The inaugural edition of Six Up The Middle features the make-or-break selection issues confronting NRL coaches with the 2016 season only two weeks away.
A three-horse race with seemingly all a real chance, Jack Bird, Valentine Holmes and Ben Barba are all in the mix for the Sharks No.1 jumper. There is no question that Holmes – who excelled when given the opportunity at the back in 2015 – should be given first crack. A concern that Bird will leave at the end of the season will see him start the season at fullback despite being totally unsuited to the role. Barba will struggle to see his way back from some turgid showings last season.
Cronulla Sharks trialing Jack Bird at fullback. I just don’t see it TBH. They’ll lose Valentine Holmes because he knows he is a fullback
— Stu (@stubeads) February 12, 2016
New Zealand Five-Eighth
Andrew McFadden has an interesting decision and one that will likely determine his fate as coach of the New Zealand Warriors. Does he play it safe and go with the uninspiring Jeff Robson, or does he take a punt on the supremely talented Tuimoala Lolohea? A call to go with Robson will surely signal the end of his time at the Warriors before Round 6. And so it should. Faith needs to be shown in Lolohea.
Andrew McFadden has confirmed Jeff Robson is his preferred option to partner Shaun Johnson in the halves for Round 1. #NRL
— Corey Rosser (@CoreyRosser23) February 9, 2016
South Sydney Five-Eighth
The push is certainly on – both internally and out – to have Luke Keary replaced as the top No.6 at South Sydney with the emerging Cody Walker. Russell Crowe is seemingly no fan of Keary. And Keary is likely to leave the Bunnies for more money at the end of the year. Walker will start in Round 1 with Keary suspended and could keep the job with a big performance.
— All About NRL (@allaboutnrl) February 4, 2016
Peter Wallace is the incumbent, a veteran former NSW halfback, but it looks like his second stint at the Panthers could be coming to an end. Wallace was dreadful when fit in 2015 and was pushed out of the Broncos by Anthony Griffin – his new coach at the Panthers. With boom youngster Te Maire Martin now on the books, Wallace is unlikely to be the first-choice half for long, if at all.
— Stuff.co.nz Sport (@NZStuffSport) February 15, 2016
Joey Leilua is the front-runner to win a centre spot – an absurd situation considering how bad he has been over the recent years. His execution is only bottomed by his effort. He will force Jordan Rapana out of the top grade if Leilua gets the spot. Rapana had a good 2015 and deserves to be there ahead of the inconsistent Leilua.
The Knights have a plethora of fullback options – and none of them overly appealing. Jake Mamo has some upside but showed some shaky hands last year. Sione Mata’utia was the bust of 2015. And Jaelene Feeney hasn’t played top grade yet but did make a name for himself by throwing a ball at the referee during the Auckland Nines, hardly a ticket for his composure. Mamo is the best of some ordinary options.