New Broncos coach breaks ice with barbershop joke on day one

Kevin Walters has opened his Brisbane coaching career with a promise to unleash the full potential of wayward forward Tevita Pangai Jnr and repair the fractures at the NRL club.

The former Broncos halfback took to the grass at Red Hill as head coach for the first time on Monday as players were pushed to the brink in a series of running drills.

Pangai was lucky to avoid the axe last season after a string of COVID-19 biosecurity breaches, including a visit to a barbershop with alleged links to a bikie gang.

He spent the off-season working at a garden nursery, the labouring job one of the rules forced on the Tongan international in what was a final warning from the club.

Slammed for returning to preseason in poor shape last year, Pangai looked a touch off the pace again on Monday before finding his second wind with a shuttle run time trial that drew praise from the new coach.

Walters, who replaced the axed Anthony Seibold in the job he’s long coveted, used some typical humour to defuse the situation before declaring it was his mission to get the most out a talent that’s so far gone unfulfilled.

“His attitude’s been excellent; Kotoni’s (Staggs) agreed to cut his hair so he doesn’t have to go into those barbershops anymore,” he joked.

“He’s got skills that not many players have and we’ve seen what he can do in glimpses; we need to see more of that and from the discussions we’ve had we expect that to happen.

“He’s a good fella and we’ll get him going in the right direction, he can be a real asset for us.

“It’s up to all of us (coaches) to get him in the right frame of mind to be ready to go because he’s a real linchpin.”

Walters will make a call on the captaincy next year and has backed a largely unchanged squad that’s lost gun backrower David Fifita and injury-riddled back Jack Bird to rival clubs after a historic wooden spoon last season.

He expects both Tom Dearden and Staggs to remain Broncos, while Joe Ofahengaue also presented to training despite being linked with a move to Wests Tigers.

Former Cronulla and Gold Coast playmaker Albert Kelly has returned from the English Super League on a train-and-trial deal while Walters confirmed he was in talks with former NRL back David Mead to return from England.

“The Broncos have a history of not losing players that they want and over the last few years again that’s changed a bit,” Walters said.


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