- Stewart Moses
Father-to-be Blake back where he belongs
It’s been a roller coaster ride for Waqa Blake in 2017.
The return from injury of Kiwi internationals Dean Whare and Peta Hiku at season’s start pushed Blake back out to the wing.
A stint in the Intrust Super Premiership then followed after Blake was one of three Panthers who broke curfew in Melbourne.
Then with Tyrone Peachey's switch back to the bench midway through the season, Blake, who has been accustomed to playing out at right centre, soon found himself playing inside Josh Mansour on the left.
But with his shift back to his preferred right side in recent weeks, Waqa Blake is looking ever the 2016 version once more and possibly even better, having renewed his partnership with Dallin Watene-Zelezniak to great effect in Penrith’s unbeaten six game run.
What’s more impressive is that Blake, who was initially shifted back to the right to cover for Whare’s broken jaw suffered against South Sydney, has been in such good form recently, it has left coach Anthony Griffin no choice but to play a current Kiwi international centre in the Intrust Super Premiership instead.
Blake, who hopes to represent Fiji at this year’s World Cup, has far exceeded his season performances in his last four games.
In attack, Blake has scored twice, averages 133 metres from 13 runs per game, has made three line-breaks, 12 tackle-breaks and has produced two try assists and a line-break assist.
Defensively Blake has improved as well, his tackle efficiency to a season high 89% on the back of improving his work-rate to nearly 14 tackles per game.
Given the form of Penrith’s other outside backs – Josh Mansour, Peachey and Watene-Zelezniak, Blake admits that he needed to lift too before conceding that while recent public reassurances from coach Anthony Griffin that the centre deserves his spot despite Whare's availability has provided confidence, there is still much to improve on his game if he is to retain his spot.
“Hook (Anthony Griffin) has said his bit to me as well but I put (my performances) that down to myself,” Blake told Nepean News.
“I had a good hard look at myself the past few weeks and just needed to get myself more involved.
“Everyone else is putting in and does their job and I just needed to do mine.”
"There’s obviously a few areas of my game I need to work on.
“But it does give me confidence when the coach says those things but it keeps us on our toes too.
“Dean Whare is a quality international centre and you’ve got to value the spot you’ve been given and that’s what Peach (Peachey) and I have been doing."
Photos: 77 Media.
Despite having won ten of their last twelve games to be in sixth position, Blake says the side can’t afford to be thinking past this week’s trip to Canberra where the Panthers have the opportunity to redeem themselves for last year’s finals loss which the Fijian international missed through injury.
“We’re not concentrating too much on where we are at the moment as there are still a few more games left,” Blake responded.
“We just need to worry about what’s in front of us this week (Canberra).”
Away from the footy field and Waqa and his partner Jessica recently announced that they are the latest in the Panther family set to become parents in coming months, joining the likes of Peter Wallace, James Fisher-Harris and Dallin Watene-Zelezniak.
“A few of the boys have got a little one on the way and I’ve just announced that Jessica and I have got a little baby girl on the way as well,” Blake confirmed.
“It’s due January 3rd but it might come even earlier, perhaps this year but I’m excited either way.”
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