Team Report: Centre

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The penultimate position group for the Team Report sees us move on to the centre and an area of the pitch which comes closest to rivalling the back row for strength-in-depth in the Cardiff squad.

There might only be three full internationals in the out-and-out centre group, but there is certainly one and possibly two future internationals in there, while two international wingers are also options in the Blue and Blacks midfield.

We start with the man who has been the main attraction in the Cardiff side for six seasons now as The Hot Stepper, Willis Halaholo, comes into 22/23 off the back of a full pre-season ready to push for a World Cup spot in Wayne Pivac’s squad. It’s been a frustrating few years for the 32-year-old with niggling injuries and inconsistent international selection, but when fit and firing he’s still a top class player.

Alongside him is still the cement in the Blue and Blacks midfield as Rey Lee-Lo prepares for season number eight at the Arms Park, where he has been one of the most consistent performers in northern hemisphere rugby, let alone at the club or in the league. A defensive leader and still with the ability to beat a man every time, he will once again be one of the best players in the squad.

However, as with other positions, Dai Young will need to balance his game time with bringing the next generation through.

Lee-Lo is 36 now, and in Mason Grady there is a generational talent at the club, with the 20-year-old combining pace and power at outside centre ready to set the game alight. An eye-catcher whenever he plays for the first team, Grady comes into the season off the back of a strong summer with Wales U20 and now needs regular minutes in order to develop that game awareness in attack and particularly defence that will underpin his raw talent going forward.

In a similar vein, Max Llewellyn showed in the back end of last season that he is ready to become a key squad member in midfield. While the team generally struggled, the inside centre quietly went about his business starting five games in five weeks, staying fit and healthy, and growing in confidence as he started to use his physical frame on both sides of the ball.

Then there is the case of Ben Thomas who, as noted in his fly-half write-up, has been around the first team consistently for two years now but struggled to nail down a run of starts. With additions to the pack that could see Cardiff become more competitive up front, the time may well have come to install Thomas as the full-time second playmaker from inside centre teaming up with Jarrod Evans.

Adding depth to the centre ranks then are three players who are either wingers or should be seen as primarily wingers in the first team, that can also fill in at outside centre. Harri Millard is a player who’s raw pace and eye for a try makes him an ideal winger, along with his connection with fly-half Evans, while Owen Lane is a physical attacking option in that channel.

Both have featured heavily as centres in their early days, and into his professional career in the case of Millard, but each has defensive frailties in that key 13 position, but Josh Adams is a capable defender in that channel despite losing his main attacking attributes when moving inside.

Behind these first team options there is plenty of talent on the horizon too. Ioan Evans will be wanting to push on as a complete centre combining a physical carrying game, a good level of distribution and an accomplished defender after a very encouraging first season with the Rags following a successful stint with Wales U20.

Ryan Wilkins also has that physical edge to his game, but unfortunately injury prevented him from joining up with Wales U20 last season. He will be keen to get fit to have another crack with the Rags this season, and both will be joined by Harrison James in midfield as the former Cardiff & Vale College man steps into senior rugby as a creative inside centre who can also play fly-half.

Plenty of talent for Dai Young to select from, with the Director of Rugby having the enjoyable headache of ensuring the right duo are picked each week to suit the way the Blue and Blacks want to play and to defeat the opposition.

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