Ben Ikin has taken on Australian sport's toughest job as the man tasked with rebuilding the Brisbane Broncos, rugby league Immortal Andrew Johns says.
Ikin is the Broncos' new football boss and will try to revive a roster that has failed dismally. Brisbane won last year's wooden spoon and are bottom of the ladder again this season under new coach Kevin Walters. Ikin had a win on Thursday, with Brisbane formally announcing a three-year deal for Queensland Origin player Kurt Capewell; a signing that was already in the works before Ikin joined the club.
Ikin left his role as a Fox Sports NRL analyst to join the Broncos, where he was a premiership player, and Johns doesn't envy him.
"It's a big decision for Ben. He's gone from a career where there is a little bit of pressure but once you finish, your mind goes, to a position now where you've got to rebuild a great club and you've got to make some really tough decisions, and it's a 24/7 job," Johns told Wide World of Sports' Freddy and the Eighth.
"Good luck to Benny, great fella – but he's got a job and a half in front of him. Probably the toughest job not only in rugby league but in sport across Australia."
Johns and Brad Fittler gave their thoughts on a handful of problematic players on the Brisbane roster, naming those they would release or keep. Both believe that the Broncos are done with star halves Anthony Milford and Brodie Croft.
Anthony Milford: Both would release.
Matt Lodge: Johns would keep, Fittler would release.
Tevita Pangai Jr: Johns would keep, Fittler would release.
Corey Oates: Johns would release, Fittler would keep.
Brodie Croft: Both would release.
Ikin decided that forwards Pangai Jr and Lodge would stay put at least until the end of the season, despite being told to look for new teams; a call that board member and club great Darren Lockyer explained.
"Obviously a lot of commentary around who's coming, going, both with the team and the staff. I think it's the right move to just sort of give some certainty around the playing group for the remainder of the year," Lockyer said on QLDER.
"Potentially [make a final decision post-season] but I just think right now it's about getting some stability and getting a performance out of each and every one of the players."
Johns said of Pangai Jr: "I think he can turn it around."
Fittler said that Oates was his only survivor from the five players discussed due to the fact that he was a genuine club veteran, having debuted for Brisbane in 2013.
"Corey Oates is a local so if I was going to keep anyone, I'd most probably keep Corey Oates because he's been there when they had good times. I'd be keeping Corey Oates for the fact that I think he could be part of the fabric," Fittler said on Freddy and the Eighth.
"I think when Tevita spoke out, I feel like he was quite happy that he was leaving and frustrated. Matt Lodge, I think, has been pretty busy in the market."
Rabbitohs premiership winner Adam Reynolds is arriving as Brisbane's new halfback next year. While the Broncos have been touted to make Kotoni Staggs his halves partner at five-eighth, Johns and Fittler both gave a thumbs-down, believing that the re-signed start should remain at centre.
Fittler said that Ikin would need to ignore a barrage of outside noise while rebuilding the Brisbane roster and believed that his temperament was well-suited.
"You get on with the job. The one thing I do find with Ben Ikin, he's got a really high level of common sense. He obviously understands footy very well, he's a really good communicator," Fittler said.
"He went for the [CEO] job that Dave Donaghy [got]. It tells you he's looking for a challenged. In the times I've spoken to Ben, he's a very calm person. I think that's what they need up there at the moment, is someone calm.
"I think with those two people involved, what you'll find with the Broncos, there'll be some really positive change over the next … it needs more than a couple of decisions, it's going to take 12 months, but I feel like they're two really good decisions made by their board and will get them back on track."
Signing Capewell was an early win for Ikin, who is trying to put a stop to roster blunders such as the loss of teenage superstar fullback Reece Walsh to New Zealand.
"Kurt has talent, footy smarts, experience and a strong work ethic, all attributes we want here at the Broncos," Ikin said in a statement.
"In the past 12 months, he has played in an NRL grand ginal and a winning Queensland State Of Origin team – that experience will be invaluable for our playing group.
"We have some great emerging talent here at the club, who are learning to be true rugby league professionals, and I think Kurt will be a perfect addition to the squad in that respect."
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