the decisive factor, but it was advice from one of Fifita's Broncos teammates that contributed to his defection.
So disillusioned with what was happening at Red Hill the player, who we have chosen not to name, told Fifita he would receive better coaching from Holbrook and urged him to do what was best for his career.
It was the killer blow. Fifita walked and has scored nine tries in seven games this season heading into Friday night's derby at Suncorp Stadium - his first appearance in Brisbane since quitting the Broncos.
And he wasn't to be the last.
THE RECRUITMENT BLOWS
The Broncos are one of the NRL's richest clubs and were for long Queensland's dominant force with a smorgasbord of talent across the state to choose from.
There were times when Broncos players made up half the Queensland State of Origin team. This year, they will be lucky to have one or two representatives.
There has undoubtedly been a decay in the system that used to ensure Queensland's best talent played for the Broncos.
Current NRL stars Daly Cherry-Evans and Cameron Munster were overlooked by Broncos scouts, only to forge successful careers at rival clubs.
But it is the recent defections of Fifita, Walsh and Dearden that have raised alarm bells given they were players the Broncos had long-term plans for.
One leading NRL player agent said the Broncos had lost their shine and were no longer the club Queensland juniors wanted to play for.
CURRENT NRL PLAYERS REJECTED BY BRONCOS
|GOLD COAST||Tanah Boyd, Tino Fa’asuamaleaui, Jonus Pearson, David Fifita, Ashley Taylor, Jarrod Wallace|
|NEWCASTLE||Kalyn Ponga, Gehamat Shibasaki|
|NORTH QLD||Tom Dearden, Francis Molo, Jake Granville|
|PARRAMATTA||Keegan Hipgrave, Tom Opacic|
|SOUTH SYDNEY||Jaydn Su’A, Dane Gagai, Jai Arrow|
|ST GEORGE ILLAWARRA||Daniel Alvaro, Josh Kerr, Andrew McCullough, Josh McGuire, Corey Norman, Ben Hunt|
|SYDNEY ROOSTERS||Lindsay Collins, Sam Walker|
|NEW ZEALAND||Kodi Nikorima, Reece Walsh|
|WESTS TIGERS||Joe Ofahengaue|
|* joins next season|
"The truth is a lot of Queensland players and families have lost trust in the Broncos system," he said.
"I've had a number of kids who have chosen other NRL clubs because they believe they will get a better education at a club like Melbourne or the Roosters than they would at the Broncos.
"There is an arrogance at the Broncos. They just expect Queensland kids to stay because they are the Broncos. Their pitches to sign players are nowhere near as detailed as the effort other clubs put in.
MUMS AND DADS TELL ME THEY AREN'T CONFIDENT THEIR KID WILL GET THE BEST FOOTBALLING EDUCATION AT THE BRONCOS
There are at least 32 players scattered across the NRL's other 15 clubs that have either come through Brisbane's system or were overlooked by the Broncos.
That would not be such a damning statistic if the Broncos were not anchored to the bottom of the NRL ladder and now desperately looking to sign players from rival clubs.
The club's recruitment and retention committee has presided over some blunders in recent seasons.
Head of football Peter Nolan is part of the committee and Brisbane's main recruitment figure along with club legend and board member Darren Lockyer.
White was on the panel until his departure in February and will be replaced by new CEO Dave Donaghy next week.
Bennett, Seibold and Walters have been heavily involved in recruitment over the past four years.
The Broncos have had some retention wins, securing the likes of Origin star Payne Haas and rising backrowers Jordan Riki and Brendan Piakura, who had genuine interest elsewhere.
But watching teen sensation Sam Walker, a Brisbane junior, dominate for the Roosters on Anzac Day and Fifita tear the NRL apart in Titans colours is a bitter pill to swallow for Broncos fans.
"We can't keep them all," Brisbane's elite player development manager Simon Scanlan said.
"It's a competitive world and several NRL clubs are now setting up in Queensland looking for talent.
"It hurts (to lose Fifita, Dearden etc). You build a strong relationship with the parents, the kids and their families and you invest a lot of time and effort.
OUR JOB IS TO GIVE THEM THE BEST CHANCE TO SUCCEED IN RUGBY LEAGUE AND WE HOPE IT'S AT OUR CLUB
"We have players who are playing across the NRL. Over the last six years, more than 50 players have either signed with our club, another NRL club or even rugby union. We have produced a heap of kids, but they all can't stay here.
"It's out of our control to some degree whether they kick on to the NRL and at times other clubs will take them out of our program. Do we like it? No we don't. Does it hurt? Yes it does.
"We have to look at ourselves as well and try to be better."
WITH DESTRUCTIVE CENTRE Kotoni Staggs still off-contract beyond this season, and receiving huge interest from rival clubs, it remains to be seen whether the Broncos exodus is over.
A second straight wooden spoon is not out of the question this season, making the Broncos an even less attractive proposition for recruitment targets at rival clubs.
Walters has taken on the unenviable job of fixing the biggest basket case in the NRL.
The demise of the Broncos did not happen overnight and he knows it won't be a quick fix.
"My big job is to bring it all back together and have everyone singing off the same page," Walters said.
"I believe one of my big skills is the ability to get people working together as a team and bringing harmony. I will unite the Broncos as one.
"It was everywhere. Across the whole club. I saw fractures. There was a disconnect between players, staff, the board and a disconnect with the Broncos' links to the Queensland people. That should not be the Broncos.
"I feel those links wavered last year for whatever reason, so we need to build a strong base.
"I want the players reconnecting with the community, fans, members and sponsors. We are bringing the real Broncos back."
The battle for Walters is to bring the real Broncos back before too much more pain.
■ READ PART TWO TOMORROW
Originally published as Revealed: How Broncos player told Fifita to quit the club