Brodie’s burden: Impossible expectations Croft must carry
There is perhaps no greater individual burden in the NRL than the one Brodie Croft now carries and every day at Broncos training, it greets him - a living, breathing burden of brilliance.
As Croft walks out on to the pristine turf of Brisbane's $27 million training facility, he barks and drives the offence of the Broncos with one tiny yet gargantuan figure standing nearby, watching the young halfback do his thing.
The person, indeed that very burden, is none other than Allan Langer. The Broncos' greatest halfback. A 258-game legend.
Now the Broncos assistant coach, his 165cm shadow may not be imposing but his magical playing record is and it unwittingly, imperceptibly, haunts every Broncos No.7 who has gone after him.
His cheeky grin still intact at age 53, Langer is such a warm-loving spirit he would hate to be a burden on anyone, but even he is aware of the Red Hill roadkill that has chewed up and spat out a string of promising halfbacks.
Since the Broncos' last premiership win in 2006, 18 players have worn the Brisbane No.7 jumper "Alf" made famous.
Shane Perry. Michael Ennis. Shaun Berrigan. Corey Norman. Joel Moon. Karmichael Hunt. Peter Wallace. Ash Taylor. Benji Marshall. Ben Hunt. Kodi Nikorima.
These are some of the names who have been thrust into the Broncos' hot seat and while some have had moments of glory - Perry helped Darren Lockyer steer Brisbane to their '06 title - none have truly stamped a Langer-like dominance.
"Bloody Alfie," Hunt, now at the Dragons, told this columnist at the NRL Nines in February.
"He ruined it for all of us."
Which brings us to Croft, age 22, and the riddle that surrounds him.
There is a saying in the NRL - players who depart the mighty Melbourne Storm don't leave the best team of the past decade and become better players somewhere else.
Yet that is what the Broncos are hoping for, and demanding of, Croft, who arrived at Red Hill over summer following a departure from the Storm as mysterious as aircraft that disappear in the Bermuda Triangle.
In looks and style, Croft was the next Cooper Cronk. He was Melbourne's Anointed One.
Yet in the space of 12 months, he went from being the Storm's grand final halfback in 2018 to a passenger sensationally axed by coach Craig Bellamy on the eve of last year's finals series.
Publicly, the Storm offer nothing but polite bouquets over Croft's strange exit.
Privately, there is more to the story - there always invariably is - and the central theme was Croft's ability to handle pressure when the heat is on.
The Storm were concerned with some of Croft's option-taking in clutch moments. More than once, he left Melbourne's senior playmakers, Cameron Munster and Cameron Smith, frustrated by orchestrating plays that went against Bellamy's carefully-manicured game plan.
The counterargument is that Croft, as a halfback, should have every right to own the result, pulling a string when he sees fit.
And therein lies the key for Brisbane.
They say styles make fights. It may be the style of player that didn't work for Melbourne could be the halfback that is the making of both the Broncos and the man outside Croft, five-eighth Anthony Milford.
Croft will never have Langer's instinctive magic but his displays in the opening two rounds suggest he is the confident, controlling organiser the Broncos crave to ease the strain on Milford.
At Melbourne, Croft was stuck between two playmaking top dogs in Smith and Munster.
At the Broncos, he can run the show, be his own man - and prove there is life after Langer.
Originally published as Brodie's burden: Impossible expectations Croft must carry