The Gasnier Legacy
Phil Gould once said he’d never seen a better centre than Mark Gasnier. It was the ultimate compliment from a man who has been involved at the highest levels of rugby league for more than 30 years. Since then, Gasnier departed the NRL to play Rugby Union in France before returning in 2010 and ultimately announcing his retirement this year. As Gasnier approaches his final game, it’s interesting to consider how he will be remembered amongst the pantheon of great centres the game has produced.
Gasnier’s talent is unquestioned. At his best, Gasnier’s ability to beat defenders one-on-one was remarkable, often leaving players clutching at air as he accelerated down the sideline. His signature play was the in-and-away – a quick skip, before accelerating past his opposite’s outside shoulder. When defenders began to over-read his movements, he unleashed his other great weapon – a scything right-foot step. It was a sign of his greatness that he could repeat these plays ad nauseum and still break the line. On the other hand, one can’t help but feel that Gasnier was at times a one-trick pony.
And there-in lies the problem. For all of Mark Gasnier’s ability, he only showed limited evolution as a player. Think back for a moment and try to visualize some highlights – are you’re seeing the movement that I describe above over and over again with an occasional flick pass thrown in? You’re probably not seeing too many big tackles or strong hole-running. For a man standing at 6’4” and weighing 100kg, it’s a little surprising.
To be fair, the goal here wasn’t to be too critical – Mark Gasnier has achieved an incredible amount and will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the best centres of his generation – it was only to reflect on his potential and ultimate standing within the game.
When history reviews the greatest centres of all time, the Gasnier surname will always be tossed around. Unfortunately, the first name won’t be Mark.