Ash Taylor
Ash Taylor Scott Davis / SMP Images

Ash Taylor to go head to head with Cooper Cronk

EXCITING talent Ash Taylor will get to play at least one game for Brisbane before joining the Gold Coast next season, with Broncos coach Wayne Bennett handing the youngster his NRL debut against Melbourne tonight.

And what a debut it will be for the highly-rated playmaker, going head-to-head with the Storm's Queensland and Australian halfback Cooper Cronk.

Chased hard by a number of NRL clubs, including Manly which wanted him as a replacement for Parramatta-bound Keiran Foran in the halves next season, Taylor comes into Bennett's side for injured No.7 Ben Hunt who has been ruled out after picking up a corked leg at training earlier in the week.

"He hasn't recovered well enough, so he won't be playing," Bennett said of the significant late change.

Bennett said Taylor, whose father Randall was a handy hooker in Toowoomba, would just have to play like he had for the club's NYC Under-20 side this season, and not worry about anything more than filling his role.

Taylor has been in the Broncos system since he was 13, and has already had two shoulder operations. He has sharpness off the mark, and a good passing and kicking game.

"It's a great opportunity for him," Bennett said.

"He's got all the skill sets so we've just got to get him out there and play him now and see what he does with it all.

"He's a regular halfback, that's where he's played all his football - so it's just what he does in Under-20s will be good enough for us.

Melbourne game-breaker Cooper Cronk
Melbourne game-breaker Cooper Cronk

Hunt's absence will mean other members of the Broncos spine - five-eighth Anthony Milford, hooker Andrew McCullough and fullback Darius Boyd - having to take on extra playmaking responsibilities, and also sharing the kicking.

Bennett said the in-form Hunt, whose partnership with young gun Anthony Milford has really started to click, was not in any danger of missing the opening round of the finals next week.

Bennett also opted to rest winger Jordan Kahu (shoulder) with Lachlan Maranta recalled for the clash which, regardless of the result, will see Brisbane claim a top-two spot heading into the finals.

Storm coach Craig Bellamy, who has had his players in camp on the Sunshine Coast this week, said the emphasis tonight would be to build on last weekend's win over the Cowboys.

"The situation on the table makes it a fairly big game for both teams," Bellamy said prior to the captain's run on the Sunshine Coast on Wednesday.

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