Welch experiment works wonders for Storm
Rugby league is littered with outside backs who made the transition into the forward pack but Storm youngster Christian Welch was purpose-built for the task.
A tall, strapping thing who grew up playing hockey in regional Queensland, Welch left Gladstone as a teenager to move to Brisbane to attend prestigious GPS school Villanova and captain the First XV rugby team.
It was during his rugby days that Welch was first spotted by then Broncos recruitment chief Paul Bunn but it wasn't until Bunn joined the Storm and a plan was hatched that Welch once again emerged on the radar.
The front-rowers coming through the junior representative teams were not fitting the mould that Storm coach Craig Bellamy was looking for so Bunn and football manager Frank Ponissi spread the net a little further.
They noticed the 195-centimetre Welch playing in the centres for Easts Tigers in the under-18 Mal Meninga Cup and asked his coaches to help them with an experiment by playing him in the front row.
"We were looking for big, strong, strapping forwards with a good engine, bit of footwork, good intelligence and a bit of an offload and we weren't finding them as front-rowers at those young ages," Bunn told NRL.com.
"We turned our attention to outside backs that we could turn into long-term project forwards and 'Welchy' was one of those.
"We just thought there would be a few of them out there that we could find and turn them into front-rowers and he was a really good prospect because of his height and size.
"You could tell he was a tough kid the way he trained and the way he played so he ticked a lot of boxes for us.
"He was captain at Villanova and he's now finished his Commerce degree so he's got a lot of character traits that you like in a young bloke.
"Front-rowers in the game now are hard to find so maybe there'll be more of this type of experiment."
Luke Bailey, Ruben Wiki, Petero Civoniceva, Ben Creagh, James Tamou and David Tyrrell all came through the juniors and lower grades playing out wide before making their name as NRL front-rowers asked to do the tough stuff week after week.
With 27 first grade games over the past two seasons Welch is catching the eye of Queensland selectors and coach Kevin Walters, who invited him to take part in the Emerging Origin camp on the Gold Coast last weekend.
Born in Sydney, Welch moved to Townsville with his family before he turned one and had four years in Gladstone before moving to Brisbane to complete his schooling in Year 9.
With little opportunities to progress his football career in either code presenting themselves he said the shift from the centres to front row was life changing.
"I started the year in under-18s playing centre, captain of the Easts Mal Meninga, and by the end of the year I was playing under-20s in the front row," Welch recalled.
"They saw an opportunity to morph me into a front-rower and ever since then I've probably thrived on it.
"I was probably one of the first experiments from Paul Bunn. He was looking for some outside backs with a bit of leg speed that could potentially go through the middle.
"I'm not a flashy player but the system in Melbourne, it's a tough job in the front row but it's a simple one.
"It's all about your work ethic and I probably thrived on Craig's system down there."
The other similar such find by Bunn and the Storm was Redcliffe product Josh Kerr, who was also converted from an outside back into a front-rower.
Kerr played 41 games in the NYC competition over the past two seasons for the Storm and was signed by St George Illawarra over the off-season on a two-year deal.