Written by Callum Walker
Photo by AAP
Before the 2019 season even began, Castleford fans were crying out for a replacement for Jake Webster. It’s taken almost three months of the new season for the Tigers to finally act, but NRL star Cheyse Blair is the man that has been brought in with the task of revitalizing the Tigers’ backline.
Castleford fans that have watched the NRL in recent years will know that he has not been an ever-present for those clubs he has played for. Blair has played just 82 games in eight-and-a-half years, but 38 of those appearances have come in a Melbourne Storm shirt including the 2016 Grand Final loss against Cronulla.
Whilst Blair might not have as many NRL appearances as the likes of imports Konrad Hurrell or Kevin Naiqama, the centre has spent three-and-a-half seasons with the second most successful NRL team (though they would have been the most successful had they not breached the salary cap which led to the stripping of their 2007 and 2009 Grand Final victories).
Learning from the best will clearly benefit both him and the Tigers in Super League, who have been desperate for someone of Blair’s ilk since the season began. Standing at over 6 ft 4 tall and weighing 105kg, the New South Wales-born Blair is likely to be one of the most formidable and physical backs in the British game.
For weeks, the Tigers have suffered down their right-hand edge and, with Blair’s signing and captain Michael Shenton’s likely switch to the right centre to make way for Blair who is a natural left centre, the move will shore up the Castleford edge defence considerably. Greg Minikin, Alex Foster and Tuoyo Egodo have all failed to impress as right centre so Blair’s arrival – rumoured to be in time for Castleford’s away game at Wigan – cannot come quick enough.
What will he bring – for those Castleford fans that have not seen him action? Well, he’s an incredibly athletic and tough competitor. Not only will he score tries he will also save many with his superb defensive game. What the Tigers lack in their ability to bring the ball away from their line will be improved drastically by Blair who is one of the best at helping his side rack up the metres.
His height – 6 ft 4 – makes him the tallest in the Castleford backline, giving halfback Jake Trueman another last-tackle option as well as serving as a safer bet under the high ball in defence than Minikin, Foster and Egodo.
Plus, at just 27, Blair still has a good few years ahead of him and a three-and-a-half year deal will take him into his 30s. He probably would not be finished there either with his centre counterpart Shenton now 32 and still captaining the Tigers.
It’s very difficult for those coming from Down Under to settle and to do it quickly. He has a young family which can make it even tougher, but Castleford are a club that prides itself on a family ethos. Jesse Sene-Lefao, Junior Moors, Grant Millington and previously Ben Roberts have all settled incredibly well at the club with young children and the players will welcome Blair and his own family with open arms. If he settles in, the Tigers may have just sorted out a problem that could have cost them silverware.