In the fast lane with the centre half forwards

Centre half forward is considered the hardest position in the game to play, so it’s interesting to think of some of the standouts over the years, and how they’ve handled the responsibilities of the position. There are as many varieties of centre half forward as there are cars on the road.

 

My ideal centre half forward is well organised and in control, has all-round skill and strength, and a mind like a steel trap. Part jalopy part elite machine, he is a role model for the team, along with the captain, and his job description would look something like this:

 

  • strong work ethic
  • contests everything going
  • unshakeable self-belief
  • quick thinking
  • speed is desirable, bottom line is quick acceleration
  • fast hands essential
  • stays on his feet
  • tackles and shepherds aggressively
  • brilliant mark essential
  • brings the ball to ground if he can’t mark
  • kicks to position well on either foot
  • good long kick for goal.

 

My first favourite centre half forward was Royce Hart, who moved there from full forward, and largely continued to play as one, being so self-sufficient and brilliant that he did it all himself. He was the golden haired boy at Tigerland, one of the fleet of Tasmanian imports in the VFL, and only partly because his name is half way there already, he is my Rolls Royce of centre half forwards.

 

The movement of players in the forward line today is so fluid, more like Dodgem cars, that it can be tricky to figure out who is playing centre half forward or full forward—take Tex Walker and Buddy Franklin, and in fact Buddy was named at centre half forward in the All Australian team this year, whereas I talked about him in my fishy full forward theme.

 

The quintessential centre half forward is Wayne Carey, a turbo charged Grand Prix racer if ever there was one, and I have never seen a better player. His spontaneous left foot check-side goal from the boundary pocket under pressure from a tackler was possibly the most skilful thing I have seen on a footy field (Eddie Betts not withstanding). Pagan’s paddock cleared the track for him to display his prodigious talent for North Melbourne. The Duck would rate a 10 in just about every attribute a centre half forward needs, and maybe in some other categories they don’t need. He went on to play for Adelaide, although not at that same level, but I’m struggling to find a home-grown standout centre half forward for the Crows—no doubt someone out there in Footy Almanac world will correct me!

 

Cross town, the All Australian centre half forward in 2004 was Warren Tredrea, who played in the old fashioned style of using hips rather than hands to move opponents off the ball. If ever a player was suited to a one-on-one contest it was Tredders. Although following Port Adelaide is not in my genes, it was good to be a South Australian to have seen so much of Tredrea in action. His weakness of course was his kicking for goal. I wonder if he wouldn’t have been better off using his left foot for set shots, since his right foot looked so awkward, and he was just about ambidextrous. The other thing about Tredrea was his scrupulous fairness and honesty, not a requirement of the position, but an attribute that appeals to me. I am always intrigued by the person inside the player, and in an interview with Warren he was asked what he would have been if not a footballer. His immediate reply was ‘a policeman’ and wouldn’t he just fit the bill? Tredrea would be a classy Audi.

 

Even more au-some was Jonathan Brown. Not only was he the complete package as a centre half forward, occasionally he would terrorise them at the centre bounces as well. Remember when he went down at the start of the 2003 Grand Final and the whole stadium sucked in its collective breath at what could have been a knockout blow to Brisbane’s premiership chances. But then, like a smashed up Bedford truck, he got up and started to have an effect on the game, inspirational, like another brave centre half forward did in an earlier Grand Final, Dermott Brereton. The mercurial Hawthorn blondster would have to be the car you’re all hanging out for, the Ferrari, but not Ferrari as you know it, more the micky-taking Ferrari artwork at MONA in Hobart, my favourite city.

 

What do the textbooks say about centre half forward play? In the classic High mark edited by Jack Pollard 2nd edition (Sydney: Murray Publishing Company, 1967), Fred Wooller of Geelong wrote chapter 9 on The dexterous half-forwards and began:

 

‘A centre half-forward must be fast, able to position himself cleverly for a mark, and an accurate stab kick or drop kick with left or right foot, and a capable pass with both hands. He has a big influence on a team’s scoring efforts, for he can make or break a full-forward. The ability to kick competently with both feet is one of the greatest assets any player can have, but there is no way of hiding or covering up kicking deficiencies at centre half-forward. And when a centre half-forward can kick with both feet he generates extra concern in his opposing centre half-back, who can never be sure which way the forward will move to kick the ball.’

 

Fred Wooller was one of the centre half forwards that old timers rave about, along with another Geelong great Fred Flanagan, South Melbourne’s Ron Clegg, and Ken Fraser, who went from his church side into Essendon’s best 18. Ivor Phillip Scharrer Warne-Smith must have been some player (although a challenge to commentate) winning two Brownlows and a premiership, captain-coaching Melbourne and being named in its team of the century at centre half forward, and being named in the Tasmanian team of the century. He also fought in both World War One and World War Two! The 1930 Sporting Globe Football Book described him as a ‘brainy sterling footballer … who makes some daring moves and inspires his players by his own brilliance’. I like the sound of him, especially the brainy bit, a good attribute for an on-field general in his dashing Jeep.

 

Talking of the past, the centre half forward of legend was Darrel Baldock, unusual in being under the six foot mark, but advantaged by his phenomenal hand and foot skills and bodywork, like an Aston Martin with all the magic tricks that James Bond expects. Baldock wasn’t called Mr Magic for nothing, and his presence in the key position was a major contributor to St Kilda’s first premiership in 1966. Another export from the Apple Isle, the Doc returned home to be a Labor parliamentarian. Like Baldock with the Saints, the equally legendary Ted Whitten was a key factor in Footscray’s first premiership in 1954.  Mr Football could play centre half forward or centre half back interchangeably, but let’s face it, he could have played anywhere anytime whether on grass, gravel, bitumen or beach. A larrikin who grew up in Melbourne’s working class western suburbs, Ted would have to be ‘Australia’s own car’ a Holden ute.

 

Talking of Holden’s, the State Library of South Australia has the GMH archive, all 140 metres of it, from its days as a saddler, ironmonger and carriage maker in 1853 through to 2007. The catalogue record has a detailed account of the company, and the series lists are a walk down memory lane of its models. What a sign of how things change, that the first Holden was produced at the Woodville plant in July 1948 and was a success story employing thousands, yet some 70 years later the Elizabeth plant is about to close.

 

After many years in the footy wilderness, South Australia had a famous win against Victoria in 1963 at the MCG with Don Lindner coming off the bench to turn the tide in its favour. Lindner was North Adelaide’s beloved centre half forward of the century, and was renowned for the number of hangers he took and his spectacular droppies. He played football with joi-de-vivre and loved his tennis almost as much. At the Roosters team of the century dinner last year, Barrie Robran regaled us with stories of playing doubles with Don, who unlike his attacking self on the footy field, played a cannier style of tennis and would yell at Barrie to get back from the net to help out on the baseline. Don was an outgoing Renmark lad and lots of fun like a Thunderbird convertible. Sadly he is no longer with us, but he left as he lived, having a great time on the dance floor on a New Year’s Eve. If you haven’t done so, read the fantastic tribute to Don Lindner by Graham Cornes in The Advertiser online of 2 January 2009.

 

After that 1963 triumph against the big V, South Australia was in the doldrums until 1983 when Glenelg’s Stephen Kernahan largely led the Croweaters’ resurgence, going on to play 13 state games. Sticks was a lanky player with a rather awkward though effective kicking style, but what a mark, and what on-and-off field leadership. He was named centre half forward and captain of Carlton’s team of the century, not bad for a boy from the Bay—and being the son of Harry ‘the horse’, he has to be a Mustang.

 

Sturt was a team of thoroughbreds in their five straight premiership years in the 1960s SANFL, and Rick Schoff was a legend with his own inimitable style. Schoffy was an unbeatable slab who used to slope around menacingly at centre half forward for his club, but was always picked at centre half back for the state team—or was it the other way round? He was one of Neil Kerley’s favourite players, so he was tough, but polished on the outside—hey Charger! He was a blondly angelic looking engineer—like James Hird, a centre half forward who bamboozled opponents with his guile and imagination, but was also tough as. I remember the first game I saw him play for Essendon when he looked about 16, and the words by my then favourite ABC commentator Tim Lane, ‘James Hird you little beauty’. Hirdy was one of those players whose body could move as fast as his brain, a Porsche if ever there was one.

 

My favourite West Coast player over the years is Ashley Hansen, not one of its superstars, but the first true centre half forward the Eagles had the luxury of possessing. He caught my attention from his very first game, and not just because he’s a strawberry blond! He ‘straightened them up’ because he had schooled himself in the basics, always ‘presenting himself’ and trotting back to the centre half forward spot whenever there was a boundary throw in, or when there were enough other players at the contest. Son of another popular ABC caller Clark Hansen, it’s great to see that Ash is now coaching, taking Footscray to its recent premiership in the VFL, and he would be a companionable VW Kombi.

 

Talking of Footscray, there’s universal admiration for the Western Bulldogs former centre half forward Chris Grant, who handled his denial of a Brownlow Medal through puzzling officious interference, with amazing grace. An elegant player, he would be a stylish Mercedes. Although black-and-white are not my favourite colours, I confess to a sneaking admiration for Travis Cloke. I used to think that for Trav, it was all about him at Collingwood, and sometimes he played well and sometimes he didn’t. But as he’s matured, it’s no longer about him, but about the team, and he now has a modest demeanour on the ground. Good for him, and I hope he gets to play at centre half forward in his new environment at the Western Bulldogs. He’s my glamorous E-Type Jag in the last of my fast lane analogies.

 

With the packs that gather around every drop of the ball these days it can be difficult to pick the centre half forwards at work. But watch them carefully, especially the career centre half forwards, to see how they position themselves and what they do with the ball. It’s a fun exercise to think who you would like to have at centre half forward and what sort of car they would be in the team you would want to watch in an open road heaven.

 

Comments

  1. Interesting observations there C S. My pick would be for Royce Hart, Darrell Baldock & The Duck. Three different styles for three different eras. The elegance of Hart was majestic, but when they played Carlton or St Kilda John Gould and Barry Lawrence had him covered.

    The Doc was made for Moorabbin. Conspiracy theorists would say Moorabbin was made for The Doc. He was a mud runner supreme. They just don’t make grounds like that any more. Nor groundsmen.

    When it comes to the modern era, nothing comes near The Duck for brute force and game changing power football. Who will ever forget his battles with Glen Jacovich?

  2. Dave Brown says:

    Good observations there, Carolyn. As you note the way the game is played at the top level these days it’s hard to identify who the centre half forward is. The Crows are a perfect example – both Walker and Jenkins start deep in the forward line and then push far up the ground. They do so much of their scoring in transition that calling one of them full forward and the other CHF is largely for the need of putting a name on paper. In many ways Tom Lynch actually fulfils much of that role. My favourite Crows CHF was Matty Robran. While no superstar he had a prodigious kick, would willingly use both feet and hands in disposal and would always bring the ball to ground. A key component of Malcolm Blight’s premiership teams. He was some form of 4WD that is understated in its excellence – a Land Cruiser perhaps.

  3. Peter Warrington says:

    Carolyn this is a brilliant article.

    The Royster was the best true chf. Carey took m any of his marks running back to goal, with no true FF (especially in the non-Longmire years).

    Jeremy Cameron reminds me so much of royce with his balance and his kick, it is freaky. Needs to work out how to show up for PFs however.

    Big shout to Dave re Matty Robran. He was simply imperious in the 98 PF, surely nobody has dominated like he did that day?

    Mitchell White 96 was a coodabeen. Really played well that year.

    I think J Riewoldt would make a great chf, he is a great user of the ball.

    Big shout to Dermie in the waverley years, contested everything and everybody, as was only 6 2 as well.

  4. Fred Wooler was

    Some other good CHF’s from the Geelong side include, Bill Ryan, , Billy Brownless, Barry Stoneham, until he broke his leg and Cam Mooney. However I’m not sure if Billy Brownless met all the criteria, speed is not a term you often equate with him.

    The best CHF i ever saw, and he would agree with it was Royce Hart. Until his knees gave away he was superb. Carey , Brereton both great but Hart’s role in 4 flags was pivotal.

    Glen!

  5. I saw most of Carey’s matches for North.
    What the casual observer did not notice (but the keen eye did) was the flicks, knock-ons, and general unselfishness which is not often attributed to Wayne Carey. Quite apart from his match-winning ability, his wonderful kicking for goal, and bravery, was his ability to create space by shepherding and doing the hard (often unseen) things. JAll you would have to do is ask Brett Allison, Wayne Schwass, Robert Scott and those types.
    The most complete footballer I ever saw.

  6. Neil Anderson says:

    I was always worried about the Dogs not having a dominant CHF post-Chris Grant.
    And then along came Liam Picken in the form of a Mini Cooper S as a game-changer. He has all those twelve attributes required for a CHF despite being vertically challenged and he wasn’t even selected as a CHF. That made it easy for him to play out of position like many other CHFS.

  7. Ditto Matty Robran vastly underrated extremely footy smart with knock ons and using his body to help others and under,Blights game plan he played a set role and was a key part of his 2 flags thank you a enjoyable read

  8. Ben Footner says:

    Add me to the Matty Robran bandwagon as the favourite CHF of the Crows era. From memory was absolutely dominant with McLeod in the 98 prelim flogging of the Dogs.

    Tex Walker firming as another favourite. In the last couple of years has willingly sacrificed his own game for the team. You know he’s on when he takes a grab on the lead 60 out and immediately wheels around and send it sailing through the big sticks – as all great CHF’s tend to do!

  9. Richard Jones says:

    Freddie Flanagan.
    First time he ever saw the MCG was the day he ran out to play the Dees.
    And my Granddad Alf Outtrim, a hotelier of some influence and an absolute car lover bought one of the 1st Holdens — yep, in 1948.
    Pre-WW2 he and a mate from Maryborough, Vic. did a trek north of Adelaide and out into the desert.
    Can’t recall what make of car, but think it might have been a U.S. model. Arranged for Tiger Moth deliveries of petrol along the way. The pilot or co-pilot would drop a 44 gal. drum of fuel at designated spots along the route.
    Must have been mind-numbing wondering if the drum had survived or had split open.

  10. Shane Hunt. Montmorency’s CHF when we won the U16 flag in 1979. A typical glamour CHF, with the blond hair and tight shorts. He was a very good grab and wonderful kick. He had a girlfriend and shampooed his hair. I didn’t have a girl friend and washed my hair with Velvet soap.

  11. Terry Daniher was a beauty for the bombers in the glory years of the 80s and Peter Carey was great for the Bays whether in ruck or CHF. Snagged a lazy 6 from there in the Grand Final win as a 19yo in 1973. Kicked 11 in another game that year and finished the year with 70.

  12. Phillip Dimitriadis says:

    Great list Carolyn and excellent suggestions from commentators. Always thought Stewie Loewe was a fine CHF for the Saints in the early 90’s.
    Dermie, Carey and Stephen Kernahan best from my era. Cheers

  13. Carolyn spooner says:

    Thanx for all your interesting comments adding to the centre half forward story. Budgey – look out for Super when I get onto the ruckmen – not sure if they’re going to be trees or maybe tall buildings!?

  14. Mark 'Swish' Schwerdt says:

    Carolyn, how could you forget John Klug, he had the turning circle of a stretch Hummer.

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