Brisbane’s minor premiership hopes have taken a major hit after star halfback Ben Hunt withdrew from Thursday night’s NRL clash with Melbourne due to injury.
Broncos under-20s No.7 Ashley Taylor will make his NRL debut lining up against Test halfback Cooper Cronk in a match Brisbane needs to win to remain a hope of claiming the JJ Giltinan Shield and $100,000 prizemoney.
Brisbane coach Wayne Bennett said Hunt (cork) would be fit for next week’s finals opener.
He also replaced winger Jordan Kahu (shoulder) with Lachlan Maranta for the Storm clash.
Brisbane and the Sydney Roosters are locked on 38 points heading into the regular season finale.
However, the Tri-colours – who tackle South Sydney on Friday night – hold a +59 advantage in points differential over the Broncos.
Bennett was confident 20-year-old Junior Kangaroos star Taylor would be able to handle the occasion on debut.
“It’s a great opportunity for him,” Bennett said of Taylor who will link with the Gold Coast Titans next year.
“He’s got all the skill sets so we’ve just got to get him out there and play him now and see what he does with it all.
“He’s a regular halfback, that’s where he’s played all his football career so it’s just what he does in under-20s will be good enough for us.”
Bennett was not concerned by Hunt’s withdrawal.
“He picked up a cork in a training drill on Monday and he hasn’t recovered well enough from it so he won’t be playing,” he said.
There were concerns for Hunt’s fitness early on Wednesday when the halfback opted for the club’s traditional home match eve barbecue rather than the nearby training field.