Broncos race to lock up ‘new Lockyer’
THE Broncos have begun contract talks to retain their best fullback talent in 25 years, with Tongan young gun Tesi Niu being hailed as Brisbane's best back-field discovery since Darren Lockyer.
The 18-year-old will make his senior Broncos debut in the Nines tournament starting today in Perth, and coach Anthony Seibold says such is Niu's rare talent, he plans to unleash the attacking whiz on the NRL this season.
Niu attended Marsden High - the same school which produced Cameron Smith and Israel Folau - and was outstanding in the Intrust Super Cup last season.
Debuting as a 17-year-old, the flying fullback finished the season with six tries and 44 tackle busts from just 14 games.
Niu (pronounced New) is off-contract at season's end but with all 16 NRL clubs having descended on Perth, the Broncos have started negotiations to stave-off the threat of a Nines poaching raid.
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Broncos scouts rate the 175cm, 90kg Niu their most precocious fullback talent since Lockyer emerged from Roma to debut at Brisbane in 1995 and Seibold is itching to blood him at the top level - starting today in Perth.
"Tesi is one of my favourites in the squad, I have to admit that," Seibold said.
"We're in talks to keep him here, we certainly don't want to lose him.
"He is a special kid and there's a couple of reasons for this.
"One, he has a fantastic work ethic. His application to training is outstanding.
"Two, Tesi is right up there with the best athletes I have seen. He is elite, really elite. His evasion, strength and power is impressive.
"Because he is only a Development List Player (outside Brisbane's 30-man full-time squad), the rules state Tesi can't play NRL before June 30, so in the meantime he will play fullback for Souths Logan in the Intrust Super Cup.
"But once June 30 comes, you will see Tesi at some stage making his NRL debut. That's my aim for him. I want to see him play NRL this year."
Groomed as a future Origin player, Niu starred for the Queensland under-18s last year, scoring two tries, including a spectacular 90-metre solo effort, in a 34-12 demolition of the Blues.
Related to Broncos sensation David Fifita - the duo are first cousins - Niu came through the Logan nursery and made a nerveless Test debut in Tonga's 14-6 defeat of England last October despite a late call-up.
Niu is so highly-regarded by Tongan teammates they offered to personally pay for him to be flown to New Zealand for the British clash.
Likened in style to Warriors' Dally M Medallist Roger Tuivasa-Sheck, Niu has remarkable footwork, speed and balance and is already among the fittest players at the Broncos.
Niu will wear the No. 2 jumper in the Nines and is relishing the prospect of some open space.
"I have had a fair bit to do with him with the junior rep stuff and he's an exciting talent. I'm looking forward to watching him play," Broncos Nines coach Kurt Richards said.
"He has worked really hard. I remember when he was 13 years old, I would get pictures from his mum of Tesi doing stretching in the lounge room consistently every night.
"His footwork is his weapon so if you look at players like Tuivasa-Sheck and Benji Marshall, he's not exactly like those guys but his footwork is pretty remarkable.
"It's a real pleasure to see a kid like him come through."