Peachey admits nerves about centre switch
Ahead of this weekend's tantalising match-up between two of the form centres of the competition, one of those men – Panthers lock-turned-centre Tyrone Peachey – admits he was nervously cramming on videos of good defensive centres when coach Anthony Griffin first moved him to the backline in Round 11.
With international centres Dean Whare and later Peta Hiku both being ruled out for the season, the in-form Peachey joked he was "probably the sixth-string centre" when Griffin took him from a back row and utility hooker role to replace fellow utility Isaah Yeo in the three-quarter line.
After feeling his way into the role, Peachey's form has exploded over the past two months – coinciding with Penrith's hot streak – and the 25-year-old former Shark now has 89 tackle breaks for the year.
That figure is second at the club only to devastating outside man Josh Mansour (131 tackle breaks) and it makes the pair the second-most dangerous flank in the NRL – shaded only by their upcoming opponents in Canberra's right-edge men Jordan Rapana (128 tackle breaks) and Joey Leilua (122).
"At the start I was really nervous; it's a tough position to defend," said Peachey, who played lock and second row for his entire career until former Penrith mentor Ivan Cleary asked him to take on more of a utility role, then current coach Griffin thrust him out wider still.
"The first couple of games it was a bit tough. I think I let a few tries in. I've just been trying to get better each week with my defence and attack and trying to work on my game and I finally feel a little comfortable out there but I've got a big task this week in BJ Leilua," Peachey said.
"He's probably the best in-form centre in the comp and it's going to be pretty tough."
Impressively, Peachey's defence in the difficult centre role – which is a crucial decision-making position when it comes to a team's edge defence – has improved out of sight lately.
Since missing 11 tackles in four appearances from Rounds 17 to 21 he now has just seven misses in six games in a stretch that has seen Penrith concede two or less tries in their past five games – the only side to boast such a miserly record of late.
"It was really hard at the start but I just did a lot of video with 'Hook' [Griffin]," Peachey said.
"You just watch the good defensive centres and did video on them and just try to learn from those blokes which made it a lot easier. I think my 'D' has gotten a lot better from when I first started there. I'm just trying to get better each week and go from there."
Peachey had no hesitation in nominating recently-retired Broncos centre Jack Reed as the first man he looked at when it came to defending one-in, but clubmates and Kiwi internationals Whare and Hiku were also high on his list.
Another thing boosting Peachey's confidence is the presence of Origin winger Mansour outside him. Peachey said Mansour's efforts all year but particularly since his debut Origin series mid-year had lifted the players around him. Their combination will be vital as Penrith look to combat the threat of 'Leipana' this Saturday night.
"When he came back from Origin he just had that confidence, it rubs off on you," Peachey said.
"Seeing what he does on the field each week, he's averaging, I don't know what it is, 200 metres or whatever (it's 175m per game, which sees Mansour easily top the NRL for most metres in 2016).
"He's been going good all year and everyone's finally starting to see what he has been doing but he's been doing it all year. It's good to see that he's getting recognised and hopefully he makes that Australian team at the end of the year," Peachey added.
Of their specific task this weekend, Peachey admitted stopping Leilua was a task that had proven beyond most teams already this season.
"I think everyone in the comp's been trying to shut him down and they haven't been able to so I'm just going to do my best," he shrugged.
"I've got Josh Mansour beside me so it's going to be a big task for the pair of us with Rapana and Leilua so I think we'll just have to do our best and see what happens.
"Their combination's been deadly all year. I don't know what we're going to do yet. We'll do some video during the week and go from there."
Yeo, the man who made way for Peachey's move out wide, has been in rare form himself as an edge back-rower of late and he was quick to back Griffin's judgement in picking the right man for the vacant centre role earlier in the season.
"I think it's been a lot better for our team having him in the centres than myself!" Yeo laughed.
"He's just got that ability to beat the first defender and he's been outstanding for us since he's been there.
"He can obviously get early ball and work one on one or he can go in the middle and he just seems to be able to beat forwards with his footwork and strength and power so I can't rap him enough. It's different defending out there and he's done a wonderful job for us."
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