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Bennett's first big move: Is Inglis' fullback return the right play?

New Rabbitohs coach Wayne Bennett's first big player move of his Redfern stint could be to return Maroons skipper Greg Inglis to the position where he has had the most success at club level – the No.1 jersey.

This means incumbent Alex Johnston, who enjoyed his best run at the back in 2018 after failing to properly grab his chance in previous stints, would be shifted to the wing or potentially out of the club.

Will the move pay off? While it is impossible to know for certain without a crystal ball, it is possible to study the form guides of both players in their time at fullback compared to their other spot – wing for Johnston and centre for Inglis.

Of course, there is no guarantee Inglis – who will be 32 by the start of the 2019 Telstra Premiership season – will be able to recapture his peak form at fullback. But if he gets close, is Inglis at No.1 with Johnston on the wing a more valuable proposition for Bennett than Johnston at the back with Inglis in the centres?

Bennett unsure of fullback position

There is a strong chance that an Inglis move to fullback would result in one of Johnston or the still-unsigned Robert Jennings finding a new home, given Campbell Graham's mortgage on one flank. The departures of Hymel Hunt (Knights) and Tyrell Fuimaono (Panthers) leave the Rabbitohs a little short in centre partners for Dane Gagai if Inglis moves spots, though Braidon Burns showed enough in small stints to suggest he may be a better centre than a winger.

But what do the numbers say?

Purely in terms of games at fullback, Inglis's performances have far outstripped what Johnston has done so far according to Stats.

Johnston is not really a yardage man and gets lapped in metres per game (141-54) and tackle breaks per game (4.4-2.7) at the back when comparing the two.

Johnston has a fractional advantage in line breaks per game and a slight disadvantage in tries per game, though the other area where Inglis really shines in a head-to-head comparison is in assists, comfortably leading Johnston for try assists and line-break assists per game.

However taking Johnston's 2018 season in isolation from his earlier stints he boasts a lofty 0.62 line-break assists per game and a solid 0.46 try assists per game. If he is able to keep that sort of form up heading into 2019 against an Inglis that is unlikely to be as dominant as the 2013-14 version, it is really just the hit-ups and kick returns where you could reliably say Inglis can be expected to be a lot better than Johnston.

A glance at Inglis's work as a centre only really has 2018 to go on, while for Johnston as a winger the dataset is most of the 2014-2017 seasons.

Inglis still is miles clear in terms of metres per game (124-55) and tackle breaks (2.9-1.2), and unsurprisingly Johnston's assists are almost non-existent from the wing at below 0.1 per game on both counts.

Johnston has been a try-scoring freak at times on the flank but even with 59 tries in 107 games his strike rate (0.55 tries per game) isn't significantly better than what Inglis manages at either centre (0.50) or fullback (0.51) for Souths.

In conclusion, it's a bold move switching Johnston from fullback after the local junior finally seemed to settle into the role in 2018, given the uncertainty over whether Inglis and his ageing knees will be able to recapture the sort of form that enabled him to dominate the position a few years back.

If it pays off, Inglis will present a far greater threat on kick returns and is the more established ball-player. Johnston's value elsewhere in the team given the form of boom rookie Campbell Graham and 2018's top try-scorer Robert Jennings is now debatable. 

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