Maroons coach Kevin Walters believes Corey Oates’s looming back-row transition could lead to the Brisbane Broncos big man rekindling his representative career and offer Queensland rarely seen versatility.
Walters will get a first-hand look at Oates’ much-hyped move from the flank into the forwards when the Broncos assistant takes the reins from Wayne Bennett for this Saturday’s pre-season trial against Gold Coast Titans at Toowoomba.
Oates will come off an extended bench for Brisbane in his first outing as a forward since 2015, with Bennett giving him two trials to prove he can cut it as an NRL second-rower.
Bennett has been circumspect with his comments around Oates’ positional switch, as he has been throughout much of the 23-year-old’s career, suggesting earlier this week the four-time Queensland rep could find himself in reserve grade thanks to the club’s strong back-row stocks.
Wearing his Maroons coaching cap, Walters is understandably enticed by the prospect of Oates succeeding as a second-rower, which could allow Queensland greater flexibility and injury cover across their 17 in the Holden State of Origin series.
“I think everyone is eagerly awaiting his back-row switch, it’s a big move for him and a big change,” Walters told NRL.com.
“I think Corey has come to the conclusion that it’s now or never for him to make the switch into the forwards.
“He’s been training there all pre-season with the Broncos so it’s going to be really interesting to see how he goes.
“From an Origin perspective he’d be a pretty handy guy, if you can play several positions and do them well it’s a great thing to have up your sleeve.
“And that’s what I’d say Corey is trying to achieve as well. If you can have a back-rower of his calibre that can play on the wing as well, that’s pretty unique.”
It is understood Oates is already one of the highest paid flyers in the NRL but has maxed out his earning capacity as a winger at the $450,000 salary he is pocketing.
Off contract at the end of this season but with his first preference to stay at Red Hill, Oates is eyeing both the payday that a successful switch into the forwards would deliver and a return to the interstate arena.
The Baralaba junior was dropped after a heavy Origin I loss last year, despite a strong 2016 debut series on the wing.
The likely rise of Michael Morgan into a starting halves role, as well as Greg Inglis’s return from injury and ability to play five-eighth, also gives Walters flexibility around his utility role.
Star playmakers Anthony Milford, Cameron Munster, Ben Hunt, Daly Cherry-Evans and Corey Norman all have the potential to fill a bench position, and if one was joined by Oates, Queensland could cover multiple injuries in the backline and pretty much any game situation.
Walters said he would not hesitate to play the 105-kilo specimen on the wing even if he is playing from the Broncos bench or in their back row.
“I’d certainly consider him, he’s a talented young fella Corey,” Walters said.
“From a wing perspective, he’s certainly right up there but as a back-rower, we’ll just have to see how he goes through the trials and into the season.
“But in game one last year, he wasn’t our worst player by any means, not by a long way. We just had to get Valentine Holmes and Dane Gagai into the side but in 2016 he did a great job for Queensland on the wing.
“If he can prove that he can handle that edge or working through the middle as well, that’s a pretty handy asset for Corey and Queensland.”