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Renouf: Centre battles could decide grand final combatants

The centres in this weekend's preliminary finals will have a huge say in how each match pans out, with Justin Olam and Dane Gagai holding the edge for their teams.

Centres are always crucial and even more so in big games where defence comes to the fore because those in the No.3 and No.4 jerseys control a lot defensively.

You control that line. If you want to push up and tighten things up in defence it always ends with you. As a centre, you get to make that call. It's been known as one of the toughest positions to defend and decision-making is a big part of that.

You have to be alert to what's around you. There's a lot of decisions to make in attack too if you have a two-on-one or there's any type of overlap.

Rabbitohs v Sea Eagles - Preliminary Final

We saw what happened with the Titans in their narrow loss to the Roosters. It can go wrong in a split second and you don't want to be that person.

You have critical decisions to make in attack and defence and the centres are usually ones that can make and break a game.

Rabbitohs v Sea Eagles

Dane Gagai will be a key man in this one. He loves the big stage, we've seen him do it countless times in Origin and these big games are exactly where you want a player like Dane to stand up.

Wayne Bennett will be asking that of him, to do all those little extra things that you expect of a player with his experience.

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Campbell Graham is also very impressive. I'd like to see him get some more ball because he's creative, he likes to break the line and he's also tough defensively.

He's got that size where he's a bit gangly. I remember playing against those types of centres like Graeme Bradley, they're the hardest to tackle.

It didn't matter how you went in you seemed to get hurt by an elbow or a knee. Or maybe that was just Bradley!

For Manly, Brad Parker is a very good player that goes under the radar a bit. He really has a go and he's smart. He doesn't mind the hard work and he's got a bit of size about him, He's come on this year really well and I've been really impressed by him.

As for Morgan Harper, his struggles against Melbourne won't go unnoticed by Wayne. He will single that out and Morgan might see a bit more traffic this weekend. But it was impressive how he bounced back from that game too. He's had a great season.

Those two are both solid and they're keeping Moses Suli out of the team particularly with the way they defend. Suli offers a lot in attack but those other two are great attackers as well and all-around they are the best two centres at the club.

Storm v Panthers - Preliminary final

Overall in this game, I think I have to give the edge to the South Sydney pair but not by as much as some might think.

It comes down to Dane and his big-game experience. I think the Souths' boys will dominate more so with their attack and Wayne will have that set up ready to go.

Storm v Panthers

On Saturday, I think it will be the Storm centres that have a slight edge.

I believe Olam has been the number one centre in the NRL this year. He's had a real breakthrough year with the Storm.

Reimis Smith has had a good year as well. He's a smart player and he's been solid. He hasn't been as dominant as Olam but he's done his job.

Burton has had a great year in the centres there for Penrith, he's a player. They say he's a five-eighth but I like him in the centres, I love what he does out there.

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Paul Momirovski is a good player too, he likes to get involved and he's got a fair size about him.

Burton's ahead of him in where you rate them but he's been great as well. I've been watching him for a few years now from the Roosters to the Wests Tigers and Storm and he's always had something about him.

For this game, it comes down to how both teams play their footy. It will be a tough match but if the Panthers get in the wrestle with the Storm in the middle they'll be made to pay out wide.

You see what they can do down Olam's his side, especially if Josh Addo-Carr is fit to line up outside him. They're so potent down that edge.

Penrith will be wary of trying to contain that which is easier said than done. Olam is a tough, hard player and the confidence Melbourne will have, that will help. The confidence in the middle will help the backs.

I think Melbourne have the edge overall with the way they've gone this year; Reimis has been good and Olam's been outstanding.


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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