Bronco facing battle to win back jersey
BRISBANE hooker Andrew McCullough on Monday lost his Queensland No.9 jumper. Soon, he faces a nervous battle to keep his beloved Broncos jumper.
Broncos coach Anthony Seibold admits the ultimate selection headache is looming at Red Hill following Jake Turpin's stunning form burst at hooker that has helped ignite Brisbane's season.
Since McCullough suffered a freak knee injury at training in early May, Turpin has proved a superb replacement, with his sharp service and cutting defence catapulting the Broncos to three consecutive wins.
McCullough has been Brisbane's pre-eminent hooker for almost 10 years and the notion of axing the 244-game stalwart seems unfathomable - but Turpin's emergence now makes the situation very real.
Queensland's incumbent hooker who played all three games last season, McCullough's injury blow will see him omitted from the Maroons team named on Monday for Origin I on Wednesday week.
The 29-year-old is sidelined for another one-to-three weeks, with Seibold applauding Turpin's reliability at dummy half in Brisbane's gutsy 8-2 defeat of the Warriors in Auckland on Saturday night.
Turpin cut down several Warriors forwards with stinging textbook tackles. Early in the first half, when Warriors halfback Blake Green dummied through and headed for the tryline, it was Turpin who saved the day.
The 22-year-old is currently off-contract and Seibold will not want to lose a hungry young hooker. Throw in new recruit James Segeyaro, who scored the matchwinner against the Roosters in his Broncos debut a fortnight ago, and the pressure is building on McCullough.
"It's a good headache to have," Seibold said of his dummy-half depth.
"'Macca' is a (244)-game player and played Origin and has done a tremendous job for a long time.
"Jake has been really solid for us and has brought a lot of energy and a lot of effort.
"'Chicko' (Segeyaro) has closed the games well for us the past two weeks so we have three quality guys there.
"I'm very happy with what Jake did again, particularly defensively. It's good headache to have ... I'd rather have that than no options at all."
The Broncos were languishing in the bottom four with a dismal 2-6 record after eight rounds, but three straight wins has put them back in the top-eight hunt.
Seibold scoffed at suggestions a pressure valve had been eased.
"That's perceived pressure, it's not really pressure. I love coaching," he said.
"Internally, we have been really confident with where we have been heading as a group.
"We lost two games on the bell early in the year (against the Dragons and Tigers), so we weren't a million miles away.
"Our focus the past four or five weeks has been doing something for somebody else in the team and that has been the driver for us.
"Footy is about playing for your mates and that's what I'm making them accountable to."
North Queensland's impressive win over the Raiders in Canberra has come at a cost with Justin O'Neill suffering a severe spleen injury.
O'Neill is out indefinitely after he was admitted to Canberra hospital on Sunday with a ruptured spleen and will spend the week in the nation's capital recovering.
The former Test centre has impressed for the Cowboys this season, scoring eight tries from as many games.