The Contenders - Fullback
With the 2014 Telstra Premiership fast approaching, it’s time to start asking the big question, who will play where?
Rabbitohs Head Coach, Michael Maguire, will have three opportunities to get his positional formula right ahead of the March 6th opening round clash against the Sydney Roosters at ANZ Stadium. Positions will go up for grabs on the 9th of February when the red and greens square off with the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs at Belmore Oval, before heading to Auckland to play in the inaugural Auckland Nines tournament – a tournament that Maguire hopes to get plenty out of.
“We’re definitely going to use it as an important part of our pre-season and our preparation for the season,” admitted Maguire.
“Our focus is on our main game, but the Nines tournament is something that we can look forward to and enjoy, while also looking forward to that format potentially bringing out a few people in different ways – giving players a few opportunities to have a run and show what they’ve got.”
The Rabbitohs will then take on the St George Illawarra Dragons in the annual Charity Shield match.
Over the coming weeks, Rabbitohs.com.au will take you through all the contenders for every jumper in the red and green’s starting 13. Every number is up for grabs, and those looking to fill the spots are as hungry as ever. Today, we give you the custodians.
The Rabbitohs’ number one jersey has been filled with many a great name during the history of the club, most notably rugby league’s number one player – Clive Churchill. Since The Little Master hung up his boots for the final time over half a century ago, the role of the fullback has evolved, and so too have the men who have laid claim to the position. Here are the three men vying for the jersey.
One of the true superstars of the modern game, Inglis has proven time and time again why his name is uttered in the same sentences as the game’s very best. Upon his arrival at Redfern in 2011, Inglis came with the tag of being the world’s best centre, having excelled in the position at both club (Melbourne Storm) and representative level (Queensland and Australia). But in a move deemed a masterstroke by Coach Michael Maguire in 2012, Inglis was shifted to fullback and immediately made an impact with his metre-gaining kick-returns and ability to slot in anywhere in the back-line in attack.
In 2013, Inglis topped the Rabbitohs for yardage gained, amassing an average of 149.7 metres per match and breaking a whopping 107 tackles in his 20 appearances (another team best performance). Add enthralling State of Origin and World Cup performances, and 2013 was not only one of Inglis’ busiest, but best year’s. There is little doubt that Inglis will again don the number one Rabbitohs jersey in 2014. Who will replace him in times of injury of during the Origin period is the real question.
Nathan Merritt stands as the obvious replacement for Inglis should the job become available during 2014. The veteran’s experience, speed, safe hands and uncanny ability to find the try-line makes the Souths Junior the go-to option.
The 2013 season was punctuated by three milestones for ‘Merro’, with the long-time Rabbitoh awarded a Blues jumper while also playing his 200th game for the Club. But it was his equalling of an almost century-long held club try-scoring record that stood out – Merritt equalling Benny Wearing’s 144 Rabbitohs career tries. Merritt now only needs one try to break the record in 2014.
While Merritt lacks the size, and thus the kick-returning ability of Inglis, the Rabbitoh is a serious contender for the fullback position with his level head and experience.
For those who didn’t watch the Rabbitiohs NYC 2013, the name Alex Johnston will hardly be familiar, but with the Souths Junior this year graduating to the NRL squad at the age of 19, expect to hear the name a little more often.
A quick and evasive fullback or winger, Johnston is the latest in a long line of talent to come out of Souths Juniors’ La Perouse club. He was a consistent performer for the Rabbitohs’ under 20’s side in 2013, while also being selected to represent NSW in the under 18’s after having previously gained representative honours in the NSW under 16’s and the Australian Schoolboy’s side.