David Clegg Continues His Series Reviewing the Season Through The Eyes Of Up And Coming First Teamers, On This Occasion With Increasingly Versatile, Niall Evalds
It was of surprise to nobody, I suspect, when the shirts for the 2016 season were distributed, and Niall Evalds was given the number one shirt, for after all, had he not progressed to become the regular fullback for the latter half of the previous season, possessing a strike power which tore through defensive lines for sundry crucial tries.
Certainly, many of us will have regarded his obtaining the recognised number one fullback shirt as a significant vote of confidence in his ability, in this role.  That things were to have changed as radically as they had by the opening fixture of the season, however, with newly recruited half-back, Gareth O’Brien, tying down the fullback role for the remainder of the season, did not take Niall as completely by surprise as it may have done to the rest of us.  Indeed he claims to set little store on whichever number each player has.
“Obviously, it was very nice to be given the number one shirt, but I’ve never really considered it of importance as to which shirt you have,” is his philosophy.  “In 2015, I was given number nineteen, but still managed to work my way into the team.  This last year, it went the other way round.”
As a result of this, his season took a completely different line than had been previously expected, with his taking on a number of other positions.  Most notable of these was playing on the wing, but he also figured at centre, and even at hooker.
“I became more of a utility player,” he acknowledges, “but still see myself primarily as a fullback.  Even so, moving around has been good for me because you learn a lot more about the game.  The more positions you can play the better, in that respect.”
That outing at hooker was, understandably, quite a steep learning curve for him.
“I thought it would be a change to try something completely new,” he wryly comments, “but my body felt really sore after it.  It’s not just the amount of tackling I had to do, because even in the three-quarters you still have a lot of defending to do.  It’s the line speed which is needed in the middle, sprinting up and then back at each play-the-ball.
“It’s a different sort of game, there, though this is something I had already had to get used to with more tackles being required of me.”
One aspect of the team in which he has been pivotally involved has been the variation of the line-ups for both attack and defence.
“We’ve tried a few different things, and changed things around to vary the tactics,” he explains.  “In addition, as a result of growing and maturing, I have been called upon to be more involved in the physical side of the game.”
Nevertheless, there are a number of quite specific requirements for each position, which he has had to produce.
“To be fair, I had already gained a good idea of the basic requirements for each position, purely from observation and playing alongside others,” he admits, “but the finer details I am still learning.  All in all, it has been good to vary these positions.”
So taking into account all the positions, in which he has turned out, I wondered which matches has he had enjoyed especially.
“The home game against Leeds,” was his prompt reply.  “It was wet and horrible, with lots of knock ons, but we managed to get the win.  We couldn’t throw the ball about as we would have liked, so we just had to tough it out with them, and did.
“I also liked playing centre to Justin Carney, in the St Helens home game,” he enthuses.  “We were on TV, I got a try, and we completely reversed the heavy losses we had suffered in the previous couple of seasons.”
Next Time David Clegg Learns Of Prop, Liam Bent’s Rise To First Team Status