Towering Matt Briggs told the 300 investors who rocked up to the Melbourne Mining Club’s Cutting Edge series on Tuesday night that to make a discovery, you’ve got to drill holes.

But for junior explorers, funding drilling campaigns is a challenge, as Briggs found out when he became managing director of the Tanami exploration specialist Prodigy Gold (ASX: PRX) two years ago.

It had a fantastic ground position on the Northern Territory side of the region, but it simply wasn’t drilling enough.

Briggs’ response was to parcel up chunks of prospective ground and then entice major mining groups (they like big regional plays in frontier locations) to form joint ventures over the ground, while also keeping ground for Prodigy on a 100% basis.

The end result of his efforts has been the striking of JVs in the Tanami with Independence (ASX: IGO) and Newcrest (ASX: NCM), plus a JV with Gladiator (ASX: GLA) over in the North Arunta province.

Briggs has another JV cooking with another big name and told Tuesday night’s crowd that they should keep an “eye out for that in coming days”. They must have been listening as Prodigy popped 0.4c or 4.8% higher to 8.6c on Wednesday for a market value of $39 million.

He added that he planned to have yet another JV in the bag by the end of the year.

So instead of having exposure to an annual exploration spend of $2m like it did before Briggs’ arrival, Prodigy’s exposure this year will be more than $12m, rising to what Briggs plans to be a steady state $15m on the signing of the new JVs.

You would have to think that with the smarts of IGO and Newcrest at finding things, and with the input of the new JV partners, the chances of Prodigy being involved in finding the next big one – either on the JV ground or its 100% ground – has improved out of sight.

As Briggs said, it’s drill holes that make discoveries.

A piece of cake is still cake

Now, it has to be said that Prodigy has had to let go 70-75% interests in the project areas subject to the JVs. But without the funding the JV partners are bringing in for exploration, there is every chance Prodigy would never have got around to drilling them anyway.

Better to have 30% of a discovery than 100% of nothing. And besides, Prodigy has kept 13,000sq km of prospective ground to itself which is about double the average for its peers of 7,000sq km.

Thanks to the JVs, Prodigy’s holding costs are reduced by two-thirds meaning it has more spare cash to spend on its 100% owned ground. The JVs also bring with them lots of technical exploration nous not normally available to juniors.

The NT part of the Tanami is home to Newmont’s 14 million oz Callie operation. It is now one of Australia’s best gold mines after it was in struggle town as recently as five years ago.

Callie’s renaissance is one of the key reasons why groups like IGO and Newcrest have made the region a new hunting ground through their JVs with Prodigy. And the rush of interest is now starting to take shape.

Briggs reckons that five years ago there would have been half a dozen exploration drill rigs in the entire region. Last year there were 18, including those whirring away to Prodigy’s own account and in its JVs with IGO and Newcrest.

Much of the Tanami is covered by sand which is another reason it has not exactly been an exploration hotspot until now.

Briggs sees the sand cover as a blessing as of the 15 deposits discovered in the region to date, 13 of them have stuck out of the ground.

“So if you have 13 of the deposits in say 5% of the area, the other 95% of the area must have another 15, 20, 50 or more of the same calibre of deposits out there.’’

The proof of that will be in the drilling.