True Blue Steve Menzies has backed Stephen Crichton to make a successful switch to fullback but said the Penrith Panthers young gun will face challenges with both his fitness and positional play against Manly Warringah Sea Eagles at Lottoland tonight.
Crichton, who was part of the extended Brydens Lawyers NSW Blues squad for the Ampol State of Origin series in November, was switched from his preferred position at centre to wear the No.1 jumper with Dylan Edwards sidelined for up to four weeks with a broken hand.
Panthers coach Ivan Cleary had other options to choose from, including winger Charlie Staines who came through the pathways system as a fullback, but opted instead for Crichton.
“Defensively as a centre you have to make decisions,” Menzies told nswrl.com.au. “As a fullback you also have to make those decisions but you’re controlling where the players defend, you’re pushing right and left.
“Positionally I think it’s a lot harder because you’ve got to be close to the line early, deep, you’ve got to understand the kickers, ‘Are they right foot? Do they like kicking on four? Do they go for 40/20s?’
“I played eight minutes of fullback and I was lost. There’s so much space out there and you travel so many more kilometres – I think they do 14-16kms as a fullback – whereas as a centre if the ball is coming to your side, you’re active a lot but other than that you get some downtime.
“You’ll see fullbacks swap with wingers because they run so much, ‘They’ll say go back there and do a set, do a kick return.’ Goal line defence is hard, you’ve got to organise that team and positionally goal line is really tough.
“Fitness and positional play are the two hard things but he’s an amazing talent and I’m sure he’ll do well.”
Penrith remain unbeaten this season after three rounds to sit atop the competition table while Manly are still searching for their first win and will be keen to get their campaign off the mark.