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Manu Tuilagi backed to hit the heights by Leicester team-mate Peter Betham


Manu Tuilagi, pictured, has been tipped to hit peak form by Leicester team-mate Peter Betham

Manu Tuilagi, pictured, has been tipped to hit peak form by Leicester team-mate Peter Betham

Manu Tuilagi, pictured, has been tipped to hit peak form by Leicester team-mate Peter Betham

Manu Tuilagi is ready to prove himself the world's most destructive centre this season, according to team-mate Peter Betham.

Wrecking ball centre Tuilagi is finally fit after a torrid 18-month groin problem, followed by a hamstring strain that ruled him out of England's Test series win in Australia.

Both England and the British and Irish Lions will be hoping Tuilagi can strike back to prime form this term, to assume pivotal roles in each set-up.

And Tuilagi's centre partner at Leicester Betham believes the Samoa-born battering ram is raring to go for the new Aviva Premiership campaign.

"Manu's number one in the world in terms of what he brings as a 12," Betham told Press Association Sport.

"Of course there's different 12s in the world such as Kurtley Beale, he plays a totally different game.

"But in terms of what he brings to the table, with his skill-sets, he's number one.

"There's a fair few subtleties to his game that he has only been able to express in small doses.

"If you get the right people around him you'll soon find that he'll expose us all to more of those subtleties in his game."

Betham recently shaved his head in support of Australia team-mate Christian Lealiifano, who is suffering from leukaemia.

Leicester's versatile back Betham is among a nucleus of English-based Australians to show solidarity with friend and colleague Lealiifano.

The 27-year-old former Waratahs star forged a promising centre partnership with Tuilagi last term, and now believes the duo can take that pairing to new heights.

While Leicester deploy Tuilagi most often at 12 England boss Eddie Jones remains keen to see the powerful strike runner at outside centre.

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Betham believes the specific centre partnership must always come before numbers on backs.

"There's a fair few things we need to work on and develop," said Betham, gearing up for Leicester's Premiership season opener at Gloucester on Friday night.

"Last year was a good starting point for us, but hopefully we can see some highlights throughout the year.

"We approach the partnership, Manu and myself, 12 and 13, as just numbers. We can interlink with the roles that we play.

"And it also gives that bit of versatility when it comes to teams, and we can change it up each week.

"Our focus is putting the right people in the right places, whether that's him at 12 or me at 12, it's about our 10s and nines picking the right options.

"Having threats across the park is a really big positive for both of us, as well as for the entire team."

Of shaving his head to support Lealiifano, Betham said: "It's a bit pale at the moment, I've never shaved my head before.

"I've talked to Christian and he's doing as well as can be, but any sign of support, small or big, really helps.

"It's just a big shock to us that one day you can be fighting fit for games, and the next it can be taken away from you.

"So for me it's just not taking for granted what I can do and the opportunities I have."

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