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History suggests AJ Brimson’s ‘left field’ position switch will yield gold


AJ Brimson, switch to centre, NRL 2024

AJ Brimson faces yet another pre-season preparing to play a new position in Gold Coast’s backline. But there’s a broader plan on the horizon, so will it pay off?

For the past couple of years, there’s been plenty of chatter surrounding the Titans’ fullback debacle, having two first-class starting number ones in their roster in AJ Brimson and Jayden Campbell.

Former head coach Justin Holbrook once saw a world where they could co-exist and share the duties, with Campbell coming off the bench. He bounced between that idea and reshuffling the team’s spine to have Brimson play five-eighth and Campbell at the back.

Now, two-time premiership-winning coach Des Hasler is at the helm. Dessie, a bit of a rugby league mad scientist, has laid down a marker, stating ‘enough’s enough‘ to the perpetual positional nonsense surrounding Brimson — making a call many would be afraid to make.

Hasler has given Jayden Campbell the first bite at the cherry to start at fullback, with AJ Brimson, somewhat surprisingly, shifted out to centre to begin Gold Coast’s 2024 campaign.

Speaking to the media in mid-January, veteran Titans half Kieran Foran let the ‘cat out of the bag’ sharing that Brimson would make the shift out wide and could become “an opposition centre’s nightmare”.

“He looks so electric and in that position, you’re coming up against guys one-on-one with a bit of space inside and outside,” Foran explained.

“He’s that fast off the mark, you give him an inch and he’s off and gone.”

It looms as somewhat of a temporary fix for a Titans side who’ve missed the top eight the last two seasons and are desperate to return to the finals.

But is moving Brimson to centre the long-term solution to the Gold Coast Titans’ problems?

aj brimson, nrl 2024, position switch
Titans superstar AJ Brimson is set to trade fullback for centre in 2024

AJ Brimson’s move to centre is just another step in his NRL journey

The headache for the Titans the past few seasons has been how to handle the Brimson/Campbell situation at fullback. 19-year-old Keano Kini, who won Man of the Match in a losing effort in the Q-Cup Grand Final, has emerged as another fullback destined for a starting spot in first grade, further complicating the situation.

Similarly to Campbell, Kini is extremely mobile, often gliding across the park with ease and, despite his shorter frame, he is the archetypal modern-day fullback. Contrary to the pair, Brimson is more filled out, more experienced, and with a higher skill set.

These factors, alongside his incredible versatility to play across the backline, have influenced Des Hasler’s decision to shift him out of fullback to accommodate Campbell and hopefully improve the Titans’ fortunes.

The 25-year-old has 61 of his 99 first-grade games at fullback, a position he’s also filled for Queensland on four occasions. Away from fullback, five-eighth is Brimson’s next most prominent position having filled in there 30 times. On top of this, he’s featured five times off the bench, twice at halfback, and just once at centre in the final round of 2023.

Having played so many different positions in the NRL, it’s clear to see his versatility is next to none on the ‘Glitter Strip’. But he’s certainly not the only one who had to adjust their role as a superstar on a team.

This switch, historically, has bigger picture benefits

Jumping from fullback to five-eighth, back to fullback and now to centre is one hell of a journey for a superstar player, who begins the 2024 season just shy of a century of first-grade games.

Historically, star players who have either wanted a new challenge by moving into another position or have been forced to change their role have thrived. Think Darren Lockyer, who won three premierships as a fullback with the Broncos before shifting to the halves to win a fourth in 2006.

There’s also the current Melbourne Storm halves pairing of Cameron Munster and Jahrome Hughes, who both entered the NRL playing fullback before moving to five-eighth and halfback respectively, positions that they won the 2020 Premiership at.

Munster, in particular, has made an incredible career for himself by moving positions, becoming one of the competition’s best players. It all started for him at fullback, filling in for an injured Billy Slater for multiple seasons, where he broke out in first grade.

However, upon Slater’s return, Munster was forced to slide to five-eighth, eventually debuting for Queensland in that position, and going on to, as of the start of 2024, win two Premierships and four State of Origin shields in the halves. For Australia, he’s featured 11 times with the number six on his back, including during the victorious 2022 World Cup Final.

Positional switches occurring in 2024 are increasingly common. Alongside, AJ Brimson, Jack Wighton is another embarking on a journey on the positional merry-go-round, shifting from five-eighth to centre in his first season at the Rabbitohs.

Wighton does have experience out wide. He featured in the centres for New South Wales, as part of a wider trend at the representative level of spine players, particularly fullbacks, moving to centre in State of Origin.

Both states have done it regularly over the past few years, with fullbacks such as Latrell Mitchell, Tom Trbojevic, and Clint Gutherson doing so for the Blues and Greg Inglis, Hamiso Tabuai-Fidow, and Valentine Holmes for Queensland.

Jack Wighton
Jack Wighton is another major star shifting positions in season 2024

What’s the long-term plan for AJ Brimson at the Gold Coast Titans?

With Des Hasler biting the bullet and shifting Brimson out to the centres, there’s no denying that it’s a controversial decision, but one that we can expect to pay off.

He will have no problems gaining experience in the new position, using his time in the centres to become an even more well-rounded player than he already is.

But the bottom line is this decision is just a temporary one for the Titans, fixing one problem before the next one certainly pops up. And that next problem is the issue with the halves, with ageing five-eighth Kieran Foran only contracted for the 2024 season, although it’s expected he will be extended.

Considering Foran turns 34 during this season it’s fair to assume the New Zealand international only has one additional season in him before his curtain call, creating a scenario where Brimson could shift back into the halves to accommodate Foran’s absence.

Many believe outside of fullback, five-eighth suits Brimson best as he is a dominant ball player who plays his best when he’s in some kind of control of the side.

The Titans’ even more pressing issue is the decision of who the long-term fullback is. Jayden Campbell has been given the start by Hasler, but Keano Kini is a special talent who could easily force his way into the side if Campbell gives him a chance.

I guess we’ll have some idea if the new-look Gold Coast Titans will work out by roughly round six, as the Titans open up the year playing four teams that didn’t make the finals and have a bye before taking on the Raiders.

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