Centre of attention

Francis Meli
Francis Meli

FRANCIS Meli is loving life in the middle.

Meli has been placed in the centres from his usual wing berth to help cope with the club’s current run of injuries.

The Samoa ace played nearly all his games for Saints prior to this season as a free-scoring wide-man.

But the fact he looks so comfortable moving inside doesn’t come as a huge surprise to the man himself.

“I played all of my representative rugby as a youngster at centre,” Meli told The Reporter.

“But it just so happened that when I got my chance in the NRL, there was an abundance of centres at my club.

“You just have to take your opportunities where you find them, so I ended up on the wings.”

Meli’s defensive duties have been tested to the fore in his new position, while his creative skills have laid on a number of assists for rising star Jamie Foster.

“To be honest, I’m really enjoying it,” the 32-year-old said.

“There are obviously some adjustments to make from the wing, and it took a bit of getting used to but it’s for the team, so it’s the best thing.

“You’re a bit more involved in the game from the centre.

“You have to do a bit more tackling and you certainly see more of the ball, and I have definitely been enjoying it.”

Meli’s fine form since switching to the centre berth is also rubbing off on Foster – currently occupying the Kiwi international’s favourite wing spot.

Foster, who is Saints’ leading try scorer with 14 to his credit in league and cup games, said: “I learned a lot when playing alongside Matt Gidley last season, and now Francis is providing me with some great support.

“He has already been responsible for setting up several of my tries.”

Meli, who joined St Helens from Auckland Warriors in 2006, has also revelled in his role as one of the team’s elder statesmen during the club’s current injury crisis.

“It’s a no-brainer, really,” said Meli.

“When you have young lads like we have in our side, then it is your job to be more of a leader.

“The boys that have come in have done really well, and they’ve taken the opportunity they’ve been given.

“It’s not easy to be told suddenly your playing and it is the biggest game of your life.

“They’ve been thrown in at the deep end for sure, but they’ve coped and thrived – and that’s a credit to them.”

Meli has been named in the 22-man Exiles squad to face an England team containing team-mates Jon Wilkin, James Roby, James Graham and Michael Shenton.

“It’s really exciting, and there’s no greater honour for a player than to turn our on the international stage,” said Meli.

Meanwhile, the Saints squad has been enjoyed some downtime as a team – by attending a private screening of the hit comedy The Hangover II.

“Paul Wellens organised it,” revealed Meli.

“He got us a private screening and texted everyone.

“The film’s great. We all had a brilliant time, although there were one or two immature individuals talking and munching popcorn too loudly!”