Why ‘centre money’ is a problem with modern rugby league

Cam Stokes Roar Pro

By Cam Stokes, Cam Stokes is a Roar Pro

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    The recent to and fro between Dragons coach Paul McGregor and Recruitment Director Ian Millward regarding the future of Josh Dugan has been interesting to watch unfold.

    It poses a number of questions, perhaps most notably about who exactly is steering the ship at St George Illawarra these days. But it was something else that stuck out to me, the use of a new term in the rugby league lexicon that seems to have slipped into the vernacular unnoticed.

    Millward’s assertion that Dugan is only worth ‘centre money’ has been accepted by fans as a legitimate notion, but it’s one that jars with me on a number of levels.

    The focus of clubs these days in terms of building a team is clearly those important positions that form the spine: hooker, halfback, five-eighth and fullback. These are the positions, along with outstanding front rowers, that demand the big cash and take up a not-insignificant portion of a club’s salary cap.

    Josh Dugan of the Dragons

    (AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

    The impact, obviously, is felt most acutely by those players filling the other positions, who in the view of most clubs, and, admittedly, fans, are not worth the same in terms of pure dollars.

    Most of this makes perfect sense, particularly if you look at the success of a team like the Storm, who have built a dynasty around one of the great spines of all time. But this notion of ‘centre money’ clashes with the game of rugby league that I grew up with. That game, or at least my fading memory of it, was dominated by centres, some of my favourite players of all time.

    Your centres were your strike players, combining the pace of a winger, the hands of the halves, and occasionally the power of your backrowers, to create the most lethal attacking weapons in your team.

    We know now that the idea of a centre pairing has gone the way of contested scrums and striking at the play the ball, but it still saddens me a little that the likes of Meninga and Miles or Cronin and Ella wouldn’t even bump into each other in today’s game.

    Despite centres now playing on opposite sides of the field, they still should have the skill set to make them a focus for any team’s attacking structure. The fact we now devalue the position that was once home to those names mentioned above, not to mention the likes of Reg Gasnier, Steve Rogers and Steve Renouf across the decades, I think is to the detriment of our great game.

    It’s also no coincidence that the decline of the centre comes at a time where coaches are happy to use stopgap solutions to fill the position when the need arises. The difference between a rangy backrower and a big-bodied centre is almost negligible, and the likes of Alex Glenn and Tohu Harris are perfect examples of the modern footballer who can plug into the centres when required, though clearly without the grace, skill and flair of those who came before them.

    Our best young centres these days are more often than not only sitting there until a fullback spot opens up for them, which will inevitably come with a pay rise as they move into the spine. It’s no wonder clubs aren’t willing to splash the big money on a position they don’t even consider to be specialist.

    Rugby league trends ebb and flow. A recent shift away from ‘structure at all costs’ football may be exactly what centres need to find themselves back in the spotlight. Perhaps they can stop simply providing the last pass on block plays, and find the room to re-establish themselves on the positional pecking order.

    I can only hope that people can watch a performance like the one James Roberts put on against the Panthers a few weeks ago and remember that a great centre with pace and skill is still the most exciting thing to watch in rugby league.

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    The Crowd Says (15)

    • Roar Guru

      May 11th 2017 @ 6:53am
      The Barry said | May 11th 2017 @ 6:53am | ! Report

      The term has slipped in but you may as well call it ‘contribution money’ or ‘impact money’. Centres are still strike weapons and classy players. Think Roberts, Leilua, Morris, Croker among others. But you can have the best centres in the world but unless the spine is any good they won’t get the opportunity.

      Centres will win you games, your spine wins you competitions these days.

      Your comparison to 80s players is interesting. I reckon then centres were more important to a team than hooker or fullback. You probably wouldn’t pay Steve Ella as much as Kenny or Sterling but he was probably on more than Edge/Mosley or Taylor.

    • May 11th 2017 @ 7:44am
      mushi said | May 11th 2017 @ 7:44am | ! Report

      Cam you may want to pay for the sizzle, but I’ll take the steak.

    • May 11th 2017 @ 11:34am
      KenW said | May 11th 2017 @ 11:34am | ! Report

      I get your point, centres are often the most exciting players on the field and it’s unfortunate to think of them as lesser players.

      It’s reality though that they are less critical to consistent success than a top spine or front-row. The team that goes out and buys the best 2 centres in the game for $1.2m a piece and then fits a budget team around them will almost certainly be behind the team that does the same with the 2 best halves in the game or even the 2 best front-rowers.

    • Roar Guru

      May 11th 2017 @ 12:30pm
      Rellum said | May 11th 2017 @ 12:30pm | ! Report

      The whole centre/winger/fullback money nonsense is the result of a critical lack of creative thinking in Rugby League. Managers/Player agents know that coaches are just going to follow the perceived correct way of playing the game at the NRL level and pay crazy money for full backs. Dugan doesn’t even pass the ball so I don’t know how he deserves the “fullback” money.

      If I was a coach I would use the system to sign the two best centres in the game along with the best ball playing lock I could find and just put a hard running player at fullback who can charge the line on either side of the ruck, giving the ball players a more challenging read for wide defenders. You could do that and save you “Full back money for halves and front rowers. Even the hooker could be a solid first grade option.

      • May 12th 2017 @ 6:56am
        mushi said | May 12th 2017 @ 6:56am | ! Report

        Well fullback money is really “spine” money it’s just that you normally aren’t trying to figure out is a guy is a halfback or a centre.

        I do love how you think you’ve out thought the coaches by bringing in a hard charging fullback whilst saying Dugan shouldn’t get fullback money because well he’s just a hard charging fullback…

        I’m sure you’d make a great coach if the other clubs let you under pay for each position

      • May 12th 2017 @ 8:07am
        Jeff Dustby said | May 12th 2017 @ 8:07am | ! Report

        Rellum – you would run behind Newcastle with those tactics

    • May 11th 2017 @ 12:53pm
      andrew said | May 11th 2017 @ 12:53pm | ! Report

      Why would Paul McGregor be offended by the term “centre money”? Would it have anything to do with the position he played 99% of his career in? Mind you that money still afforded him his jet skis and other toys he has swanned around the Illawarra on for a couple of decades.

      What does Dugan deserve? Well if you pay him $1m you are paying him about $60-$70,000 per game because he has finished more than 17 games in a season twice in 8 years.

    • May 11th 2017 @ 1:06pm
      matth said | May 11th 2017 @ 1:06pm | ! Report

      It would be interesting to see where someone like Matt Gillet fits in. On one hand he should only be on second-row money and it seems there are a million of them around, but on the other he was the best player on the park against the Kiwis and he’d have to be the Bronco’s best this year as well.

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