Nines flop Isaako faces real heat from Bird
Broncos hierarchy have challenged Jamayne Isaako to work harder, with the Kiwi Test ace in danger of losing the No.1 jumper following Brisbane's failed NRL Nines campaign.
Isaako is the frontrunner to succeed Darius Boyd at fullback but "The Iceman" concedes he needs to lift after an error-riddled Nines showing that has opened the door for a lean-and-mean Jack Bird.
At the start of pre-season, Broncos coach Anthony Seibold had Isaako pencilled in as his new fullback for the premiership but in the wake of Brisbane's Nines flop, the issue is not so clear cut.
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Seibold is giving serious thought to deploying a fitter Bird in a backfield role after his sizzling summer and the Broncos want Isaako to finetune key aspects of his game to emphatically prove he is Boyd's long-term successor.
While Isaako was erratic in Perth, Seibold was impressed with Bird's return from a knee reconstruction at fullback in Brisbane's trial defeat of the Capras.
"Jamayne needs to go away and work hard on his fullback play to be ready for Round 1," Broncos Nines coach Kurt Richards said.
"It was disappointing to go out the way we did.
"Jamayne has a bit of work to do defensively with what we call his 'pendulum', which means how he works with his wingers in being in the right position on kick returns.
"He has to make sure he is working hard when he doesn't have the ball. That's what the best fullbacks do."
Tailor-made for the Nines format with his speed and quick feet, Isaako had a frustrating tournament.
The 23-year-old had a nervous start on day one when he threw a wild pass which soared over the head of a Broncos teammate and nearly led to a Cowboys try.
Richards then lamented Isaako's failure to be more proactive in covering a Cowboys long-range kick which saw young gun Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow score the try which consigned the Broncos to a 17-11 defeat.
On day two against Melbourne, Isaako missed a feeble tackle in the lead-up to a Melbourne try. But he closed the tournament on a positive note, showing fine finishing prowess to cross in the corner and clinch a 12-8 win over the Storm.
Asked if believes he is safe in the No. 1 jumper after his Nines campaign, Isaako was candid in his assessment.
"Definitely not," he said.
"I didn't have the best tournament. I was 50-50 in the first game. I didn't get my hands on the ball enough and I didn't play direct enough to create momentum for my teammates.
"I need to learn a few lessons about fullback play from this tournament."
Aside from Bird, Titans recruit Jesse Arthars is another putting pressure on Isaako, while 18-year-old Tesi Niu - rated Brisbane's best fullback discovery since Darren Lockyer - is eligible for the NRL from July 1.
"I'm enjoying the competition and whether or not I play Round 1 at fullback I don't know, I'm just trying my hardest and putting my best foot forward," Isaako said.
"At the start of pre-season, I spoke with 'Seibs' (coach Seibold) and he said the No.1 jersey is mine and I have had a whole pre-season to train there.
"Competition is high and that's the beauty of competing for spots, we make each other accountable for being in the team and being accountable for the jersey.
"I've been training well and all I can do is my best. Hopefully I do enough in the trials to earn that No.1 jumper."