Home is where the heart is for rising Broncos star
Boom teenager Xavier Coates has declared he wants to be a Bronco for life amid fears Storm super coach Craig Bellamy could pull off a poaching raid on Brisbane's Queensland Origin star.
In his only interview, Coates opened up to News Corp about his future and his plans to help haul the Broncos out of the NRL dungeon ahead of Brisbane's season-opener against the Eels on Friday night.
Coates, who celebrates his 20th birthday on the night of the 2021 season kick-off, is off-contract at season's end and has become one of the most sought-after outside backs in the code.
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But on the eve of Brisbane's revenge mission, starting against Parramatta at Suncorp Stadium, the 105kg wing weapon has set the record straight on his future.
"In an ideal world, I want to be a Bronco for life," Coates said.
Alarm bells rang at the Broncos just days before Christmas last year when Coates and his manager were pictured at a Gold Coast cafe having secret talks with Melbourne coach Bellamy.
Brisbane's arch-rivals, the Cowboys, have also expressed interest in Coates, but the Maroons flyer rejected suggestions he is poised to walk out on the Broncos to defect to the Storm in 2022.
"It's nice to know a club as great as Melbourne have interest in me, but to be honest, my No.1 priority is the Broncos," said Coates, speaking for the first time about his talks with Bellamy.
"It wasn't too daunting meeting Craig. It was just a catch-up. It was over the off-season and we were both on holidays. Craig was at Coolangatta at the time and my manager set up the meeting.
"I was talking to Craig about what he was thinking and everything came out in the media. Someone took a photo of us and it all blew up, which I didn't expect. It wasn't anything major. I wanted to see what his plans were because, yes, I'm off-contract.
"You have to keep your options open, but my preference is to stay at the Broncos.
"If I'm being honest, I just want to be around my family. My main thought is I don't want to leave this club. I'm happy at the Broncos and 'Kevvie' (new Broncos coach Kevin Walters) has been really welcoming.
"I want to help turn this club around and whatever happens next year is down the track. My immediate focus is playing good football. But I'm 100 per cent dedicated to the Broncos, so if I'm happy here, I will stay."
RED HILL REVIVAL
Coates was one of the few shining lights of last year's wooden-spoon disaster.
The 19-year-old scored five tries in 12 games, including a long-range try against Newcastle that saw him clocked at 36.9km/h, making him the fastest player in the NRL alongside Josh Addo-Carr.
But for all his personal growth, the worst season in Brisbane's 33-year history took a toll on the towering utility back.
"Last year was so difficult," he said.
"We started off well in the first two games and then we came back from COVID and fell apart.
"There were issues with the coaching staff and the club just felt like it was collapsing in front of us.
"But we have come back fresh and started with new staff. There has been a cleanout among the players, even with our attitudes.
"It feels like a new club, there is a family feel and Kevvie is a family-orientated bloke. He is getting the camaraderie going again and bringing back past players to have chats with us.
"There is a huge history of the club and Kevvie is teaching us when we put on that Broncos jersey, you represent the past, the present and all the people of Queensland."
After debuting in 2019, playing three games, Coates enters his second full season of NRL this year.
The dreaded 'second-year syndrome' is hanging over his head. While Coates accepts NRL rivals will be more attuned to his strengths and weaknesses, he is determined not to lose his way this season.
On Friday night, Coates will mark up against Parramatta's Fijian wrecking ball Maika Sivo in one of the most daunting assignments of his 15-game career.
"I'm not worried about the second-year syndrome," he said.
"My attitude is that if I keep working hard, I believe that's the key to not going backwards.
"I haven't played too many games but I've already sat down with the coaches. I always reflect on how I can get better.
"I have really focused on my defence and how I move with my reads in defence. I also want to make a lot more impact with my kick returns and set a platform for my forwards to work from.
"Physically, I'm sitting at around 105kg. I was actually 109kg a few months ago, but I have slimmed down and I am watching my diet to make sure I don't get too big.
"Maika Sivo is a massive test for me. Every week in the NRL presents different challenges, there's a lot of good wingers and I need to cover Maika because he is a powerful bloke and he can do some damage if my defence isn't up to scratch."
THE BIG SWITCH
Coates reveals he was almost lost to rugby league. While he idolised Queensland Origin legend Greg Inglis as a kid, Coates had dreams of starring in another sport.
"I actually should have been a hockey player," he said.
"My dad and brothers all played field hockey. I would go their games and watch them play, so it was a natural progression for me.
"Dad even bought me a hockey stick and I was ready to play, then I started playing touch footy at school and my mates convinced me to play for the Currumbin Eagles.
"If it wasn't for my mates, I would have ended up in hockey over league for sure."
The Papua New Guinea-born Coates was a bolter for Wayne Bennett's Queensland Origin side last year. Coates scored two tries from as many games and is determined to return to the Maroons this year after the epic series boilover of the Blues.
"I can't explain what it meant to me to play Origin," he said.
"As a kid, I would wear my Queensland jersey to school on Origin nights and we would talk about the game and I idolised the Maroons players.
"Wayne was a bit daunting at first, but he's not as grumpy as he appears in the media. He cracks a laugh and a smile behind the scenes. He was really supportive of me.
"I was over the moon to be a part of it. Hopefully I get to experience it again this year, I'd love to be back in the Origin team, but I need to play well for the Broncos first and enjoy my footy.
"It all starts again on Friday night. I can't wait to get back out there, we want to make amends for the Broncos fans and show them we care about the jumper."
Originally published as Home is where the heart is for rising Broncos star