|Bryce Cartwright has played the last five games at five-eighth.|
Cartwright had a mixed afternoon in Penrith’s 22-18 win over Parramatta at Pepper Stadium yesterday, making a number of errors in the first-half before scoring a try and putting in a valiant display to conclude the game.
Since debuting in 2014, Cartwright has played in the back-row and in the lock position for the majority of his 46 NRL appearances. But for the past five rounds, Cartwright has been handed the number-six by Griffin in an effort to stimulate Penrith’s attack.
His suitability to the role has been questioned by many in the game – from fans to pundits – and the promising Panthers’ junior has looked far from fluent in the more hands-on role.
Speaking on Triple M’s The Verdict after yesterday’s game, former Penrith Grand-Final winner Ryan Girdler voiced one of the stronger opinions about the situation.
“I just don’t think he’s a six,” Girdler said.
“I think he’s playing out of position, he gets isolated defensively, again today he got carved up out wide.
“There were two or three times there that Gutherson made him look silly.”
Girdler suggested Cartwright was the victim of his own strengths’ as he tried to play his natural back-row running game from the unaccustomed position of five-eighth.
“When you take away the role for Bryce to charge at the line as a back-rower and offload through the line, or after he’s made contact, then he feels like he’s a five-eight and he needs to pass before the line,” Girdler said.
“I think you take a really good aspect of his game away which is punching into the line with his size and then using his ability with the ball after that.”
While Girdler was forthright in his opinion, co-host Gorden Tallis believed it was the inexperience of the Panthers’ playmakers as a whole, rather than Cartwright that need to improve their game.
“They’ve got to learn the time and space. The seven, six, and one have got to learn what does my team need me to do now,” Tallis said.
“They’re brilliant; they can put on tries – but Cartwright, just because you’ve got the skill, doesn’t mean you have to use it every time.”
With Jamie Soward moving to the London Broncos to prolong his own career and allow for the emergence of others, Penrith are stuck in a tricky situation when it comes to key positions. While Peter Wallace looks to have cemented his spot at hooker and Nathan Cleary has set-up shop at halfback, the five-eighth and fullback positions remain a talking point.
Utility Tyrone Peachey has been forced to shift to centres with long-term injuries to Peta Hiku and Dean Whare, while Matt Moylan’s highly anticipated move to five-eighth came at the unlikely setting of representative level, and freshly-signed Super League Man of Steel winner Zac Hardaker spent the entire 80 minutes yesterday warming the bench.
Griffin is surely finding it difficult to position his array of stars in their best and most natural positions.
But the former Broncos’ mentor spoke glowingly of Cartwright’s performances in the halves, stipulating that the New South Wales development player will be set to stay there for the near-future.
“I thought he did a good job tonight,” Griffin said.
“He scored a try, I thought he had a good balance of running the ball when he needed to, I haven’t got a problem with him.
“The beauty about Bryce Cartwright is he can play a lot of positions; you put him in the front row and he’d do a job for you.
“At the moment with the balance of our team, he’s doing a good job for us.”
Griffin suggested that it is more about the players around Bryce getting an education to how he operates in the position, while also making reference to the side as a whole needing to roll their sleeves up.
With Cartwright’s stay looking more and more likely that it will be for the rest of the year, unless Te Maire Martin can return to the side from injury, Penrith’s edge players will need to develop a cohesiveness with Cartwright in order to become an effective and consistent threat.