After looking at the players who could make up Cardiff Blues’ half-back pairing this season, it’s now time to move outside them and into the midfield.
Centre is a position that has seen quite a high turnover of players in recent years, with the likes of Jamie Roberts, Dafydd Hewitt, Gavin Evans, Tommy Isaacs and Cory Allen all departing the club in the last few seasons.
However, things are looking more settled this season, and there’s certainly reason to get excited for the future.
One of the main reasons there is a steady look to the Cardiff Blues midfield this year is that Rey Lee-Lo is set to start his third season with the club, just four appearances short of bringing up his half-century.
After a slow start getting used to northern hemisphere rugby following his signing from the Hurricanes, the Samoa international has grown into an integral part of the side thanks to his ball carrying style mixing physical abrasiveness with quick feet and a deceptive turn of pace.
Defensively there is still work to be done, and Shaun Edwards will be just the man to drill the chest high tackle, that plagues Pacific Islanders, out of Lee-Lo, but even still he’ll be one of the first name on the teamsheet this season.
Shortly followed by his centre partner and southern hemisphere compatriot Willis Halaholo, of course, with the two players almost inseparable on and off the pitch.
Also joining from the Hurricanes, Halaholo was in the top three Pro12 players for ‘opposition players beaten’ last season, despite not arriving in Cardiff until November. His wicked sidestep is said to have caused at least four separate cases of whiplash at the Arms Park so far.
Defensively he has the same chest high tackling problem, but with a footballing side to his game as well, Halaholo is likely to be the starting inside centre in big games this season, and it’s certainly exciting to see what he can do after a summer’s rest.
An unknown quantity in terms of challenging Lee-Lo and Halaholo will be new signing Jack Roberts as the young Welshman arrives from Leicester.
With 25 appearances in the Aviva Premiership and Champions Cup last season, Roberts will be used to the big occasion and be able to provide something different to the incumbent centres thanks to his low centre of gravity and ability to accelerate quickly through contact.
Also a keen tackler he will certainly challenge for first team minutes, with the long term hope being for him to pull on the red jersey, especially with quality Welsh centres being at a premium.
One player who will be particularly hungry to get onto the pitch and prove his worth this season is Garyn Smith. The Pontypridd-born youngster has yet to real kick-on after making his breakthrough at the back end of the 2014/15 season.
His body composition appears to have changed quite drastically since then, transforming Smith from an almost wiry outside centre, to a stockier inside centre, although that does not appear to have cost him too much pace in the way it has Leigh Halfpenny.
After just two starts in the league and Europe last season he should be very keen to grab any chance he gets on the field with two hands, and prove he is worth the new contract he signed back in February. At 22 he still has plenty of time.
Moving into the academy, and there’s three very good prospects ready to prop up Cardiff Blues midfield over the next few years.
Owen Lane first appeared in a blue jersey as far back as pre-season 2015, coming off the bench away to Bristol. After that he made ten appearances for Cardiff RFC, and has been a regular in the British and Irish Cup side, before spending the majority of last season toruing with the Wales 7s set up.
Having spent the summer with the Wales U20s at the Junior World Championship, he is now set to challenge for first team minutes, which he may find on the wing before moving into the centre a few years down, following a similar path to that of Jamie Roberts.
It could be a similar story for Harri Millard as well, with the exception that the Ponty boy is likely to end up at 13 rather than 12. A smaller build than Lane, but a more elusive runner, Millard is slight older having just turned 21 and as such will be looking more to the Pro14 than the Anglo-Welsh Cup for minutes this season.
Having said that, he may have to use the development tournaments to impress having only made two league appearances so far, both off the bench. It’ll be interesting to see how he goes.
The third youngster is just at the start of his senior career, as 19-year-old Cameron Lewis begins training with the first team on a full-time basis following a summer spent with the U20s at the Junior World Championship.
A number of appearances for Pontypridd last season will give the 19-year-old a good grounding, as he prepares for a season of proving himself in the British and Irish and Anglo-Welsh Cup sides with first team minutes unlikely at this stage.
An outside centre with an eye for a try, Lewis has again been allocated to Sardis Road and could well be called up to the Wales 7s side at some point to further his development, before looking to challenge in the Cardiff Blues first team.
Although three truly senior centres does not appear to offer much depth on the face of it, when you consider that Steven Shingler can cover at 12, and Aled Summerhill is capable of filling in at 13, as well as the young players listed ready to step up, depth shouldn’t be a huge issue in midfield.
Halaholo is available all-year round, Lee-Lo is only missing for a few Anglo-Welsh weeks in November usually, while Jack Roberts has to break into the Wales squad first, so we should manage to name a fairly settled centre combination, barring any injuries.
Hopefully the exciting prospects of Smith, Lane, Millard and Lewis can manage to get enough minutes each to continue their development, and be ready to takeover when the time comes for the two overseas to move on. Come on Cardiff!!