Lawrence rockets into Kangaroos contention Greg Prichard
September 15, 2011
CHRIS LAWRENCE has had a season decimated by injury, but if he can make a successful comeback for Wests Tigers tomorrow night and then power through the rest of the finals series, the ultimate prize - an Australian jumper - awaits him.
Centre Lawrence has played only eight games this season because of a dislocated hip that was at first feared to be a potentially career-ending injury, and more recently a hamstring tear. He was out for what amounted to half of the regular season with the hip problem, which was sustained in March. After making a strong return from that injury, he has been out for the past six games with the hamstring tear.
But the fact he hasn’t played a lot of football won’t hurt his chances of making the Australian squad for the Four Nations tournament in England and Wales at the end of the season - and it could even help him, because if he remains fit he will be guaranteed to be fresh while some other contenders might be feeling the effects of a long season.
The Australian selectors know what Lawrence can do, and will be watching him closely when he takes to the left-hand side for the Tigers in their knockout semi-final against the Warriors at Sydney Football Stadium tomorrow night. And, of course, his club coach - Tim Sheens - doubles as the Australian coach. There wouldn’t be a bigger fan of Lawrence than Sheens.
Lawrence was picked in the Australian squad for the Four Nations tournament that was played in Australia and New Zealand at the end of last season, and while he didn’t make the first-choice 17 he was still picked to make his Test debut in the round-robin game against the Kiwis. He scored a try in Australia’s 34-20 win.
The fact the Tigers went deep into last year’s final series - they were beaten 13-12 by eventual premiers St George Illawarra in a grand final qualifier - was instrumental in Lawrence making the national squad, and it can be instrumental again if the Tigers, who finished over the top of the Dragons to win in last week’s first stage of the finals, manage to stay alive by beating the Warriors.
Bookmakers regard the Tigers as good things, with TAB Sportsbet last night quoting them at the prohibitive odds of $1.33 to win. The Warriors were at $3.25. The Tigers are also being kept very safe in premiership betting, at $5 third favourites behind
Melbourne ($3.25) and Manly ($4). The Warriors are the extreme outsiders in premiership betting, at $21.
Lawrence, 22, was considered a near-certainty to make his State of Origin debut for NSW this season, until he was hit with the hip injury.
South Sydney’s Greg Inglis, Penrith’s Michael Jennings, North Queensland pair Willie Tonga and Brent Tate, Canterbury’s Josh Morris and Canberra’s Jarrod Croker are the centres who have so far been named in the Australian train-on squad for the Four Nations.
Brisbane’s Justin Hodges and Inglis are obvious choices in the squad if fit, and after that it depends on how many specialist centres the selectors and Sheens want to include in the squad. The advantage Lawrence has over most other contenders is that he is still playing at the business end of the season. Selectors tend to give the nod to players who are in form during the finals series.