HE is only just starting to think of himself as a centre but Jake Douglas has become a real talisman for Pirates in the midfield and will be a crucial figure tomorrow as they look to strike another blow to Moree’s minor premiership hopes and shore up a top two spot.
Beating the Bulls should do that.
As it stands at the moment, there is seven points between them and the Bulls in third.
Douglas has been in sublime form this season and has become as indispensable as the likes of Conrad Starr and Josh Stewart.
He is arguably the most damaging centre in the competition.
Opposition sides certainly know they have to shut him down.
But knowing and doing are two different things as Gunnedah learnt on Saturday.
The 13 made the decisive break for the two early tries that broke the game open in the second half and scored one himself.
He had been under an injury cloud heading in and wasn’t named after hurting his neck the previous week against Inverell.
It was fairly innocuous, with Douglas just getting “in a bad position” in a tackle.
He played on until half-time, with Pirates coach Andrew Verrell taking him off for the second half.
Verrell was a bit reluctant to play him on Saturday but, after showing he was right to go, Douglas took his place and ran on for his 101st game for Pirates.
He’s played those in a mix of positions – mostly at breakaway and most recently outside centre, and is arguably enjoying his most consistent season.
“I always felt out of position in 13 but I’m starting to feel comfortable,” Douglas said.
“I’m starting to feel like a centre, not a breakaway.”
Old habits, though, do die hard and Douglas has found that instinct to get on the ball – ground into you as a breakaway – hard to shake.
“I’ve got a bad habit of still getting stuck in rucks,” Douglas said.
It’s something he’s working on, although Verrell has been keen to utilise his skills on the ball and has given him a bit of a roving commission in defence.
“He said to me he’s happy for me to roam,” Douglas said.
The thinking is that if he can get a one-on-one contest he’s a good chance of getting a turnover.
Douglas is also a very strong defender but it’s his running game and ability to beat that first defender that makes him such a threat.
Also working well for Pirates is his blossoming combination with Greg White.
They are really working well together.
Things did take a little while to gel. White is a bit of a different player to what Douglas has been used to.
Like predecessors Nathan Hamlin and Doug Biffin, he is a strong runner but he also has a real ball-playing ability.
Testament to that is he has been put at five-eighth a couple of times.
“I’m enjoying my footy with him,” Douglas said, later adding in jest that he has been carrying him.
“He’s starting to play some good footy.”
Pirates will be hoping that continues as they make their run to the finals.
In other games tomorrow, Gunnedah hosts Narrabri while, in Tier 2, Barraba travels to Walcha and Tamworth is at home to Scone.