Oates under pressure to make transition
WAYNE Bennett has put Corey Oates on notice, warning the Origin star risks being axed to reserve grade if he fails to make a successful transition to the back row.
The Courier-Mail can reveal Oates is eyeing off a $1 million payday by transforming from a flying winger into line-busting back rower for the Broncos.
Oates, 23, burst into the State of Origin arena in 2016 as a try-scoring winger, but has long held ambitions to move to the back row where he spent his junior career.
Off-contract at season's end, Oates is worth around $250,000-a-season as a winger at the Broncos, however his salary could balloon beyond $500,000 as an elite forward.
Now an established NRL regular with 97 appearances, Oates told Bennett of his desire to make the shift and has been training in the back row during the pre-season.
Coach Bennett will give him two trials to prove he is worthy of a spot in Brisbane's all-star forward pack and Oates risks being banished to the Intrust Super Cup if he doesn't fire.
"Corey has made it clear to me he wants to play in the forwards, but it remains to be seen if it can work or not," Bennett said.
"I will give him that opportunity to make it work, but if it doesn't work, he'll have a choice - he can go back to the wing or I will put him in the state league.
"I'm happy to work with Corey, but I've been honest with him.
"He won't be a starter for us on the edge, I can assure you. If he isn't happy being on the bench, he can either go back to the wing or he can play as a back-rower in the Queensland Cup."
Oates, who married partner Tegan Miles last weekend, is entering a pivotal stage of his career.
The Baralaba product signed a one-year contract extension for 2018 in the hope of proving to Bennett he is worthy of a permanent spot in Brisbane's back row.
Wingers are among the lowest paid players in the modern game, but quality back-rowers are quickly becoming a prized commodity.
Brisbane's Test and Maroons back-rower Matt Gillett is one of the highest paid forwards in the NRL on a deal worth around $700,000-a-season.
Bennett said he was happy for Oates to make the move, but he may have to ply his trade in reserve grade before he is worthy of an NRL call-up.
"If he wants to persevere with being a great back-rower, he might have to take some pain and learn the trade in the state league," he said.
"Corey wants to challenge himself and there's nothing wrong with that, but my No.1 priority is to the Broncos fans. I have to put the best team on the park, so I can't guarantee Corey a starting spot on the edge.
"We're playing in the NRL, this is not an experiment we can go on for months about. Then it causes grief and pain for us.
"Back row is a specialised position and Corey hasn't played a lot of it in his career at the top level. That's my issue.
"He has to get the job done from the moment he walks onto the field and not let anyone down. It's not a position we are weak in.
"We'll find out if he can make it. That's the risk Corey is taking. The two trials will give me some indication of where he fits in.
"He is off-contract and his next contract could be as a back-rower. We'll all be a lot wiser in the coming months."
Oates lost his Maroons jersey after Queensland's heavy Game One loss last year, a decision criticised by Bennett, before being sidelined with a staph infection for more than a month.
He risks being overlooked by Queensland selectors again by shifting to the bench and Bennett said that was something for Oates to consider.
"When I asked Darren Lockyer to move to five-eighth (in 2004), he did it because we didn't have anyone better there and we both copped a lot of criticism over that," Bennett said.
"But in this case, I have plenty of back-rowers. Corey is not our best option there. He has a lot of good back-rowers in front of him.
"He's become an Origin player on the wing, but how long would it take for him to become an Origin back-rower? That's what he is giving up."
Rookie Jamayne Isaako and Jonus Pearson are the favourites to start on the wings in Oates' absence.