Kangaroos' centre stocks thin: Renouf
He was one of the most electrifying centre three-quarters of all time but now Steve Renouf is lamenting a move towards size over speed in the Kangaroos' centre stocks that he says could prove costly as the tournament progresses.
When Kangaroos coach Mal Meninga announced his 24-man World Cup squad on October 3 only Melbourne's Will Chambers had spent the entire season playing in the centres for his club side in the Telstra Premiership.
Manly's Dylan Walker – the Dally M Centre of the Year – was an unfortunate casualty of the Prime Minister's XIII game in Papua New Guinea and would almost certainly have earned selection, but his absence leaves Chambers and Dane Gagai as the only Kangaroos to have played a minimum of five NRL games in the centres this season.
Instead, the proliferation of fullbacks at the representative level continued with Meninga selecting five players who have spent significant time in the No.1 jersey during the course of the season.
Having played in the centres in all three State of Origin matches for New South Wales this year as well as four times for St George Illawarra late in the season, Josh Dugan is the man favoured to partner Chambers in the centres against England in the World Cup opener in Melbourne on October 27.
Dugan has scored five tries in his past four appearances in the centres for the Kangaroos but he is a long way from possessing the attacking potency displayed by Renouf who crossed for 11 tries in his 10 Tests for Australia.
Laurie Daley used Dugan and Jarryd Hayne in the centres for the NSW Blues, and throughout the finals series we witnessed Sydney Roosters coach Trent Robinson employing Mitch Aubusson and Ryan Matterson in the centres for the Tricolours. The practice of substituting bigger-bodied back-rowers out wide was one regularly employed by other clubs also.
Whilst that is primarily done to shore up the defensive line, Renouf says by using part-time centres a team can actually become more vulnerable.
"I'm one of the true blue centres but it is a shame to be honest," Renouf said of genuine centres being overlooked in representative teams.
"I got offered the chance to play fullback back in my day but I bluntly said no to Wayne [Bennett] that I didn't want to be fullback so I hung in there.
"It is a very specific position and teams find other teams out.
"If you're not a true centre and you haven't played most of your time there, defensively you can get caught out very easily.
"You don't have the beauty of having that tight pack a bit closer in. You're out there and you're calling the shots with just you and your winger."
Ironically, Renouf will be one of the few Australian centres travelling around the country during the World Cup as he delivers the Deadly Choices program that encourages Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to have regular health checks.
When the former Bronco made his Test debut in 1992 he did so alongside one of the most imposing centres to ever play the game in Meninga himself, but is somewhat disappointed that size is preferred over speed in the modern game.
"Size is a big thing these days," said Renouf, who played 183 games for Brisbane and scored a double in his final Test appearance in 1998.
"We relied a lot on our speed both in attack and defence. I can remember Wayne saying to us – because we had a very quick back-line – his big thing to us was to show them the sideline.
"If they beat you on the outside good luck to them but don't let them ever go through you.
"He had the faith in us that we'd run them down, which nine times out of 10 we did."