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Why versatility is both a blessing and a curse

I've noticed a major shift in the approach of utility players since my time in the game and if I could give those players one piece of advice it would be for them to lay claim to a position before it is too late.

There are some great players in our game who arguably still don't know what their best position is.

Jack Bird and Tyrone Peachey have played Origin due to their utility value – which is something I can certainly relate to – while up-and-comers like Connor Watson and AJ Brimson are still finding their way in first grade.

In just the past week we have seen the different styles of approach from a couple of powerful young forwards too.

Bulldogs back-rower Corey Harawira-Naera went to his new coach and put his hand up to play in the middle if it will get him some more minutes, while Roosters recruit Angus Crichton came out after getting less than 20 minutes against South Sydney and said he is a right edge back-rower and that is the spot he will fight for.

Get caught up: Round 1

What Crichton said on Friday would have been pretty much unheard of when I was coming into grade 20 years ago when the standard line was "I'll do whatever the coach wants, I'll play anywhere if it gets me in the team".

But I say good on him – he joined the club as a representative player and he is in a position where he can make that statement.

If you're a specialist utility you will never get paid as much as a specialist half or hooker or fullback

Good for him that he is prepared to back himself but as a general rule if you don't have that kind of stature you can't afford to make that sort of claim.

I joined the Roosters in 2000 as a fullback and while I felt like I went well at most aspects of the position I struggled under the high ball and ended up getting dropped to reserve grade. It was my utility value that got me back into the team on the bench before getting back into the starting side in the halves.

Being a "super-sub" also helped me become an Origin and Test player.

One other advantage to playing multiple positions, especially earlier in your career, is that it helps you develop an understanding of what other players in your team want from you in both attack and defence.

Having played some fullback and a lot in the halves meant that when I was playing at hooker I knew exactly what the other playmakers needed.

Annesley discusses key decisions from round 1

The other side of the equation is knowing where they want to go direction-wise which let me know how many troops I have to work with in another area.

But I also felt the sting of being a versatile player after I returned to Souths in 2008 as a halfback. I got injured in my first game which gave Chris Sandow a chance. He played well and because he couldn't play any other positions that became his spot.

I spent some time at five-eighth but we had John Sutton demanding that spot and Issac Luke had nailed down the hooker role and because he was a specialist dummy-half he wasn't going to get moved so again, because I was versatile, I ended up going back to the bench which is where I finished my NRL career in 2008 before pursuing opportunities in Japanese rugby.

It is much more common these days for players to say "I'm not happy" and asking for a release but that never crossed my mind.

Roosters backrower Angus Crichton.
Roosters backrower Angus Crichton. ©Gregg Porteous/NRL Photos

My advice for those younger utility type players now would be – keep growing your skills, learn as many positions as you can, make yourself as valuable a proposition as you can but also decide as early as possible what position you want to specialise in.

What are you good at? Focus on that, focus on where you have your comparative advantage and will enjoy yourself more and things will be easier for you.

There is never a wasted moment as a utility because you're always learning something and building a skillset which is unmatched by your teammates and which will always come in handy regardless of what position you decide to play.

There will come a time for all those guys when they need to work out what they want to make of their career. If their goal is to be a utility and play different positions then best of luck to them.

But if you're a specialist utility you will never get paid as much as a specialist half or hooker or fullback or whatever it is the top players get paid.

Once you get to 26 or 27 it can already be too late. That's about the age I was when I was finding my versatility counting against me at the Rabbitohs and someone like Tyrone Peachey is just coming to that sort of a crossroads now.

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