Dobson equipped to fill ball-playing role for Newcastle
In Super League last season, Dobson made more attacking kicks (176) than any other player. He was third for try assists; in 2012 he produced the most.
SEVEN months ago, when Wayne Bennett recruited him out of left field, it would have been easy to assume Michael Dobson was coming a long way to play reserve grade.
At the time Dobson was established as one of the leading playmakers in the English Super League, but his prospects of nailing down a regular first-team position with the Knights appeared slim.
That would have meant usurping Tyrone Roberts or Jarrod Mullen, both already well established in first grade.
The consensus was maybe Dobson would have been wiser to stay in the Old Dart, where as Hull Kingston Rovers captain and one of the most prolific pointscorers in Super League, he was at least guaranteed a game every week.
But Dobson was clearly willing to back his own ability. At 27, and having not played in the NRL since 20 games for Canberra in 2007-08, the chance to prove himself in the toughest of competitions was a challenge he could not resist.
And after developments in the past few days, what once seemed a long shot is now firming as a reality.
News that Mullen has torn a hamstring so badly he is likely to miss half the season is a devastating setback for the club. Behind fullback Darius Boyd, Mullen rates as the club’s most valuable player.
His statistics from last season underline just how hard it will be to replace the 26-year-old, who is entering the prime of his career.
No player in the NRL produced more try assists than Mullen’s 25, and no player came near the territory he gained with tactical kicking.
Mullen put boot to ball 426 times last year, for 13,625 metres. That was 100 kicks and almost 4000 metres more than his nearest rival, Penrith’s Luke Walsh. For Newcastle, the next most kicks came from Roberts (68). So, on average, in every game Mullen kicked the ball 16 times, compared with Roberts’s twice.
In terms of try assists, Mullen produced twice as many Newcastle’s next best contributors, Boyd (11) and Roberts (9).
So, in his absence, Newcastle need to find at short notice a tactical kicker and someone capable of steering the team around and putting players into gaps.
And that is where Dobson, rather than skipper Kurt Gidley, could be the solution.
Gidley was expected to play hooker this season. But with Travis Waddell, Matt Hilder and rookie Adam Clydsdale capable of handling the dummy-half role, switching Gidley to pivot would appear an option for Bennett.
But Dobson is regarded as an old-school ball-player.
A contact in England who has seen plenty of Hull KR’s games in recent seasons told me last year that Dobson was a good all-round organiser with a quality kicking game, albeit lacking a yard in pace.
‘‘If you think of Jeff Robson at Cronulla, he’s that type of player,’’ the contact said.
In Super League last season, Dobson made more attacking kicks (176) than any other player. He was third for try assists; in 2012 he produced the most. For six seasons and more than 150 games he was Hull KR’s go-to man.
Now he is set to take on the same role with Newcastle, for at least the next few months. How he handles this half-chance is likely to have a huge bearing on their season.