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Renouf: How Maroons can centre attack on Blues' defensive weakness

Latrell Mitchell and Tom Trbojevic have produced some sensational football for their clubs but when it comes to playing centre for NSW in Origin, I think it’s a possible weakness Queensland can exploit.

NSW have a huge pool of talent every year to draw from which can be a good thing but sometimes it can be to their detriment because they try to squeeze all their best players into the 17.

The Blues have got four or five quality fullbacks, but sometimes you’ve got to back guys who know how to play a certain position because they do that every week.

While I still believe Latrell is a centre, Trbojevic does not have much experience at centre and while he’s done it before for NSW it’s not always as simple as it seems as the Blues learnt last year with Clint Gutherson.

But I think Queensland showed last year by playing Kurt Capewell at centre that it’s easier to get a back-rower to make the transition to centre than it is for a fullback to suddenly have to defend in the front line.

Maroons v Blues - Origin I

Capewell was superb for the Maroons and he will do a great job again for them this series.

The fact he defends on an edge all year for the Panthers is why he can adjust so well when he has to play centre for Queensland.

Capewell has the footwork and skill to play a bit of footy, so in attack he offers something for Queensland.

But it’s his ability to adjust without any problem in defence that will give the Maroons the advantage.

Dane Gagai comes into the game in amazing form after his hat-trick last week for South Sydney and we’ve seen it every year that he always lifts for these big games.

As I said, you can’t fault what Mitchell and Trbojevic have been able to produce for their clubs and it was only a few weeks ago I said Turbo was the most influential player in the game, but they’ve both been playing at fullback.

Playing centre is a different game altogether.

The change from fullback to centre is not simple. It will take a mindset adjustment and a week is a short time to build confidence in your defensive combination with your inside and outside man.

Knowing when to rush in defensively or when to stay out is not something that is easily built with three or four training runs together.

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Particularly with the way the game is played now, knowing how your teammates are going to defend when numbers and shape are coming at you can be the difference between winning and losing.

I reckon Queensland will target that edge with Trbojevic and they’ll also go after the debutants Brian To’o and Jerome Luai.

To’o has got to be a target in defence, especially with the high ball. I know he is good running the ball and he is tough, but he’s not the tallest winger so they will be bombing him all night long.

They will run at Luai all night too. He is going to be getting more traffic than he has ever faced in the NRL.

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It’s a shame Kalyn Ponga won’t be there for Queensland, but I know Kyle Feldt will slot nicely into that backline and Valentine Holmes is in great form right now at fullback for the Cowboys.

But as a former centre it is disappointing to look at these teams and see that there are not too many pure centres in the game at the moment.

It seems any centres who show real promise nowadays get convinced to move into the spine to further their career.

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The highest-paid players in rugby league play in the spine so I really believe it is money and the managers who convince these guys they need to switch positions.

I know Brisbane are talking about moving Kotoni Staggs into the halves and for me that would be wrong.

He could become one of the best centres we’ve seen in many years and I always believe you’re never going to be as effective playing a position if you haven’t grown up playing there as a kid.

Because when the pressure comes, like it does for 80 minutes in an Origin game, you fall back on your instincts and those habits take years to perfect.

The views in this article do not necessarily express the opinions of the NRL, ARL Commission, NRL clubs or state associations.

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