Alby Mathewson, Ian Prior or Ryan Louwrens. Who should Michael Foley select? But more importantly, who is most likely to end up in possession of the number nine jersey at the end of the season? It would seem a relatively simple answer but it is not as straightforward as it seems.
Alby Mathewson has retained the number nine shirt for the majority of the last two seasons. He is an abrasive, aggressive and even destructive halfback, who uses ‘in your face’ intimidation to rattle his opponents. He plays like an additional forward in a lot of cases, playing at an extremely high tempo. He has put many vaunted opponents to the sword in super fifteen matches, particularly against Aaron Smith of the Highlanders, who seems to never get an easy game against him.
Will Genia, Piri Weepu and Nic White have all had Alby breathing down their neck over the last two years, and it is almost certain none of them enjoyed those games. He likes to tap and go and is a robust ball carrier. His defence is mean and accurate and he has been known on occasions to turn the ball over in a “Pocock-esque” fashion.
Overall, he is a tremendous player who adds a physical and competitive dimension to the base of the ruck. It could be argued that with only nine games on the slate last season, he was the Force’s most influential player.
Ian Prior is a different breed to Mathewson. He is a slick passer and a player with vision, as well as being an accurate box kicker and a vociferous commander of the forward pack. Everything he does exudes poise and precision. He isn’t an overly threatening player on the break nor the most physical, but every ten knows that the ball will be delivered on the nose, even from twenty metres plus when Prior is on the park.
He is a pure technician in the number nine shirt for the Force, possibly supplying them with everything that Mathewson lacks. He got an extended run in the side after Alby Mathewson suffered an ankle injury and continued his form into the NRC competition with the Perth Spirit.
All in all, he plays with the nous and confidence of a veteran player, when he guides the sides he plays with around the park, belying his tender age of twenty four. He is undoubtedly a classy player.
The third option on the menu is the unknown, the youngster Ryan Louwrens. The evidence of his ability is not what he did but what he didn’t do. Despite suffering a terrible knee injury before last season began, Michael Foley elected to keep Louwrens in the squad. That would lead you to believe that Foley knows deep down he has a superstar on his hands. In horse racing parlance, the best two year old in the yard.
Louwrens is a combination of Mathewson and Prior. He is aggressive yet poised, brutally strong in defence and opportunistic in attack. He is fast, skilful, clever and brave. It was rumoured that before his injury last years pre-season, it was he, and not Prior, that was going to assume the reserve nine spot behind Alby Mathewson.
With these three at his disposal, what will Michael Foley do?
Common sense would dictate that Alby will get the first crack at the shirt, but it isn’t outside the realm of possibility that Prior could hold onto it. The fixture list is unforgiving this season and the Force are in tough early on. Should it go ill for them, could either Alby or Prior be felled by Foley’s axe? Most definitely, I would assume.
To conclude, Alby adds so much to the concerted pressure game that the Force will try and emulate from last season, but his temperament and passing can be limited. Prior is a slick footballer, with possibly more skills than the former All-Black, but is he dynamic enough to dominate a game? The one guy who covers the full spectrum, the best of both worlds, is Ryan Louwrens.
I have a sneaky feeling, that by the end of 2015, we could see Ryan Louwrens take the number nine shirt for his own. You heard it here first!
Over and out,