OK, so I think it was BEM that asked me in the recent "New Signing" blog whether I thought Opacic was a starter or a depth player. To answer that firstly, yes, I think he's a definite starter. I'm basing this on seeing him play a fair bit of footy with the Redcliffe Dolphins, he was a class above that comp playing in the centres and got his start with the Broncos on the back of that good form. He's had some bad luck with injuries that have hampered him in his stints at the Broncos and Cowboys, but there's no doubt he can play and I think he's defensively very sound. That brings me to the next question, just what is the role of the current day NRL centre? To my mind, the game has changed and obviously the old attacking centre such as Steve Rogers, Michael O'Connor, Laurie Daley and even Brett Kenny when playing as a centre, are long gone.
Look at who are considered "strike centres" these days, there's really not anyone that springs to mind as an out and out game breaking centre. I think the reason for this is that the position has changed considerably due to the introduction of the left/right centre and in particular the left/right edge backrowers. Some of the ones that may be classed as strike centres are Staggs, but he has defensive issues to fix, likewise, Crichton at the Panthers - in fact, Waqa made him look 2nd rate in the game we beat the Panthers early in 2020, he ran around him, through him, over him - he was completely on top of him. Jimmy the Jet, again can score a try, but defensively very poor at times.
This leads me to my current belief that centre should now be a predominantly more defensive orientated position than attacking. That may sound strange, but I still maintain centre is the hardest position to defend in on the park. There's reasons for that, the attacking use of block plays and decoy runners is designed to have players in motion and put defenders in 2 minds. Not only that, but depending on what just happened in the preceding tackle, your centre can be defending with his edge backrower inside him or the 6 or 7 that defends on that side. Obviously this inside player will affect how you defend - your 6 or 7 is more than likely going to need more assistance bringing down the opposition edge forward which then tends to have the centre staying closer to that 6/7. If it's the edge forward marked up on the opposite edge forward, you would hope that allows your centre to stay a little wider and right on the inside shoulder of his opposing centre. So all of a sudden, people need to realise that the modern day centre is not only supposed to be concentrating on his opposition centre, the block and decoy runners and the attacking structure coming at them in general, they also have to be very mindful of what is happening inside them as well. As soon as you see your centre, quickly followed by his winger, with their outside shoulder facing in, you know you are in trouble and the opposition has created the numbers.
So, all this brings me back to what we need to recruit as far as outside back depth goes - for me, it has to be a very solid defender first and foremost and an attacking option somewhere after that. As for attacking, your modern centre doesn't have to be that bloke that breaks the line, and be a match winner. He has to be someone that can position his winger and take advantage of what happens inside him. Look at some of the current centres that are successful in attack and I'll nearly guarantee you they have an outstanding edge backrower inside them - Crichton and Kikau at the Panthers is the perfect example. Keep your width, get your winger to keep his width (and depth is probably just as important) and you should just have to use hands to execute putting that winger over courtesy of what your edge backrower has created in drawing in your opposing centre. It really isn't that difficult. I reckon I could draw up a simple sweep play that would allow 4 or 5 players to all be scoring options and at the very least it's a simple draw and pass from centre to winger on the opposing winger. To this end, we now have Lane, Matto and Cartwright as potential edge backrowers who are ALL capable of executing a play like this to bring in the opposition centre and create the overlap. Practice, practice and more practice at training executing these sweep plays and quick hands then becomes the key to having it work during games.
I'm not sure who we are looking at, maybe Burns from the Bunnies as suggested, but I would hope that we are looking at a defensive orientated centre with good hands because we certainly have the talent in the edge backrowers to make the attacking component of our centres an easy job.