Billy Slater makes startling call on Tom Trbojevic backflip after position switch for Manly

Manly's decision to shift the superstar fullback to centre has raised eyebrows.

Maroons coach Billy Slater has put forward a theory about Tom Trbojevic's impending switch from fullback to centre as debate continues to swirl around the move from the Sea Eagles. Manly confirmed that their former Dally M Medal winner would be returning to the NRL for Saturday night's round 18 match against the Cowboys in North Queensland - but not in the No.1 jumper.

Manly coach Anthony Seibold said the decision had been taken after discussions between the injury-prone star and the club, and was aimed at prolonging his career. The 27-year-old has suffered an array of injuries over the last three seasons, and the switch is designed to keep Trbojevic on the field longer in the hope he can recapture the form that's seen him dominate for club and state.

Pictured right to left, Maroons coach Billy Slater and Manly star Tom Trbojevic.
Maroons coach Billy Slater has had his say on Tom Trbojevic's switch from fullback to centre for the Manly Sea Eagles. Pic: Getty

Trbojevic has played the majority of his career at fullback, but has represented Australia and NSW while playing wing or centre. The shift from fullback should take some of the strain off Trbojevic's legs but will also mean he'll have to make more tackles defending in the line.

The Sea Eagles have the luxury of using either current No.1 Lehi Hopoate or Tolu Koula at fullback - both who have impressed in the absence of Trbojevic - albeit with limited opportunities. But Slater believes that even if Manly's eye-opening call is successful and the Sea Eagles are in the running for the finals in a few weeks, he wouldn't be surprised to see the club's best fullback reclaim the No.1 jersey before the end of the season.

"Anthony Seibold obviously feels that the centre position is a great starting point, but I wouldn't be surprised if he's nice and healthy a month before the finals, that he slips back into that fullback role," the Maroons coach said on Nine's The Billy Slater Podcast. "He will get a few reps in the centres and he might even interchange with Lehi Hopoate at some stage throughout games. He's a top-line fullback and player and you just want him involved in the game."

Billy Slater and Tom Trbojevic.
Billy Slater reckons Tom Trbojevic will find himself back at fullback soon enough. Image: Getty

Plenty of critics have questioned why Manly would move Trbojevic to the centres when he's proven himself to be one of the best fullbacks in the game when fit. Trbojevic's move may help to shore up the Sea Eagles' leaky defence out wide but the Manly coach denies the move is a risk and pointed to his star's previous experience playing at centre - including his phenomenal displays there for the Blues in their victorious 2021 series.

"I suppose it is a big call and as everyone knows, Tom Trbojevic is one of the elite fullbacks," Seibold told 9News Sydney. "What we're trying to do - and it's been a joint decision between myself and Turbo - is to keep him on the field and keep him in the game long-term as well.

"I don't perceive it to be a risk, we've all seen him play at Origin level and excel as a centre. The risk is if we don't move him and we keep doing the same thing. This isn't gonna bullet proof Turbo, but if we keep doing the same thing, we're gonna continue to get the same results. We're not saying it's a forever thing either... we just want Turbo to get out there and enjoy himself."

Seen here, Tom Trbojevic playing for the Blues in the 2021 State of Origin series.
Tom Trbojevic was the player of the 2021 State of Origin series while playing centre for the Blues. Pic: Getty


Trbojevic admits he was rattled by the latest hamstring injury suffered against the Dolphins in round 10 that's kept him sidelined for eight weeks. But the 27-year-old says he's excited about the positional shift and just wants to do what's best for the team. “It’s going to be a different challenge, but one I’m excited about,” Trbojevic told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“We’ve got someone like Koula who can play fullback. It’s just good to mix it up for a few weeks and see how we go. The new position keeps me mentally fresh as well. I’ve been back running at full speed the past couple of weeks. There have been no dramas. I don’t want to jinx anything. I was pretty rattled by the last injury. I’m probably not in the position to demand what I can or can’t do. There’s a bit more contact defensively in the centres, but attacking wise, the positions are similar. I just want to get back playing. I’ll do what’s best for the team.”