BRISBANE'S search for a long-term halfback has suffered another blow following revelations Melbourne signed Brodie Croft for free after the Storm young gun was axed by the Broncos.
At a time when Broncos coach Wayne Bennett is road-testing Kodi Nikorima at halfback, The Courier-Mail can reveal Croft - rated the next Cooper Cronk - was dumped from Brisbane's system as a teenager.
In an alarming sight for Brisbane scouts, Croft is one of 12 playmakers currently running around in the NRL who were either signed to the Broncos, discarded or simply overlooked in their development backyard.
The group includes Corey Norman, Ben Hunt, Ashley Taylor, Daly Cherry-Evans and Newcastle young gun Kalyn Ponga, who held a Broncos scholarship at 15.
Now it has emerged Croft is the latest young Queensland playmaker to be cut adrift by Broncos scouts, who told the Dalby product in 2013 he lacked the talent to make it in the NRL.
Incredibly, a 15-year-old Croft, like a young Johnathan Thurston, went elsewhere for free. The Storm's second deal for Croft was $3000 and when the Broncos tried to poach him back three years ago, the Queensland under-18s halfback stayed loyal.
Croft is now Melbourne's No. 1 halfback receiving ruck passes from Maroons skipper Cameron Smith and says his Broncos snub is a constant source of motivation in his desire to become an elite NRL halfback.
"To be honest, what happened with the Broncos gave me more drive to keep pushing through," Croft said.
"I was with the Broncos in their development squads when I was coming through the younger teams as a teenager.
"I was first picked up when I was 13. I was in their system for two or three years. Then I fell out of their system.
"I didn't really get told too much by them (Broncos scouts) but they didn't see a future for me.
"There were other kids more favoured by the Broncos, so they let me go.
"I reflect back on it even now and it's my motivation to keep bettering myself. I never want to fall out of any NRL system ever again."
Croft admits he wasn't a standout talent as a teenager, relying instead on hard work.
Without a future at the Broncos, he fell out of the sport for 12 months before moving to Brisbane to attend Anglican Church Grammar, where he developed into an Australian Schoolboys rugby star.
While at "Churchie", the school that also unearthed Ponga, Croft was approached by Queensland-based Storm development chief Paul Bunn, who formerly worked for the Broncos.
"We signed him for nothing," said Bunn, who has scouted scores of NRL stars, including former Origin duo Justin Hodges and Brent Tate.
"He was at Churchie looking for a chance and I said we can get him a start at Easts Tigers (Melbourne's feeder club in the Intrust Super Cup).
"At first, he wasn't even playing halfback. He was playing fullback because he couldn't organise a footy team.
"We actually got Cooper Cronk to fly up to Brisbane to do some work with Brodie. Cooper came back and said, 'This kid has some talent, you need to keep him'.
"I remember when he was 17, a few other NRL clubs, including the Broncos, tried to steal him back from us. But that was never going to happen, by then Brodie was loyal and wanted to stay at the Storm.
"He is a wonderful kid with a great attitude. He has really worked hard to get where he is."
Croft, who once dreamt of a career at the Broncos, can now see a long-term pathway at the Storm. While the Broncos are pinning their hopes on the Nikorima-Anthony Milford alliance, Croft is determined to uphold the Cronk legacy.
"Going to the Easts Tigers and being part of Melbourne's system has given me the belief to make it in the NRL," he said.
"I've worked my butt off to put my best foot forward to progress through the ranks. I kept working my way up the chain and now I'm lucky to be where I am at the Storm.
"I know there's expectation but now when I go on the field, I feel no challenge is too big and playing against older players doesn't worry me.
"I've got a long way to go. I just want to honour the guys like Cooper who went before me in the Storm No. 7 jumper."
SEARCH FOR A SUPERSTAR
Playmakers currently in the NRL who were either in the Broncos system or overlooked by their scouts:
Sunnybank junior told by Broncos scouts at 17 he was "too skinny" to make it. Now a Cowboys champion and future Immortal.
Was a member of Brisbane's development squad. Picked up by the Storm after being axed at age 15.
Brisbane product, signed by Storm scouts for $5000 and placed at Norths Devils.
Brisbane's No. 1 halfback last year but the Broncos opted not to compete with the Dragons' $1 million-a-season offer.
Reluctantly released by Wayne Bennett to start his career at the Titans as he was stuck behind Hunt and Anthony Milford.
Rejected by Broncos scouts while playing at Noosa. Now in Queensland's Emerging Origin system and playing at Canterbury.
Languished in the Intrust Super Cup for years with Easts Tigers. Won the player of the year award in 2013. Broncos tried to poach him from Souths last year but failed.
Outstanding in the Intrust Super Cup for the past three years. Never attracted an offer from Brisbane. Has since won an NRL debut at the Storm.
Rejected by Broncos scouts as a teenager after watching him at a development carnival in 2013. Now a State of Origin star at the Storm.
Played juniors with Broncos feeder-club Redcliffe but was never signed. Snapped up by Manly. Now a premiership winner and one of the best halfbacks in the code.
Held a Broncos scholarship in 2013 before Cowboys got under their guard to poach him. Brisbane tried to lure him back last season but he signed a big-money deal with Newcastle.
Groomed to be the next Darren Lockyer but quit the Broncos in 2013 to sign with Parramatta.
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