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 centres.
The Rabbitohs’ number three and four jersey will be fiercely fought over in 2014 with eight genuine contenders for the two spots, and with centre experience the ilk of Greg Inglis, Bryson Goodwin, Beau Champion and Joel Reddy in the mix, Coach Michael Maguire is confident that his playing squad will feed off the energy that all the players will provide.
“There’s plenty of boys who are capable of filling that position in this team,” said Maguire.
“We have a great mix of young blokes as well as some more experienced players that I think will tend to feed off each other.
“To have the experience of guys like Lote Tuqiri, Beau Champion, Joel Reddy and Bryson Goodwin is great for the younger players. I’m sure they’ll get plenty out of them, and it’ll show on the field.”
Beau Champion: The Souths Junior has had poor luck with injury in recent seasons. Consequently, the big centre managed only eight appearances in 2013, but it was enough for him to amass 14 tackle-breaks and five line-breaks. With the ill-fortune of the past now well and truly behind him, coupled with fresh legs, Champion could be on the brink of his best season yet.
Possessing speed to burn and upper-body strength that is generally only reserved for forwards, Champion is a devastating runner of the ball, and a sight to behold when in full-flight. If ‘Champ’ can stay fit, you can bet that he’ll be in the mix for a starting centre position.
Dylan Walker: Blessed with demon-speed and a powerful fend, Dylan Walker made quite the impression for the Rabbitohs in his debut season.
After cracking the top grade in round 10 of 2013, Walker went on the cement his place in the Rabbitohs’ starting line-up by playing 16 games and scoring eight tries and a goal. Despite still being eligible to play in the NYC, Walker’s size, speed and fend amounted to an impressive 30 tackle-breaks and five line-breaks while also managing to get the ball away on 11 occasions.
The Mascot junior comes into his first full season in the top-grade fully-knowing what to expect. He won’t be giving up his starting jumper too easily.
Aaron Gray: Another Souths Junior, Aaron Gray set the NYC competition alight in 2013 with his powerful attacking style and rock-solid defence. 2014 sees Gray come into the first grade squad and step into real contention for a first-grade debut.
The NYC competition is famous for its attacking football, but Gray’s performances last year had 2013 NYC Coach Grant Jones raving about the young centre’s defence – touting him as arguably the best defensive centre in the competition.
Should injury strike the Rabbits out wide this season, you can bet that Gray could well earn a call-up. Expect him to grab the opportunity with both hands and show what he can really do.
Bryson Goodwin: In many ways, Bryson Goodwin’s arrival and subsequent success at Redfern was the inspirational story of 2013. Having endured a ruptured spleen playing for the Bulldogs in 2012 – an injury that threatened not only his playing career, but his life – Goodwin proceeded to remake a name for himself at the Rabbitohs in 2013.
And make a name for himself he did, with the talented centre/winger not only cementing his spot in the starting 13 with his evasive running and defence, but also earning a re-call to the New Zealand side for the World Cup where he played an integral role for the Kiwis.
In his 25 appearances for the club in 2013, Goodwin bagged 42 points while also amassing 57 tackle-breaks, 13 line-breaks and four try-assists playing both in the centres and on the wing. His ability in general play is complimented by his first-class goal-kicking, the Rabbitoh easily able to cover for Adam Reynolds’ should duty call.
Lote Tuqiri: A late inclusion to Michael Maguire’s 2014 squad, Lote Tuqiri comes to the Rabbitohs with a wealth of experience that has spanned two previous NRL clubs, three Rugby Union clubs and representative honours aplenty – most noted for being a dual international (9 Tests for the Kangaroos and 67 for the Wallabies).
Tuqiri has much riding in his favour when it comes to experience, and in a backline that boasts a number of young players with limited experience but bottomless potential, Tuqiri’s presence will no doubt be beneficial.
The 106kg centre/winger will certainly push for a spot in the Rabbitohs backline and will serve as another likely replacement for Greg Inglis when the Origin period rolls around.
Kirisome Auva’a: Auva’a joins the Rabbitohs from the ranks of the Melbourne Storm for season 2014. His game is built on hard work and a powerful running game, as evidenced by his efforts for the Storm's under 20s squad over three seasons including 19 tries in 24 games in 2012, and his efforts in helping the Cronulla Sharks to a Grand FInal victory in the 2013 NSW Cup competition, where he scored two tries in the decider.
Joel Reddy: Joel Reddy shapes as one of the Rabbitohs’ potential X-factors in 2014. Having spent much of 2013 on the sidelines at the Wests Tigers, Reddy is keen to earn his spot in the fiercely competitive Rabbitohs backline.
Despite only making 14 appearances in 2013, Reddy earned himself a City Origin spot on the back of his 15 tackle-breaks, three line-breaks and three try assists, with the former Tiger and Eel a genuine contender for a NSW jumper.
With his ability to potentially play anywhere from fullback to lock, Reddy’s utility value could serve to plug some gaps should injury strike during the season. But given his competitive nature, expect the new Rabbitoh to cement a spot in the centres or on the wing.
Greg Inglis: It’s easy to forget that before Greg Inglis made his shift to the number one jersey, GI was labelled the world’s best centre. He has since gone on to become the Dally M fullback of the year.
Removing Inglis from fullback is about as likely as… well it’s just not going to happen, especially after the last two seasons of form produced by the Kangaroo. However, to not acknowledge the world’s best centre in this list would be far from right.
GI proved at the 2013 World Cup that he still knows his way around wearing the number four jersey, but for the purpose.