Michael Burgess is a sports writer for the Herald on Sunday.

NRL: Warriors seek answers at centre

Club confident in their options for position with coach adamant Mannering will not be leaned on as cover.

Jerome Ropati says centre is a tough role defensively. Photo / Greg Bowker
Jerome Ropati says centre is a tough role defensively. Photo / Greg Bowker

Again it feels like the Warriors wearing numbers three and four will be the centres of attention, but hopefully this year it will be for the right reasons.

The position has been an Achilles heel over the past few seasons but the club is confident in their centre stocks as this campaign gets under way.

Marquee signing Dane Nielsen adds strength and defensive nous and will shore up the left edge considerably.

The questions arise on the other flank and also if Nielsen is absent through injury or representative duties.

Jerome Ropati, who is expected to make his long-awaited comeback tomorrow in a pre-season match against the Broncos in Dunedin, enters the fray after serious knee injuries have ruined his last two seasons. Konrad Hurrell has tons of talent but remains raw. Former Titan Dominique Peyroux is an unknown quantity while Carlos Tuimavave hails from good league stock but has played just five NRL matches.

"I'm happy with the depth we have [at centre]," says coach Matt Elliott.

"We have a good mix of experience and youth; there will be learning curves for sure but that's the way it always is."

Peyroux seems the enigma among the mix. He came to the club with a reputation as a hard-working defensive centre but had a particularly poor game against Penrith in Hamilton.

"Dominique is a player who can play at a high level - he just hasn't shown it at the moment," says Elliott. "He had a wife expecting [last Saturday] so he was a little distracted. He didn't share that with us on game day and we were all a bit puzzled as to what was going on there."

Elliott has high hopes for Hurrell, who brought plenty of sweet and sour moments in his debut NRL season last year. He was one of the hardest players to stop in the competition, with his bullocking runs leading to plenty of tries. But the 21-year-old struggled with the defensive demands of the position and the week-to-week physicality of the NRL.

"Konnie is going to be something special for us," says Elliott, "I know he will make some mistakes ... but the best way to develop him to play first grade is to play first grade."

Elliott also has high praise for Tuimavave, who he described as quick, elusive and a solid defender.

"He is extremely versatile," says Elliott of the two-time Toyota Cup winner.

"If he is in the 17 it means I have every position in the backline covered."

In recent years the team has regularly used converted forwards and part-timers in the position - think of Lewis Brown, Lance Hohaia, Ben Henry and Simon Mannering - but Elliott hopes to avoid that in 2013.

"Simon Mannering will not play centre," says Elliott categorically. "Simon's best position is back row. Ben Henry may need to play there occasionally but we want to have specialists."

Alongside halfback and prop, centres are usually the most expensive commodities on the NRL market. Partly because specialists are a rare breed, also because of the demands of the position.

"It's tricky ... Defensively you can get found out with one-on-one tackles and you are the last line of defence," says veteran centre Ropati.

Meanwhile, Ropati, who says his knee feels stronger than it did for his last injury comeback, is relieved to be back in the frame but isn't setting any goals.

"I'm not even thinking about getting my spot back," says Ropati, "it's all about just playing the game again."

Centre options

Dane Nielsen 27, 79 NRL games, 24 tries, NRL debut 2007

Jerome Ropati 28, 138 games, 51 tries, debut 2003

Konrad Hurrell 21, 17 games, 12 tries, debut 2012

Dominique Peyroux 24, 16 games, 3 tries, debut 2011

Carlos Tuimavave 21, 5 games, 1 try, debut 2012

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- NZ Herald

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