When Do You Have Enough Experience?
by Michael McLucas by
Saturday April 23, 2005

The possible inclusion of Darren Smith in the Broncos' side to take on the Sharks on this weekend has not failed to puzzle me somewhat.

There is no denying that every team needs a player like Darren Smith. He is passionate, reliable and has rarely let his club, state or country down on a Rugby League field. However, it is time to face the facts. Smith is now 36 years of age, and, even though he is still one of the most valuable players in the Queensland Cup, I feel it is time for a player like him to make way for some younger, fresher talent within the Broncos' top squad of 25.

Sitting near the Chook Pen at Kougari Oval last week seeing the Clydesdales carve up the "mighty" Wynnum Seagulls, I felt confident that if injury plagues the Broncos like it did last season, they may well still be in good hands with the likes of Berrick Barnes, Ian Lacey, Joe Clark and Stuart Kelly (just to name a few) all turning in outstanding performances. Why wouldn't we give these sorts of players a go in the top grade while they are still at their best?

Well OK fair enough - Barnes and Kelly probably wouldn't be the ideal players to fill the role that Smith may be filling on Saturday night. But what about young Ian Lacey (age 20)? Those of you who don't follow the Clydesdales much probably wouldn't be too familiar with this kid. Think of the Bulldogs' Adam Perry, and then think of Adam Perry creating a lot more opportunities in attack and hitting some of the biggest forwards in the game with nothing but sheer aggression. Lacey is the perfect impact player that the Broncos could use this weekend.

However, he's not the only one. Look at Joe Clarke . He is a big, hard working 19-year-old lock/second rower from New Zealand. He is in his second year at the Clydesdales/Broncos squad and is starting to mature and develop nicely into an aggressive player, and if needed, he can also play in the centres like he has been doing for the Clydesdales recently. Sounds a lot like ol' Smithy doesn't it. If Joe keeps up his good form and works hard, he could well be the next Darren Smith.

Finally there is who I like to think of as the "forgotten man" at the Broncos - Neale Wyatt (age 24). He has been in the Broncos' top squad for a few years now and has always been deserving of a spot on the bench for the Broncos, but has only had half-a-handful of games in the top grade. More than half a dozen first grade games in 2003 got me believing that he may crack into the top 17 before 2004 was over, but that was not to be. He is an absolute workhorse and would not let the Broncos down. He hits hard, usually with over 30 tackles per game and is always looking to hit the ball up. I still don't believe that the Broncos are using the Clydesdales' CEO to their full advantage and, given his huge committment with Toowoomba, they probably never will.

I am not going to single out which of these players I think should play instead of Darren Smith against the Sharks, but I will ask the question that titles this article. When do you have enough experience?

After tonight's ANZAC Test, it is likely that Tonie Carroll will be out of action against the Sharks, and Shaun Berrigan's cut makes him a 50-50 chance, so there is obviously a role that needs to be filled. But that is what the Top 25 Players are there for. Calling on a 36-year-old from another club is absolutely ridiculous in my opinion when we have a tremendous range of young talent just waiting for their chance to prove their worth in the NRL. If we do not give these sorts of players some game time because of players such as Smith (and you could also use the example of Ben Ikin in 2004) then it will be very hard to keep them at the club. A colleague of mine gave me an example tonight after the football. This is not a direct quote, but he said something along the lines of "We aren't giving them any game time. If another club approaches them and offers them the same amount of money but guaranteed them some time in first grade, they're gone". And he is dead set correct.

Yes, Smith brings experience to the club. But, even if we rested all of our Test players and didn't include Smith in the side to play the Sharks, we could still field quite an impressive team. With Karmichael Hunt, Dane Carlaw and Sam Thaiday ruled out due to injury, this would be the side I would pick:

1. Justin Hodges
2. Scott Minto
3. Brent Tate
4. Casey McGuire
5. Leon Bott
6. Stuart Kelly
7. Brett Seymour
8. Shane Webcke
9. Barry Berrigan
10. Brad Thorn
11. Corey Parker
12. David Stagg
13. Neville Costingan
14. Darren Mapp
15. Tom Leoroyd-Lahrs
16. Berrick Barnes/Ian Lacey
17. Joe Clarke/Neale Wyatt

There is plenty of experience in that side with Webcke, Parker and Thorn to direct the forwards and Seymour and Kelly to organise the outside backs.

This is a game that the Broncos can afford to lose in my opinion, even though it would be fantastic if we won it. And I think, for the good of the team and the talent, we need to give the young guys a crack at the big time.

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