Broncos, Titans locked in contract battle for teen sensation
THE Broncos-Titans derby has taken on an explosive edge following revelations the Gold Coast and Brisbane are locked in a fierce bidding war for teenage sensation Tesi Niu.
The Broncos are hoping Niu's starting debut at fullback for Saturday's clash at Suncorp Stadium can be the ace up their sleeve in staving off a concerted poaching raid from Titans culture chief Mal Meninga.
It is understood the off-contract Niu had verbally agreed to join the Titans from 2021, but the Broncos have upped the ante in a bid to keep the 18-year-old away from the Gold Coast.
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The Broncos and Titans have both submitted offers for Niu, the Marsden High product who is rated Brisbane's best fullback talent in the past 25 years.
Meninga privately believed he had got his man, but the Titans have yet to receive a formal signature and Brisbane's decision to blood Niu in the starting side this week could prove decisive in the contractual tug of war.
Jamayne Isaako has been axed as Broncos fullback, with coach Anthony Seibold handing Niu the No.1 jumper as Brisbane look to snap a four-match losing streak against the Titans.
Broncos teammate Issac Luke knows a special talent when he sees one and after 275 first-grade games, the veteran hooker has no doubt Niu has the drive to succeed in the NRL.
"He's got talent," Luke said.
"Being in a good franchise like the Broncos and a good environment, there are going to be a lot of superstars here.
"Every kid has got talent but with Tesi ... he just works hard. His work ethic is through the roof.
"That is something that most Polynesian kids need. If they get that then their talent will just blossom, and that is what Tesi has."
The relegation of Isaako has prompted public backlash given Seibold has chosen to retain struggling trio Darius Boyd, Anthony Milford and Brodie Croft for the Titans game.
Isaako has been one of Brisbane's more consistent performers in the opening six rounds and the Titans are wondering whether Niu's promotion is a strategic move to trump them at the negotiating table.
The Broncos tabled an extension for Niu last month and are confident they are in the final stages of securing his signature with the backline flyer to seal his future in the next fortnight.
In other team changes, Seibold will be without suspended duo Tom Flegler and Pat Carrigan.
Ofahengaue will replace Carrigan at lock, while Rhys Kennedy will replace Flegler on an interchange bench also comprising Ben Te'o, Jamil Hopoate and Isaako, who will be Brisbane's No.14 utility.
Hopoate will replace Cory Paix after the hooker suffered a slight pectoral strain at training on Tuesday.
"We can't dwell on the past," rookie winger Xavier Coates said of Brisbane's form slump.
"We just have to move forward and play the best footy we can in the next weeks coming up."