Gray Wants Souths Centre Spot In 2017
It took Aaron Gray 25 games before he was given a chance in the centres, and now that he's had a taste, he doesn't want to leave.
Like the Rabbitohs, Gray started the season with a bang, grabbing four tries in the first two games on the wing – including a hat-trick against the Knights in Round 2 – but struggled to make an impact as his side slumped to nine-straight losses midway through the year.
After his blistering start to 2016, Gray managed just one try between Rounds 3 and 22 but has roared back into form since making the switch to centre in Round 17 against the Cowboys.
While he's fully aware of the battle for spots at the club in 2017, Gray said his number one goal was to start next season in the three-quarter line.
If his two-try haul to finish this year is anything to go by, Rabbitohs coach Michael Maguire will be hard-pressed to ignore his pleas.
Gray was brilliant against the Bulldogs on Friday night, sealing the 18-point win with a determined charge through the teeth of Canterbury's defence before crashing over again four minutes later.
"My goal is to start next season in the centres," Gray told NRL.com following South Sydney's win over the Bulldogs.
"I've always seen myself as a centre. I just had to bide my time on the wing because I've had some good players in front of me like Bryson Goodwin and Hymel Hunt.
"I was happy to do my apprenticeship on the wing and hopefully I can just make that centre spot mine.
"I'm just enjoying my footy at the moment and I think people tend to play a bit better when they're having some fun."
While he has excelled in recent times for the Rabbitohs, Gray's first crack at centre came courtesy of City Origin coach Brad Fittler who picked the 22-year-old to make his representative debut earlier in the year.
Spurred by the opportunity to play in his preferred position, Gray repaid the faith shown to him by Fittler with two tries in each half to become the first player since Graham Eadie in 1980 to score four tries in the Country-City fixture.
Ironically, Gray was forced to shift back to the wing after just five minutes because of an injury to teammate David Nofoaluma, but the opportunity itself had a lasting impact on the 22-year-old.
It was a representative debut he will never forget, but Gray was unable to take that form to club level as injury saw him miss the next four club games with a lateral collateral ligament strain in his knee.
Instead of kicking stones about something that was out of his control, Gray knuckled down in the rehab group and brought his representative form back to club level where he scored four tries in the final month of the season.
"Unfortunately I ruptured my LCL in that game and it took me a while to get the body right and get back out there again," he said.
"I was absolutely shattered because I'd taken a lot of confidence out of that game and was looking forward to taking on Parramatta the following week but unfortunately I had to sit on the sidelines for a few weeks and recover.
"Footy can be a bit of a rollercoaster sometimes but it is what it is.
"I feel the backend of the season has really come good for myself and the boys and it's a credit to all of us for not giving up on the season."
While 2016 didn't go to plan for South Sydney, they can at least take plenty of positives from their unbeaten final month of the season.
One of the highlights was the left-edge combination of Gray and Joe Burgess, and while the Englishman won't be at Redfern next year, his mid-season arrival at the club has made an impact on the playing group.
Burgess also crossed for a double against the Bulldogs on Friday night – including a try with his final touch in the NRL – and Gray said his impending departure would be hard to take after the pair became good mates.
"We were talking a bit about it tonight after we scored a few tries how I'm really going to miss him," he said.
"He does his work for us on the field and he's an absolute character off the field and he's just a great bloke.
"I've formed a pretty good bond with Joe and I'm going to miss him next year, that's for sure."