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The Contenders: Centre

The battle for spots will be at an all-time high at Wests Tigers in 2018, with Coach Ivan Cleary putting together an extremely strong squad for the season ahead.

With 10 brand new faces “on the bus” for the year ahead and a great mixture of youthful talent and experience in the midst, the team that takes to the field in Round 1 against the Roosters will be vastly different from the one that ended 2017 against the Warriors.

In the “Contenders” series, we take a look at those who will battle it out for spots in 2018, and not envy the decisions ahead for Coach Cleary in selecting a team for Round 1!

Next on our list is the centre position — a spot that will certainly have plenty of players jostling for position with as many as six players eyeing off a spot in the starting side…




Age: 24

NRL Games: 50

Super League Games: 58

At Wests Tigers since: 2018

We mentioned him as a contender for the wing spot, but it’s in the centres that Mahe Fonua will likely rate his chances at cracking the team for Round 1 after two superb seasons in the back line at Hull FC. A noted try-scorer, Fonua is a tremendous runner with the ball too with bruising defence, and would provide plenty of size, speed and skill should he slot in to the centres or wing. Having been named in the 2011 NYC Team of the Year at centre (ironically, the year in which Ivan Cleary went all the way to the Grand Final as a Coach), the 24-year-old Fonua has shown from a young age a penchant to being one in from the wing and will no doubt be right in the running come Round 1.



Age: 21

NRL Games: 13

At Wests Tigers since: 2017

Perhaps considered more a back-rower prior to the start of the 2017 season, Esan Marsters found himself in the unfamiliar spot of centres midway through the year when handed his debut by Ivan Cleary. From that moment, Marsters has made every post a winner, and looked increasingly comfortable in the backs as the season wore on — leading to his name emerging as a contender for the centre spot in our Round 1 team. Blessed with a strong frame but equally dynamic ball-playing skills, Marsters has shown a knack of making things happen with the ball in hand, and after trimming up in the off-season, will certainly fancy his chances at one of the two centre spots on offer in 2018.



Age: 22

NRL Games: 17

At Wests Tigers since: 2018

Somewhat of an underrated signing by Coach Cleary midway through 2017, Taane Milne burst to life at the Rugby League World Cup as part of the Fijian side — leading the competition in try involvements through the group stage and ending with over seven try-assists to his name. A tall, lanky frame coupled with a devastating fend and step caught plenty of defenders out during the competition, and he’ll no doubt be looking to do the same when he links up with his new teammates in 2018. A former Junior Kiwi, Milne showed glimpses of his potential in the centres at the Dragons, and will definitely be a name in discussion for the Round 1 team if he continues that good form.



Age: 19

NRL Games: 16

At Wests Tigers since: 2017

Capable of playing on either the wing or the centres, it’ll be fascinating to see not only which position Moses Suli ends up preferring in 2018 but first and foremost whether he will be in the side come Round 1. The talent is there, the size is there and the potential is certainly there for all to see, but competition for spots in the centres is perhaps tighter than any other position. Coming off a brilliant debut season that saw him make his debut for Tonga at just 18 years of age, Suli will be hoping to put the ankle issues that hindered him last year behind him and cement his status as one of the top youngsters in the game.



Age: 25

NRL Games: 32

At Wests Tigers since: 2016

An extremely talented junior who floated between the back row and centres in his first few seasons of the NRL, Michael Chee Kam heads in to 2018 off the back of a breakout season — featuring in 22 of a possible 24 games for Ivan Cleary’s side. Importantly too was the role that Chee Kam played in the team, with a number of starting appearances in the centres, and he’ll no doubt again push for contention in the backs again this season. He might end up being a victim of his versatility at times in 2018 given his ability to play either in the backs of forwards, but given his athleticism and good handling skills, we expect the 25-year-old to be right in the running for Round 1.



Age: 28

NRL Games: 92

At Wests Tigers since: 2015

Capable of playing at fullback, centre or the wing, Kevin Naiqama’s fast feet and experience make him a contender for every position in the backline this year — particularly in the centres. It’s a position the Fijian international has featured in heavily for Wests Tigers over the past three seasons, and he could again find himself contending for a spot one in from the wing given the depth of talent outside of him. Of his 92 first-grade games, Naiqama has played 42 of them in the centres (scoring 18 tries) and has a better win percentage when playing in the centres as opposed to any other position.

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