Changing positions isn’t always easy, but Broncos captain Darren Lockyer is the perfect example of how it can be a masterstroke for the player, his club, state and country. Lockyer was considered the world’s best fullback when he switched to playing five-eighth. Then he became the world’s best five-eighth.
Eels fullback Jarryd Hayne played in the halves in the last two games, but has been named to start at five-eighth for Parramatta tonight against the Bulldogs. While Eels coach Stephen Kearney has admitted he is not sure yet if Hayne’s switch will be permanent, there is a lot to like about it from a number of aspects.
From a club perspective, the Eels are only a mathematical chance of making the finals, but are unlikely to make the eight, so it is the perfect time for Kearney to trial the move.
Hayne is the secret to the Eels’ success. If they get him playing good football at five-eighth, get him happy and get his form going, it’s like buying a brand new player with exceptional ability … except you had him in your ranks already. That sort of person is difficult to find or buy.
Hayne can also look at it quite selfishly. You look at all the good fullbacks in the game at the moment ... Josh Dugan, Brett Stewart, Anthony Minichiello and Billy Slater (and there’s none better at it than Billy). If you go back in history also, Australia has produced a number of great fullbacks. The thing is we haven’t been able to produce the same quantity of quality halfbacks and five-eighths.
So it presents a great opportunity for Hayne from a representative perspective. Ironically he was overlooked for Origin I because NSW coach Ricky Stuart said at the time he thought he would make a better five-eighth and wasn’t considered the number one fullback.
Hayne’s initial reaction was he disagreed with the view and he wasn’t ready to play five-eighth. Despite that, he was later chosen for the Blues in Games II and III, where he started at wing and centre respectively.
He probably needed a few days to mope around and be disappointed after missing out on Origin I selection. As a coach, as a general rule when you have to make a tough decision and drop a player, you give them some space and allow them to kick stones and be disappointed for a few days - but they can’t keep moping around.
Playing in Origin probably also helped. He would have enjoyed being in camp, and most players, when it comes to representative football, would do anything to be there and play for their state. It would have been a bit of a humbling experience for him, which isn’t a bad thing.
Ricky Stuart has probably helped him to reach that decision to want to try five-eighth and done him a favour. And I am not sure whether Hayne or Kearney would have promoted the idea at the Eels recently but they would have had a chat about it. Their reasons would have been different.
Maybe Jarryd thought there were times when he was not getting his hands on the ball enough; maybe he could have had more input, or that he was not as effective as he could be.
At end of the day the coach has to pick his best 17 players. Maybe right now Hayne was not the Eels’ best fullback but he could be the best five-eighth in the 17. Do you want to be the one sitting out because someone is playing better in that position; or be someone playing another role?
Apart from his defence he plays a bit like a five-eighth does. He doesn’t chime into the backline like other fullbacks. He makes the opposition nervous. Dugan and Slater play from second man out the back; most fullbacks enjoy that style of play.
But Hayne looks more comfortable with the ball in his hands. He doesn’t need too much happening or created for him. When the Eels made the Grand Final in the 2009 season, Hayne was playing ad lib football; he wasn’t playing the traditional role of a fullback.
What you want is him getting the ball in his hands on more occasions than not. If he plays fullback he doesn’t quite get to do that.
I think he is on the right path to have a real crack at five-eighth, although not in the traditional role. He has to get used to tackling; being in the frontline; and getting used to the different workload. Just as Darren Lockyer did, moving from fullback to five-eighth gives you time to learn about the game before stepping up to the role.
Hayne has followed the same pattern as Lockyer and has the potential to enjoy similar success in that role.