Why defection reveals just how far Broncos have fallen
The Melbourne Storm snared the prized signature of Xavier Coates by doing a Broncos on the Broncos.
In bygone generations, busloads of players stayed at the Broncos for less money than they were offered down south because Brisbane's appeal stretched far beyond dollars and cents.
It was the vibe. The system. The structure. The premierships. An easy sell with an alluring, almost irresistible flavour.
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Back then, buoyant Brisbane knew the power of "the package'' and shamelessly spruiked it to their advantage. Melbourne now do the same.
Coates' defection comes 20 years after Corey Parker knocked back an offer of $180,000 from Melbourne to stay in Brisbane on $80,000 because it was the only club he ever wanted to play for.
The "take unders'' syndrome was a secret sauce in the Broncos six premierships but Coates' departure shows this ace up Brisbane's sleeve has vanished.
Coates has reportedly taken a deal of slightly inferior dollar value with Melbourne to what the Broncos offered.
The moral for Brisbane is that their days of bargain shopping have been replaced by a more challenging world where they are occasionally paying "overs'' for players they want.
There were years when the Broncos had 13 players don the Queensland State of Origin jersey and somehow managed to retain them all the next year.
This year they are likely to have just one Maroon player - Coates - and he has signed to leave already.
The whisper has been that Coates, who used to board with Tom Dearden at Andrew McCullough's house, was not thrilled by the circumstances in which these teammates left the club, McCullough to the Dragons and Dearden to the Cowboys next year.
The fight for Coates was between the premier and the wooden spooner and the premier won by sprouting all of its hard won virtues.
After seeing David Fifita shine this year for the Titans, Sam Walker play sensationally for the Roosters and Reece Walsh look exceptional for the Warriors, the last thing the Broncos needed was to lose Coates.
Brisbane will head back to the market with great vigour but with that sinking feeling that if finding a potential champion is tough enough, replacing one is even harder.
A frustrating part of Coates loss for the Broncos is that it has happened in a crossover period where coach Kevin Walters appears to be making steady progress with his team.
A rousing win over the Gold Coast last week was followed by a one-point loss to the Cowboys and, after a soul-destroying year and a quarter, something is stirring at the club.
There was a strong whiff of collective effort and united spirit in the team's last two performances.
Fan feedback, normally so critical, was most encouraging after the Cowboys loss.
Walters is not mollycoddling his team. He blasted them at training last week and have given them several big sprays before and after games.
The temptation is to say the strategy is not without risk but perhaps it is not a strategy at all. Maybe he is simply calling the moment.
The Broncos ship may be turning and if they need further encouragement they only need to watch a replay of the Australian Super Rugby final where Broncos old boy Brad Thorn coached the Queensland Reds to glory.
Thorn's success was a story of many impressive threads.
He took a strong stance on team culture by sacking several players with suspect disciplinary records.
He backed local talent and he showed patience and encouragement without dropping his high standards.
The Reds gave Thorn time to prosper and the Broncos may be rewarded if they do the same with Walters.
Originally published as Why defection reveals just how far Broncos have fallen