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Rooster must remodel: Angus Crichton says he'd want to 'dominate' in rugby union - this is what he'd have to change

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Roar Rookie
11th April, 2024
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7135 Reads

Sydney Roosters second-rower Angus Crichton is back dangling a carrot at Rugby Australia.

The 28-year-old is nearing contract limbo at Bondi and says he’s prepared to push his chips at rugby in the coming weeks, should the right offer come his way. 

“I think I need to do what’s right for myself and I guess I am coming to the age now where I am coming into my prime … I turned 28 this year,” Crichton said this week.

“If I was going to jump codes it will be in the next little bit. If I am going to go over and play union I don’t want to go over washed up and waste anyone’s time, if I’m going to give union a crack I want to give it a good crack and I want to dominate that.

“If it’s the right opportunity I’m open to it.”

This stands as his final year at the Tricolours, unless an extension or rival offer is tabled. The 157-game Blues representative has no shortage of talent. Crichton has a freakish schoolboy highlights package – a 2014 montage of the outside centre ripping through opposition backlines with dazzling footwork and a strong offload game.

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Yet, the former skill is one now eradicated from his current game. Weighing in at 102 kilograms, the league No.12 has radically changed his body type and flair over the last eight years – which is a concerning prospect and raises a few queries, if he switches to union.

Angus Crichton celebrates

Angus Crichton celebrates a Blues win in 2018.

Once a line-running superstar with the ability to run through and around his opposition, Crichton is irrefutably a short-ball big-man for the Chooks. He is there to make tackles, pop an offload and stick to the hip of Luke Keary or Sam Walker.

As a youngster who burst onto the scene with the Rabbitohs, the Scots College graduate began his career as an elusive ball-runner who could shift his feet prior to contact, or fly through to dive on a grubber. Given time changes things, Crichton’s body has remarkably altered his natural skill.

The edge player, who was once an attacking threat in space with early service, is now a wrecking ball, who puts up the bumper bars when running into contact. This isn’t a criticism of his playing style or body – rugby league has undoubtedly moulded Crichton to withstand the hard contact and torso tackling technique to wrap up the pill.

Theoretically, if the Rooster was to leave the NRL and rejoin the ranks of rugby, what would we need from him to show promise? And where would he slot in?

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First, it would be unrealistic to suggest Crichton still has the turn of foot seen in the 160,000-view YouTube video.

It has been nearly 10 years since those feats, and he was carrying 25-30 kilograms less. As a second-rower, ‘Gus’ is only stationed on one side of the field and has a very strict role: make tough carries, look for a possible offload as a fourth tackle option, and chase the kick. Based off the NRL’s defensive structure, Crichton also moves up and down, as opposed to laterally (except on fourth/fifth tackle plays).

The creativity has been stripped from his game, whereas a No.13 in union pops up on both sides of the field and has the ability to kick. He also is rarely required to pick up speed and acceleration given his truck it up style.

This being said, placing the Rooster at outside centre in union, based off his current body type and skillset, would pose a defensive disaster. Put him against the speed of a Jordan Petaia, or say Rieko Ioane at international level, and there would be too much space for the opposition to skip on his outside, especially with more than 10 metres depth to work with.

So where does this leave him? A backrower, No.8?

Fitness and agility would be the major question mark. Having to circle the length of the field and follow the ruck at all times would be a concerning challenge. Whilst he has done it before at GPS level, Crichton’s job is to run up and down a 15-metre channel over 65 minutes. As a flanker or lock, it would be his duty to stalk the path of the ball and put in an 80 minute performance.

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Add on the discussion of ball skills. While mentioned as a capable offloader, having to pass the ball and weave in on backline plays is a primary task of backrowers. Again, history shows Crichton was the full rugby package. Although, 10 years have changed a lot.

Compare Crichton with the likes of Fraser McReight and Bobby Valetini, it is hard to see him competing with their agility and dominance in contact. McReight and Valetini are strong one-on-one defenders who while statistically don’t make as many tackles as the NRL Crichton, perform ten times the work post contact to contest the ruck and follow the ball. The reality of defence in league is to hold up the ball and suffocate all offloads, which often requires two to three defenders.

While the likes of Jake Trbojevic and Brandon Smith are top hit, stick and squeeze tacklers, the Roosters have altered Crichton’s technique to work above the hips.

Finally, what all code-switches are about – cash. Crichton is currently enjoying a hefty $675,000 per year salary. Joseph Suaalii is an exception, his $5million contract a nod to his youth and Rugby Australia’s willingness to keep him in the game. With Crichton, it is hard to label his worth. He is unproven, untested and has a good five years left in the peak of his career.

Valetini is arguably Australia’s best backrower, on a deal with Rugby Australia around the $600,000 mark, having resigned until 2027. So it seems Crichton’s best chance at making bank in rugby is a lucrative deal with a club like the Western Force, or an overseas powerhouse, possibly in the Top 14, which happens to be the competition his great mate and former Wallaby Jack Maddocks plays in.

One thing is for certain. If rugby is to lure the signature of Angus Crichton, don’t expect the skills or hype of the 2014 version. Too much in the game and player has changed since then.

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