A debut NSW campaign left Kotoni Staggs battered and broken last year, before he was discarded. And the centre is harnessing that pain to end a 17-year-old title drought in Brisbane.
Kotoni Staggs is chasing State of Origin redemption and is primed to hit back as Brisbane’s No.1 centre in his quest to help the Broncos break their 17-year premiership drought.
Staggs ramped up his 2023 campaign when he confronted Cowboys centre nemesis Valentine Holmes in Saturday night’s pre-season victory at Sunshine Coast Stadium.
Staggs wants to make a statement that the Broncos ace is back in business as one of the code’s pre-eminent centres after two frustrating seasons with injury.
Staggs underwent a knee reconstruction in 2021 and while he played 23 games last year, his form suffered as he carried a major shoulder problem for four months in a desperate bid to help Brisbane to the playoffs.
The 24-year-old underwent off-season shoulder surgery, sacrificing a World Cup tour with Tonga to be fit for the Broncos, and Staggs is keen to rediscover his attacking mojo to bring a seventh title to Red Hill.
“This club can be great again, 100 per cent,” Staggs said.
“We are taking little steps at a time, we are heading in the right direction as a club and we’ll take each game as it comes this season.
“It was good to come back (last week against the Titans). It was a bit of a test going in with my shoulder. I needed to get some confidence out of that game for myself and I did everything right.
“My shoulder felt good — it’s no worries.
“I was spot on in terms of when they (club doctors) told me I’d be back.
“I pulled out of the All Stars (Indigenous-Maori game last week) because I wanted to focus more on the Broncos, I wanted to play with the young boys coming through and get some confidence going into the season.”
Staggs had a sizzling start to the 2022 season, with a lethal performance against Cronulla hulk Siosifa Talakai sealing his Origin debut for NSW in the series opener against Queensland in Sydney.
The 24-year-old had an unhappy night at Homebush, coming off midway through the Blues’ 16-10 loss. He was dropped for Game Two. The disappointment of his NSW axing is fuelling his desire to dominate for the Broncos this season.
“It’s one of the biggest games in the NRL, State of Origin. I want to be part of that again, 100 per cent,” Staggs said.
“At the end of the day, things happen for a reason. I hurt my shoulder in that game and I want to bounce back from that.
“That’s in the past now and I want to look at what’s in front of me.”
Staggs has scored 31 tries in 74 games for the Broncos and at his best, he has claims to being the No. 1 centre in the code. Few rivals possess his speed and explosive physical gifts, but serious injury has taught the Tongan Test flyer the importance of professionalism.
“It is hard to come back mentally,” he said.
“With injuries, you can’t take shortcuts with them. You have to do everything right and take your time.
“That’s the one thing with me, I’ve had a few now and I just know how to get my head around it (the rehab) after having one injury.
“It’s attention to detail. I’m not taking shortcuts … I have to take care of my body.”
Staggs is keen to forge a potent attacking alliance with star Broncos recruit Reece Walsh.
“’Reecey’ is one of those players who can change the game in a split second,” he said.
“We want to do our jobs the best he can, so he can do his job as well.
“We don’t want to put too much pressure on the young fella, he is here to play a part with us and it will be good to work with him this season.”
Broncos prodigy breaks silence on Dolphins raid
Brisbane teen sensation Deine Mariner has broken his silence on his Dolphins poaching saga, declaring he has no intention of quitting the Broncos to join Wayne Bennett’s new expansion franchise.
As he prepares for Saturday night’s final pre-season trial against the Cowboys at Sunshine Coast Stadium, Mariner addressed the explosive tug of war for his signature, insisting he will honour his deal with the Broncos.
Mariner unwittingly became the face of Queensland’s expansion turf war in November when the Broncos lodged a complaint with the NRL, sensationally accusing the Dolphins of trying to coerce the boom centre to break his Brisbane deal.
As a result of the Dolphins’ expression of interest, Mariner’s management asked for the young gun to be released from his Broncos contract, a request flatly rejected by Brisbane bosses.
Acting on material supplied by the Broncos, NRL investigators interviewed Mariner, his agent and the Dolphins, who insist they have not breached contracting laws as they await a final determination from the governing body.
But the one certainty is Mariner is committed to the Broncos.
Rated the hottest centre prospect in the country, the 19-year-old is contracted to Brisbane until the end of 2024 and says he has moved on from the Dolphins drama as he chases a permanent NRL berth at the Broncos.
Asked if his heart is with the Broncos, Mariner said: “Definitely.
“I have signed the contract and I have got something I owe to the Broncos.
“I am happy doing my time here and being patient.
“Hopefully things come my way (with selection in the NRL). I am really happy with where I am at the club.”
It is understood Mariner stood to make $1 million extra if he walked out on the Broncos to be a foundation Dolphin.
But the Broncos have big plans for the New Zealand-born flyer, who is rated one of the club’s finest centre discoveries since Steve Renouf and Justin Hodges.
Mariner made his NRL debut last year, playing two games against the Wests Tigers and Sydney Roosters, and while he was virtually guaranteed a starting spot at the Dolphins, the Kiwi is happy to serve his apprenticeship at Red Hill.
“The history with the Broncos and being a fan since I was a kid … that makes it more special to get the jersey and play with the squad,” Mariner said.
“I have always honoured the saying that, ‘For those who are patient, good things will come’.
“I am a big believer in that. So every week I keep knocking on the door and trust the coaches to make the right decision for the week.”
At 90kg, Mariner is a well-built three-quarter with speed, slick footwork and evasive strength and he is keen to follow in the footsteps of Queensland Origin legends Hodges and Greg Inglis.
“Players like ‘Hodgo’ and Greg Inglis (are his heroes),” Mariner said.
“I was a big Broncos fan as a junior and he was in the same position as me and someone I looked up to.
“Hodgo didn’t have all the best natural abilities but he still somehow gave it 110 per cent.
“That’s why he was so consistent with his footy over his career. That was something I really liked about him, his effort and how much he gave for the game.
“I have always played centre and it just comes naturally to me.”
Originally published as NRL 2022: Why serious injury taught Brisbane star Kotoni Staggs the art of professionalism