After an outstanding start to the year, exciting Panthers centre Stephen Crichton is the name on everyone’s lips at the moment.
12 months ago not many people would’ve heard of the talented St Clair Comet however, in less than a year, Crichton has turned himself into a household name after becoming one of Penrith’s true x-factor players.
In his seven appearances so far this year, the 19-year-old has scored four tries including in recent games against the Rabbitohs and Storm.
Speaking with Weekender on Tuesday, Crichton credited a strong pre-season with the NRL squad for giving him the confidence to start the 2020 season with a bang.
“Last year I debuted in the NRL, but I didn’t have a pre-season [with first grade]. I’m heaps better this year, just because of that pre-season,” he said.
“It’s given me heaps of confidence because I know the boys I’m playing alongside a lot better.”
Before settling into his current role in the centres, Crichton began the season as a super-sub on Ivan Cleary’s bench. He scored a try in each of his two games off the interchange, prompting Cleary to find a more permanent position for him after the Coronavirus shutdown.
Crichton said he enjoys his role in the centres, but also liked the idea of playing fullback if the possibility arises down the track.
“I’ve always played centre but it’s good to play a variety of positions as well,” he said.
“If someone else is playing centre or someone gets injured I can slot into fullback, so it’s good learning both positions.”
Right now, the silky Samoan is making the number four jersey his own and crediting his fellow centre Dean Whare for helping him improve his game.
Last season – in his NRL debut – Crichton replaced Whare in the centres after the Kiwi veteran was dropped on form.
“After all my wrong reads in defence, Deano’s always the first one to tip me up about it in terms of my positioning on the field, getting up early etc,” Crichton said.
“Once I joined the pre-season he was into me straight away about the centre position and where I should be at the right time and where I shouldn’t be at the wrong time. He’s helped me out a lot, especially in that centre role, and I really look up to him.”
Crichton is contracted to the Panthers until the end of the 2021 season, but he’s expected to be in hot demand around the NRL if Penrith don’t lock him away. Crichton said he isn’t in negotiations yet, but his preference would be to remain a Panther long-term.
“I’m just enjoying playing where I am right now at Panthers and things like that will take care of itself,” he said.
“I don’t want to get too ahead of myself, I just want to play good footy and things like that will come along.”
Nathan Taylor is the Weekender’s Deputy Editor and Senior Sports Writer. He also compiles the weekly Chatter on the Box TV column. Nathan is an award-winning journalist, who has worked at the Weekender for nearly a decade.