North Queensland have moved swiftly to ensure their engine room remains among the best in the NRL by pouncing on off-contract Brisbane forward Ben Hannant.
Former Test and Queensland Origin prop Hannant has signed a one-year deal with the Cowboys in a move that could see him the first of three Broncos big guns to leave Red Hill this month.
With expectations firming that new coach Wayne Bennett will bring Darius Boyd back with him to Brisbane, Josh Hoffman is poised to sign elsewhere and Ben Barba is also weighing up his options.
The Broncos, who are overloaded with fullbacks, have little salary cap room to spare and offloading Barba, as well as Hoffman, would help address a lack of balance in their squad.
Bennett has told Hoffman, overlooked by New Zealand selectors on Tuesday, he is free to negotiate with rival clubs despite being contracted for 2015 on a deal that is half of what he may command elsewhere.
Speculation is mounting that Barba, who will have to give up the No.6 jersey for ex-Raider Anthony Milford, may also depart as he’s reportedly being shopped around by the Broncos.
The club’s awkward salary cap restraints ultimately saw Hannant, used as a bench player under Anthony Griffin, take a bigger offer at the Cowboys following interest from both Melbourne and Manly.
The 29-year-old’s move stiffens North Queensland’s top-class pack – featuring fellow international props Matt Scott and James Tamou – after they lost the Sims brothers, Tariq (Newcastle) and Ashton (Warrington).
“I’m really looking forward to the opportunities that playing with the Cowboys will present,” Hannant said.
“They have a high-calibre roster looking to take the next step and it’s going to be great to be able to train and play with the likes of JT (Johnathan Thurston) and Matt Scott who I know really well from Origin.”
With 192 NRL games of experience, plus 12 Origin matches and six Tests, Hannant is justifiably seen as a significant asset by the Cowboys.
“He’s a great signing for the club,” said rising Kiwis back-rower Jason Taumalolo. “He’ll bring a lot of experience like Ashton did to our pack.
“He’ll help with our engine room going forward.”
Tagged the next Sonny Bill Williams, Taumalolo on Tuesday did his best to distance himself from such expectations that he’s been forced to endure since 16.
“It puts a lot of pressure on you,” the 21-year-old said in Townsville. “That (tag) is the last thing I would want.”