Kodi all but finished as Broncos halfback
KODI Nikorima's career as a Broncos halfback is all but over after Wayne Bennett backflipped on his playmaking pledge by axing him to the bench for Friday night's blockbuster against Melbourne.
The development comes as the Broncos sweat on the fitness of key prop Matt Lodge, who faces a Melbourne mauling if he decides to carry rib-cartilage damage into battle at Suncorp Stadium.
A new scrumbase era has swept through the Broncos with Bennett keeping the faith in the Jack Bird-Anthony Milford alliance which orchestrated a stunning 27-18 upset of the Warriors last week in Auckland.
In pre-season, Bennett declared Nikorima was his first-choice No. 7 and he reiterated that stance just a fortnight ago after the Kiwi Test utility was quiet in a 15-10 away loss to Newcastle.
But a corked thigh saw Nikorima ruled out of last week's Warriors boilover, opening the door for Bird to partner Milford in a scrumbase showing that convinced Bennett not to tinker with a winning formula.
The demotion of Nikorima will come as a gut-wrenching blow for the 24-year-old, who was adamant he had the playmaking skill-set to be Brisbane's halfback for the next 10 years.
But as the Broncos prepare to face the premiers, Bennett believes Bird's attacking instincts and bigger body in the defensive role can help combat a monster Storm pack led by 200cm giant Nelson Asofa-Solomona.
There is a widespread sentiment that the livewire Nikorima is best suited as a supersub in the No. 14 jumper and Bennett confirmed he will play an interchange impact role against the Storm.
"I've decided to stick with Jack at five-eighth," Bennett told The Courier-Mail last night.
"I will finalise the team (tomorrow), but at this stage Kodi should be fit to play.
"I expect Kodi to be all right and if so, he will be on the bench.
"I'm starting with Jack in the halves."
Bird trained in the halves alongside Milford, while Nikorima moved in and out of Brisbane's attack and sometimes even ran with the interchange and reserves grade group.
Lodge meanwhile did not train with the main group after he suffered a rib injury in the 23rd minute of last week's defeat of the Warriors and bravely soldiered on to amass 147m in the Mt Smart boilover.
Bennett is hopeful his No. 1 prop will back up, but admits he won't risk Lodge if he requires a needle to face the Storm.
"I'm not keen to use a painkilling injection. If Matt can't play without a needle, we won't be playing him," Bennett said.
"Our scans have showed there is no break, he's got some cartilage damage so we have to wait and see.
"Those injuries are tough to play with but some guys can manage to play with it.
"Lodge is a lot better but I want to give him a few more days before I make a final decision."
After the loss of fellow forward Matt Gillett (fractured neck) last week, the rest of Brisbane's pack are also hopeful Lodge will be able to play through the pain so they can maintain their momentum.
Alex Glenn said Lodge's starts had been vital for the Broncos this season and he would be key to their chances of winning against Melbourne.
"After losing Gillo last week, we really need to make sure he can manage (the injury) throughout the week so we can have him on our team," Glenn said of Lodge.
"It's not handy losing some of our starters ... it will put a dent in our pack.
"If we lose players like that, it stuffs up some of your combinations that you have on the field.
"It's a tough injury because every movement affects your ribs ... you feel it when you're running and it's going to be tough for the big fella to get through."