With just a week to go before the NRL season kicks off, two clubs’ halfback situations have been thrown into chaos.
For Brisbane, who have lost Adam Reynolds for their season opener against South Sydney due to the NRL’s COVID protocols, the situation is temporary.
But for the Raiders it could be far more permanent, with the club turning to rookie half Brad Schneider after Jamal Fogarty was diagnosed with a long-term knee injury.
After returning a positive PCR test, Reynolds and lock Kobe Hetherington must isolate for the next week, ruling them out of Brisbane’s match on Friday night.
Broncos co-captain Pat Carrigan admitted it was a blow to Brisbane’s season launch but was confident that between Billy Walters, Tyson Gamble and Albert Kelly the Broncos could land on a winning halves combination.
“It’s not an ideal start to the season for us. Reyno’s résumé and what he did at South Sydney speaks for itself, we’re definitely going to miss him,” Carrigan said.
“But in saying that, the club has been really big on putting things in place this season for us to know it was a matter of time – boys aren’t going to be able to avoid COVID all year.
“It’s just a small hurdle and it’s something I’m confident we can overcome. He’ll hopefully be there round 2.”
Reynolds didn’t play in either of Brisbane’s trials, with Walters, Gamble, Kelly and exciting rookie Ezra Mam all splitting time at five-eighth and halfback.
Carrigan believes the veteran’s lack of pre-season playing time is now something of an advantage given the quartet have all had some minutes playing alongside one another.
“The fans and a lot of people were looking forward to see Reyno but once that game happens and there’s 40,000 people we’ll have two more-than-competent players in the halves, whoever they are,” Carrigan said.
“A lot of the talk has been around who’s going to support Reyno, but because he’s not played any trials all those boys have had the chance to play together.
“Come kick-off Friday night there’ll be 17 Broncos looking to win a footy game.”
While Reynolds is expected to return for the Broncos’ round 2 match against Canterbury, the Raiders will be without Fogarty for up to four months.
Instead of turning to experienced options Matt Frawley and Sam Williams, Raiders coach Ricky Stuart will pick 21-year old Schneider at the scrumbase for the Raiders clash with the Sharks on Friday.
Schneider has just one NRL appearance to his name but has impressed his teammates over the off-season with his toughness and skill.
“His defense really stands out. He’s a really good defender, a lot of halves get criticized for that but you look at someone like Jack Wighton who I think is the best defensive half in the game, not many backrowers like running into him and I would say Schneids is a mini-version of Jack,” said Raider winger Jordan Rapana.
“I’m excited to see how he goes. He impressed in the trial games and it’s awesome to see Ricky have the confidence to play him when there’s guys like Sam Williams and Matt Frawley who are so experienced, that’s a fair wrap.”
Schneider put up solid numbers in the abbreviated NSW Cup season last year, notching seven try assists, six line break assists and scoring four times in 11 matches.
He’s also a natural right-sided player, as was Fogarty, which should help ease his transition into first grade.
“He’s a good ball-player, he has a touch footy background I think so he’s pretty silky and he’s a good organizer, that’s really important,” Rapana said.
“That’s what Jamal brought to our team and it helped Jack a lot. As long as he can do that I think him and Jack will have a great combination.”
Fogarty was widely tipped to help Wighton find form after the former Dally M medallist experienced a tough season in 2021.
But now he is far more likely to act as a senior partner for Schneider, whose first-grade experience is limited to a nine-minute cameo in one match against the Storm last year.