Defensive Shift A Breath Of Fresh Air For Rulla

Launceston has emerged from the quagmire of a mid-season form slump in recent weeks to once again firm as a genuine flag contender in 2018, with a change in role for star utility Rulla Kelly-Mansell proving to be particularly fruitful.

Kelly-Mansell, 25, has made a name for himself in recent seasons as a live-wire forward with the capacity to do the unthinkable, with one only having to watch his sensational snap at KGV last season that was recognised as the 2017 ‘Goal of the Season’.

In recent weeks, however, Kelly-Mansell has become a dangerous asset across half back, using his natural flair to provide bounce and drive out of defensive 50.

These efforts haven’t gone unrecognised, with Kelly-Mansell collecting three votes in consecutive games to see him rocket up the¬†RACT Insurance Player of the Year leader board.

“I have played back here and there and the suggestion was brought up that I could go to half back to provide more run and offensive spread,” Kelly-Mansell said on Monday.

“I am happy with it, I am always going to strive to be better and achieve better things in football but a change in role to half back has been good and a breath of fresh air.

“It is good to gel with another group of players in the backmen. In football you spend a lot of time with your lines, and sometimes the forwards don’t have conversations throughout the game with the backmen as regularly so to spend more time with six new people and talk to them has been good.”

While Kelly-Mansell has found his groove after an injury-interrupted start to the season, so to have his Blues, with back to back wins for the first time since May seeing one of the early season front-runners jump back into third spot.

Kelly-Mansell provides plenty of drive out of the back half. IC: Solstice Digital

Saturday’s 64-point defeat of Lauderdale was particularly impressive, with the Blues playing an exciting brand of football to turn a five-goal deficit in the first quarter into a 54-point win.

“It [the win over Lauderdale] was unbelievable. We have been playing good footy the last couple of weeks now so to actually get a win against a quality side by the margin it was was unreal,” Kelly-Mansell said.

“At quarter time the was only one scoring shot between us, they were just converting better than we were. Once we found our feet and our groove, which we have been playing with for the last couple of weeks, it was good to see.”

Although Kelly-Mansell is now playing across half back, he is still capable of hitting the scoreboard, with his two goals on the weekend making him one of 13 individual goal kickers in the Blues’ win.

“We don’t really have a main focus down forward, everyone contributes and kicks in. Mitch chips bags here and there but we have a lot of support, with Dylan Riley going forward and Rush [Jack Rushton], Joe Boyce and Jake Hinds – it is really healthy to see that we don’t rely on one player to kick all of our goals.”

Kelly-Mansell’s presence across the defensive 50 also frees up former Devonport star Dylan Riley to play forward a role that he too may not be best known for.

“Dylan has been a great back and midfielder for so many years, but he is really underrated as a forward. His contested marking is elite, he doesn’t get beaten very often and he can take high flying marks as well. So it frees Dylan to play forward and I can play half back and play a similar role to what he was playing earlier in the year,” Kelly-Mansell said.

Dylan Riley is thriving as a forward. IC: Solstice Digital

“I know if I can rebound offensively it puts a bit of doubt into their minds as well, you don’t like your opponent getting lots of the ball. It provides me with an opportunity to show that run and flair. When you’re up forward the game is behind you, when you’re down back the whole game is in front of you and that helps that I can drive and run and bounce to create.”

Now full of confidence and back in the top three after narrowly going down to North Launceston by a point in round 15 and defeating North Hobart and Lauderdale in the last fortnight, Kelly-Mansell views the Blues as being as good a chance as any as going deep in 2018.

“I think the top five, anyone can win on their day, if you look at the ladder we were in fifth and have moved into third, it can happen with one win or one loss, it can change the whole five.

“We can see that North can be beaten and that gives all of the sides confidence that they can win on their day.

“The North Launceston game gave us a lot of confidence that we could play against anyone on any day. The North Hobart game was a good win and then to beat Lauderdale, the in-form team of the competition, was unreal.

“All sides go through slumps, it’s hard to stay up for 21 weeks plus finals. We had a lot of new guys come into the system, it probably was a bit of slump but we still remained positive.”

The Blues will have the bye this weekend before a tests against Clarence (Windsor Park), Tigers (Twin Ovals) and Glenorchy (Windsor Park) to finish the home and away season

“We’ve got to play Clarence, Glenorchy and Kingborough, who beat us last time, in the last couple of games. All three are really important matches but we want to play against those sorts of teams to see where we are at. They have all beaten us and it is exciting that we get to play the best coming up leading into finals.”