The thought of losing Corey Oates should sound alarm bells for Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett ahead of Friday night’s NRL clash with leaders Melbourne at Suncorp Stadium.
But Bennett is confident the third placed Broncos will avoid a repeat of last year’s 48-6 loss to the Storm without Oates if the Broncos winger succumbs to a mystery illness ahead of kick-off.
In the corresponding match last year, Brisbane lost Oates early to concussion and hat-trick hero Suliasi Vunivalu ran amok in the Brisbane winger’s absence as Melbourne romped to the record win.
Oates is again in doubt for the Suncorp Stadium re-match after pulling up sore from an unknown virus and failing to train on Thursday.
Oates will be given until kick-off to prove his fitness but he is expected to be replaced by young flyer Jonus Pearson.
Bennett didn’t expect history to repeat on the scoreboard if Oates was ruled out.
“Oatesy got himself knocked out and our best repalcement was (pint sized bench utility) Kodi Nikorima and they exposed our vulnerability there,” Bennett said of last year’s blowout.
“It was just one of those nights but we are in good shape here.”
Bennett backed Pearson to step up to the Vunivalu challenge if required.
“He’s a wonderful talent,” Bennett said of Pearson, who has played five NRL games.
“He won’t let anyone down against Melbourne.
“He was pretty raw when he first came into the NRL squad last year, he’s matured a lot.”
The Broncos have not beaten Melbourne in Brisbane since 2009.
But Bennett hinted at a drought breaking win, saying Brisbane were in the best shape in years ahead of their blockbuster clash.
Brisbane are sitting pretty on third after winning eight of their last 10 games despite negotiating their way through the demanding State of Origin period.
They will also welcome back playmaker Anthony Milford (shoulder) and skipper Darius Boyd (thumb) as soon as a fortnight.
“We are in a really good position this time of year,” Bennett said.
“We are nearly through the toughest of our program.
“We are winning games and winning constantly – you can’t ask for much more at this time.
“But it doesn’t get really serious until three weeks when everyone gets back from Origin.”