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by Scott Dickson, Friday July 22, 2005

BRONCOS back Brent Tate yesterday declared only half of his return-from-injury puzzle was solved after replacing Leon Bott on the wing for tonight’s blockbuster against the Bulldogs at Telstra Stadium.

The Test and State of Origin star said he was relieved to be just playing after a five-week layoff but reassured his eyes were mainly fixed on regaining his club centre position. 

Tate however faces an uphill battle to split the club’s current centre pairing of Shaun Berrigan and Justin Hodges, who are arguably the NRL’s most damaging in this role at present.

Incumbent Australian and Queensland Origin no.3 Berrigan currently tops this season’s try-scoring list with 18, which includes seven from his last five matches, and is six ahead of nearest centre Matt Cooper.

While Hodges, who was switched from wing to centre following Tate’s career-threatening shoulder injury in round-seven, has used his step, fend and flick passes to outdo his last seven rivals.

Hodges’ most recent scalp was Melbourne’s Origin hat-trick hero Matt King, a performance which earned him man-of-the-match honors and had club coach Wayne Bennett singing his praises.      
 
For now, Tate is just content to be in the team for the first time since spraining his right ankle against Canberra in round-14, but said he was aiming to win back his Broncos centre spot before the seasons' end.     

“I do, that’s something I am going to work to,” said 23-year-old Tate, who played five Tests for Australia and seven Origins for Queensland from 2002-2004, all at centre.

“But at the moment the two guys (Berrigan and Hodges) out there are doing a really good job and we need another winger out there so I am happy to fulfill that at the moment because that’s what the team needs.

“I’m just happy to be back in the side, I know it’s an old cliché but I haven’t played for a while and just getting back on the paddock playing any where is good enough at the moment.

“But regaining my centre spot is definitely something I want to do for sure.”

Tate’s first step towards achieving this came at the expense of team-mate Bott, who can be counted unlucky to be dropped to the Queensland Wizard Cup after being the player to miss out in order to fit Tate in.

The young speedster has failed to miss any of the Broncos 17 games this year in his debut season and has crossed for 11 tries, including a hat-trick against St.George-Illawarra in round six. 

Tate said Bott’s demotion to Toowoomba for Saturday’s match against Easts was not based on form and revealed a positive for the club. 

“It’s good having the depth in the club where we can bring guys up and down if we’ve got injuries or so,” said Tate.

“Leon’s only 18 and he has played every game this year and that’s a real credit to him, but he will be back in first-grade before not too long.”

Tate is expected to oppose another centre tonight in the form of Jamaal Lolesi, who will fill in for Hazem El Masri after the goal-kicking whiz was moved to fullback to cover for the injured Trent Cutler.

Tate said his ankle was not 100 per cent but that would not stop him from playing solidly for the full eighty-minutes.

“It is good but not as good as what it can be,” he said. “But a lot of guys play with a few niggles this time of year.

“I wouldn’t be playing if I was not confident in it."

Tate has managed only 10 NRL matches this season due to his two injuries and admits the thought of a third is playing on his mind ahead of tonight.

“I’m a bit nervous just because I haven’t played for a while,” said Tate, who will wear his specially designed head and neck brace to prevent re-suffering the career threatening neck and shoulder injuries he has endured ever since he first experienced them in August 2003.

“I haven’t played too much footy this year, so the only nerves I will have are just holding up with my fitness.”