Make no mistake, Anthony Michiello is an all-time favourite here at the 26 Rounds offices.
We’ve watched him over the years win a premiership, break the record for most tries by a Rooster ever (118 and counting), represent the club proudly in State of Origin, take the Golden Boot as the best player in the world in 2005, make an artform out of bomb catching, come back from serious back injuries and make Origin again, and lend his mobile phone to players that really need it (Mark Gasnier still hasn’t thanked him for that).
But we’ve also watched him become a step slower than most fullbacks in recent years, we’ve watched him struggle to defend in-goal grubbers, struggle to get through initial contact and struggle to break the line of his on volition in recent years.
And while Mini has maximised every inch of what he is now capable of at the age of 32, it’s high time that Roger Tuivasa-Sheck be handed the reins at fullback.
He simply offers far more in attack and is safe under the high ball. And he’s not a winger.
This is more than an opinion, and we can prove the reasoning behind the need for the move with simple stats and analysis.
The statistics are remarkably close between each player with a slight edge overall to the Sheck.
– 67 Runs at 13.4 per game.
– 538 metres at 8.02 metres per run, 107 metres per game.
– 12 tackle breaks/busts at 0.17 per run, 2.4 per game.
– One line break at 0.2 per game.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck (five games):
– 64 runs at 12.8 per game.
– 537 metres at 8.39 per run, 107.4 per game.
– 15 tackle breaks/busts at 0.23 per run, 3.0 per game.
– Three line breaks at 0.6 per game.
However, you have to remember that RTS is playing on the wing where he doesn’t get the same opportunities on a regular basis to return the ball, hit gaps, bump off players and inject himself into the game. Instead, he is accruing slightly superior numbers by looking for the ball and coming in off his wing for a run before returning back out there.
His metres per run are also skewed, as most of his runs come off dummy half darts from kick returns and at a set defence, whereas Mini can easily make 20 metres on a standard kick return but doesn’t.
If The Sheck is moved into the middle of the back, he is more likely to break the line, bump off tackles and make metres. He has far superior footwork, is much quicker, and can make it through the initial impact for a few extra metres.
(For what it’s worth, the error count for each player probably fails what everyone naturally thinks: that The Sheck has better hands. Each has just five errors — although Mini has two games with two errors while The Sheck has made errors in four separate games.)
Mini, through several back operations, has had problematic pieces of his spine SHAVED CLEAN OFF and had vertebrae FUSED TOGETHER. How he gets out of bed in the morning is beyond me, let alone how he manages to play 80 minutes of rugby league every single week.
But it’s those procedures that — and this is just a guess — have led to his biggest weakness: a weakness that was exploited more than once last year and at least once this year.
He simply can’t bend over and pick up or swipe at a rolling ball.
Teams are aware of this and target the in-goal with rolling grubbers, and Mini either runs around the ball or waits for the extra bounce before making a play at it. Bill Tupou of the Warriors took advantage of this in round 2 and many teams used a similar strategy last year.
If you put it up high against him, Mini is still one of the top three safest fullbacks in the league — his spill of an impossible spiral bomb last week notwithstanding.
The Sheck so far has struggled with what I like to call Chris Walker Syndrome — a strange disease that causes wingers to become disoriented and come off their wing to disastrous results.
Of the 12 tries scored against the Roosters this year, five have been scored on his wing. It’s not all his fault: Shaun Kenny-Dowall must take some blame for his defensive deficiencies, but all of those tries have been untouched — three from Nathan Merritt, one from Chris McQueen who had time to swivel, make a cuppa and dive over in an angled run to the corner, and Edrick Lee last week when Sonny Bill was the widest man out right.
By comparison, we can directly attribute one blunder to Mini (the Bill Tupou disaster due to his inability to swipe out a grubber from Shaun Johnson).
But their weaknesses (Mini on grubbers and running the ball back, RTS in coming off the wing too far to defend) would be nullified with a simple switch.
Teams will not grubber at a wing, and Mini would be protected somewhat by two dead-ball lines (the side and the back). He never came off his wing during the 2001-2002 seasons when he was exclusively a winger, and he actually debuted and played those seasons on the wing The Sheck occupies now.
And RTS can follow the ball as a fullback ala his training last year in the Under 20’s, which is a habit he has seemingly kept while starting his career out wide.
I love Mini. I’m one of his biggest defenders and his place in Roosters history is assured.
But this isn’t history. This is now, and the Roosters are on the verge of something that can only be fully recognised by moving The Sheck to The Back.
RTS has trained as a fullback in limited exposure to the sport, while Mini started as a winger. And while many may say that it’s hard to captain on the wing, Michael Crocker’s doing a pretty good job of it from the Left Right Out position at Souths.
If this team is to be truly great, we need a brilliant fullback — not a formerly brilliant fullback. If there wasn’t a better option for fullback at the Roosters, you’d be OK with leaving him back there. But they do have a better option.
Roger Tuivasa-Sheck is the future and the present at the position, and will eventually become the team’s full-time fullback.
It should just happen sooner rather than later.