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A fully fit Gary Wheeler could solve Saints stand off puzzle
NATHAN Brown raised a few eye-brows in the pre-season friendlies when he switched centre Jordan Turner to stand-off in an attempt to tackle what has become the club’s last remaining problem spot.
However, this week he declared that the club's best number six has in fact been here all along - Gary Wheeler.
The gifted former Blackbrook and England schoolboy international has been allowed to show only mere glimpses of his talent to date due to a series of largely unrelated injuries limiting him to just 52 appearances spread out over the six seasons since he made his debut in 2008.
But his powers of evasion, ability to beat a man with nimble footwork, vision and a fair kicking game have led Brown to believe that a fully fit Wheeler could be the crucial missing piece to Saints' attacking jigsaw.
Brown said: “I don’t think anyone will argue that the best six in our club is Gary Wheeler. There is no doubt in that at all – if Wheels is fit and playing that is the key.
“He is obviously a talented player who has had an unfortunate run with injury – some probably through sheer bad luck and some through some of his own mismanagement.
“To be fair to the kid, he has trained really well this year. He has not long come out of rehab – he has played two short stints against Batley and Wigan and 60 minutes against Rochdale on Sunday and he was sensational.
“It is about what fits the squad. A fit Gary Wheeler playing then I would imagine he is in your team all day isn’t he.”
“It is one of those things that we will have to see how it unfolds. Gary’s fitness will play a part in what happens with the whole make-up of our squad.”
Brown believes fatherhood will have a positive impact on Wheeler’s attitude, motivation and lifestyle – and with his contract expiring at the end of this season it will need to be a big year from the 24-year-old.
“He has a child now and needs stability playing wise as an off contract player. But his attitude to training has been good this last three months would be good to see him have some luck because he has certainly got talent.
He has given himself his best chance. It is amazing what a child can do for all of us and make you change your outlook on things.
“I believe that Gary having a child may have a positive impact on where he wants to get to as a rugby league player. His attitude is good as has been his consistency in training and with that he has earned the right for a bit of luck.”
Lance Hohaia had expected to be playing six, and in an interview with the Star last month he expressed his view that his natural game could flourish outside Luke Walsh, similar to the way it did partnering Stacey Jones at the New Zealand Warriors.
But Brown has once again re-iterated his view that he sees the New Zealander’s best positions are at full back and hooker, although has not discounted him playing in the halves.
With Turner still being monitored, it is clear nothing is set in stone yet for this key spot.
“Jordan Turner is very durable and plays all the time. It is not that anyone wants to move Jordy because he is a very good centre but we will have to see how it unfolds.
Lance is a terrific utility player and I still see full back and hooker as his two best spots, but he can play six as well. There are a number of things to look at,” he said.