NO COMPLAINTS: Peter Wallace of the Panthers has found a new lease on life as a hooker.
NO COMPLAINTS: Peter Wallace of the Panthers has found a new lease on life as a hooker. DARREN PATEMAN

Recycled Wallace gives Panthers a sharper edge

IN OCTOBER last year when the Panthers announced Anthony Griffin as their coach to succeed Ivan Cleary, Peter Wallace had every reason to feel particularly insecure.

It was Griffin who cut Wallace adrift from the Broncos at the end of 2013, after six years of loyal service.

The coach, understandably, wanted to blood rookie Ben Hunt as his halfback.

But while assured by Griffin that he was wanted by the Panthers, one of the first decisions of the new coach was to sack Wallace as captain.

And more bad news - if not bad blood - was to come.

Another boom halfback was in the picture - 18-year-old Nathan Cleary - and Griffin could no longer resist the temptation to play him in the NRL.

That meant another demotion of sorts for Wallace - from a genuine half to a dummy half.

Yet through all this upheaval the recycled Panthers junior merely rolled with the punches.

To coin a phrase, his was not to reason why - he merely did the job asked of him.

And what a job that has been - by Wallace and also by Griffin, who made two other gigantic calls by culling Jamie Soward and James Segeyaro from his roster.

Criticised for these decisions, Griffin is now the one smiling - maybe even smirking.

In his first season as coach at Penrith he has the Panthers playing finals footy for just the third time since their premiership of 2003.

But no doubt the change of position for Wallace has been the ultimate masterstroke.

His leadership and calmness among a team of youngsters has given the Panthers not just an edge, but genuine hopes of another premiership.

In fact, so well has Wallace adjusted to his new role that his coach this week compared his level of on-field composure to that exhibited by the best leader in the game, Kangaroos captain Cameron Smith.

Obviously Griffin and Wallace have realised they are on a path to success and if a hatchet was once raised and waiting, it has been well and truly buried.

Although many similar skills are needed to perform in both roles, the conversion of Wallace from halfback to dummy half has been amazing. But he isn't the first NRL player to switch positions and find solace - in his case a two-year contract extension.

Three of the more successful conversions in my memory have been John Ribot, from a good back-rower to a Test winger; Geoff Gerard, from centre to prop, and 320 NRL games; and Darren Lockyer, Test fullback to Test five-eighth.

Others to make a successful switch from the backs to the forwards in the latter stages of their careers include Gene Miles, Ruben Wiki, Luke Ricketson and Jason Croker, all internationals.

Maybe a similar fate awaits Peter Wallace.

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