An Embarrassment of Riches
by Michael McLucas by
Friday June 03, 2005

The return of Brent Tate from a career-threatening neck injury in the coming weeks will unfortunately see one Broncos' star with the disappointment of playing out of position or even out of the team.

That's the situation that Tate, Justin Hodges and Scott Minto are facing as Tate makes his comeback. Both the centre and wing positions on the right flank will be sought after by these 3 players and it will result in 1 player being disappointed. The Hodges-Minto combination has been working wonders since Tate was injured against the Sharks, which reached the peak of its performance against the Rabbitohs last weekend. The pair put on some beautiful plays to see Hodges eventually grab his first hat-trick of tries for 2005.

Before Tate was injured though, he was in some of the best form of his career at right centre, and in my opinion was the best of the Broncos' backline. If he did not get injured a Queensland jersey would have been nearly a certainty. He was starting to get back some confidence that he lost after the infamous Francis Meli tackle in 2003, where it all started to go wrong for Tate and his troublesome left shoulder.

Hodges started the season on the wing, and stunned many with a change of attitude and very solid performances highlighted by his performance against the Roosters in round 3. He then shifted into the centres after Tate was injured and has played some outstanding football.

Minto is in the best form of his first grade career. Full of confidence (which was his main problem), always makes metres with the ball in his hands and now reliable in defence. You can't fault his game at the moment and certainly can't fault his combination with Justin Hodges.

But when all three players are fit, which combination do you go with?

Brent Tate is an International centre, but would he be better off playing out on the wing with Hodges inside him? Or does Wayne Bennett put Hodges back on the wing and Tate inside him? Both options would see Minto playing for the Clydesdales, but is he playing well enough to keep his spot?

It really is a selection headache. Minto has done nothing wrong, in fact he has been outstanding, yet it looks likely he will lose his spot.

At the start of the season, Leon Bott was the winger playing outside Tate. Since Tate's injury, Bott has been shifted to the left wing to partner Shaun Berrigan, and this has resulted in a combination that Wayne Bennett certainly should not break. Berrigan and Bott have landed 22 tries between them already this season and to have 2 prolific try scorers on one side of the field is something all good football teams need. So therefore, it looks unlikely that Bott will be shifted back to the right wing to work with either Hodges or Tate.

These are the options that the Broncos have at the moment -
Hodges (centre)-Minto(wing)

I would be confident that all of those combinations would produce pleasing results for the Broncos, but which would be the best?

Their combination of the last few weeks has been fantastic. Some great work against Souths last weekend resulted in three tries for Hodges and a try for Minto. In the weeks before that they were also very very solid.

Many advantages here, one (and the most important) is that it would benefit Tate's neck injury by playing him on the wing. He would have to do a lot less tackling then he would in the centres and would still get to make the runs that he did when he played in the centres. Hodges is starting to create a lot more opportunities for his wingers and Tate's speed out wide could result in many tries for the Broncos.

Tate would prefer to play in the centres so it would probably be psychologically better for him to play inside Hodges. Hodges was very good on the wing in the early rounds of the season and Tate was outstanding in the centres.

Very unlikely that this will happen and I think we can eliminate it as a possibility.

Out of those combinations, I think to play Hodges in the centres and Tate on the wing would be the way to go. The best thing about playing Hodges in the centres is that he can use his strength more, which is one of his biggest assets. A great individual effort to score a try against Manly and, from the same game, a struggle with two defenders with an offload at the end to Minto highlight this. If he can use his strength with Tate's speed on his outside, many tries would come out of that. Tate returning the ball from a kick at speed would have the defence guessing as well.

I remember a game back in 2002 against Penrith at Penrith Stadium (I think the Broncos won 38-20). Tate played on the wing and was a standout working with Darren Lockyer. That was when Lockyer was playing at fullback, imagine what could happen with Lockyer at five-eighth.

Unfortunately though, this means that Scott Minto will be playing back in Toowoomba. It really is a shame to see someone who has played very well have to make way for someone, but when you have a recognised International footballer, what can you do? At least, though, we know we have a reliable backup if injuries do occur in the backline.

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