The future is now for Brisbane after Wayne Bennett made the surprise call to replace captain Darius Boyd at fullback with young gun Jamayne Isaako for Friday night’s NRL clash with Penrith.
The 22-year-old Isaako topped a red-letter day by inking a four-year contract extension to remain at Red Hill until the end of the 2022 season.
Isaako turned down interest from the Sydney Roosters to stay at the Broncos where he has a chance to establish himself as the club’s long-term fullback after former Test No.1 Boyd’s retirement.
Bennett has opted to hand the flyer the fullback now in a bid to bolster their left-edge defence against a Panthers outfit that has welcomed back NSW five-eighth James Maloney from injury.
Brisbane are bracing themselves for Maloney’s return from toe and foot complaints, re-jigging their backline with Boyd at left centre and Jordan Kahu now on the right wing.
Bennett denied Boyd’s move was permanent but said something had to give after their poor 26-6 last round loss to the Warriors that relegated them to eighth on the NRL ladder.
Asked if Isaako was Brisbane’s long-term fullback, Bennett said: “Yeah but we have just fast tracked it a little bit.
“This is not permanent. We will just see how it works for us.
“But I needed to do something at the back there. I just thought we could tighten up our (defensive) positioning in the centres a little bit.”
Bennett said Boyd, who is contracted until the end of the 2021 NRL season, took his surprise positional switch well.
“He was happy as. That was his original position. That is where he played all his football growing up,” he said.
“I have played him there before on the odd occasion, he handles it great.”
Bennett has confirmed forwards Joe Ofahengaue (knee) and Tevita Pangai (hamstring) had passed fitness tests and will play.
Brisbane’s NSW centre James Roberts (achilles) is another certain starter after missing last round’s disappointing home loss.
The Broncos will need all hands on deck against the fifth-placed Panthers after Maloney was given the green light on Thursday by coach Anthony Griffin.
Blues playmaker Maloney appeared in serious doubt for the round 19 Suncorp Stadium clash after post-State of Origin scans revealed a minor sprain.
He was rested from last week’s loss to Cronulla, along with fellow NSW stars Nathan Cleary and Tyrone Peachey.
However, former Broncos mentor Griffin said Maloney would play after training strongly at their Gold Coast base on Thursday.
“He’s been a bit tender since State of Origin but he’s going to play,” Griffin said.
“It’s good to have everyone back together again (post-Origin). The level will go up again now the rep season is over.
“The intensity will be a lot higher than it was a month ago.”
STATS THAT MATTER
* Brisbane are aiming to win three-straight matches against Penrith for the first time since 2001.
* Penrith coach Anthony Griffin has won eight matches and drawn one in his 12 matches against Brisbane’s Wayne Bennett – the Broncos mentor’s equal worst win percentage (25 per cent).
* Bennett is seeking a record 500th NRL career win in his 806th match.