Tom Sangster analyses the ever-changing cheapie landscape with just one week to go until season start.
HE’S yet to meet Steve Matai in person, but Manly youngster Brian Kelly is hoping to replicate his feats in the left centre position at Manly.
Brought down from the Gold Coast a year early by the Sea Eagles, 20-year-old Kelly is favoured to fill the key left centre role left open by Matai’s injury-forced retirement.
A speedy option on the left-edge, Kelly has impressed a number of his teammates at the Sea Eagles over the off-season, putting his pace on show when he scored three tries at the Auckland Nines and another in their trial win over South Sydney a fortnight ago.
“He’s been unbelievable,” Sea Eagles vice-captain Jake Trbojevic said of Kelly. “Some of the things he’s done for a young bloke is really good … He’s got a lot fitter, a lot stronger and a lot more confident.
“I reckon he’ll go really well.”
Kelly grew up idolising Matai’s work on Manly’s left edge, as the Kiwi veteran played a key role in taking the Sea Eagles to 10 straight finals series and two premierships.
And while he remains quietly spoken and unsure if he is ready to fill his boots just yet, he dreams of emulating Matai’s achievements.
“I’d like to have a crack at it,” he said.
“For a centre he could tackle like anything.
“Growing up watching him and Lyon in the centres, they held their spot and maintained a good career.”
Matai’s neck and shoulder injury woes have prevented the 32-year-old from meeting, let alone a playing a role in the youngster’s development.
Instead, much of that has come down to the club’s other outside backs, while he has also formed a combination with fellow recruit Blake Green. Kelly was a junior star at the Titans, and scored four tries in an under-20s Origin match for NSW in 2015.
“We were lucky to get him out of the Titans a year early,” Manly coach Trent Barrett said over the pre-season.
“We have a spot there in the centres and Kel has certainly put his hand up to take one of those positions.”