Aussie giant Jay has sky-high hopes at Crystal Palace

Source: Supplied

He wasn’t the high-profile arrival Crystal Palace fans were anticipating during the January window - but towering Australian defender Jay Rich-Baghuelou is backing himself to make some serious noise at the Premier League club.

At 1.9 metres, the goliath from the Gold Coast is hard to miss in a crowd and hard to handle on the pitch, with quick feet, aerial power and mobility one of the reasons the south Londoners signed him on an 18-month deal from Welling United, who play in the sixth tier of English football.

The 20-year-old has made an instant impression, skippering the Eagles’ U-23s in his first two games - 1-0 losses to Bristol City and Burnley - in a show of faith in his potential from academy boss Shaun Derry.

The striker-turned-stopper - who holds both Australian and French passports - has been in the UK less than three years, having cut his teeth with NPL outfits Palm Beach and Gold Coast City as a fledgling before a move to England which first took him to non-league Dulwich Hamlet and then fellow National League South side Welling.

He almost signed for Championship club Charlton before his Palace chance came but a transfer fee couldn’t be agreed with Dulwich.

“Palace invited me in to train and then trial, and after that the offer came,” explained Rich-Baghuelou, whose father is French and mother is Australian.

The Queenslander, whose elongated frame wouldn’t be out of place on a basketball court, has a nonchalance and confidence begot by the belief that a senior breakthrough with Roy Hodgson’s side isn’t a million miles away.

“It’s good being here and my plan is to break into the first team,” he announced.

“I knew something was going to come (a move to a bigger club) when I was at Welling.

“I didn’t know it was going to be Palace but I’m more than happy to be here.

“Being made captain of the under 23s after only a couple of weeks at the club, that’s been good.”

Rich-Baghuelou began life in Australia as a forward but was converted to a stopper at Dulwich, a switch he’s embraced with gusto.

“I like playing out from the back, I’ve got a good passing range and I’m brave type of player,” he explained.

“I’m probably a different type of centre-back because I have footwork as well from my striking days, and in certain situations that can be really helpful.”

Rich-Baghuelou hopes to one day catch the eye of Olyroos and Socceroos coach Graham Arnold, with a late run for Olympic Games selection at Tokyo in July not out of the question if he thrives at Selhurst Park.

“I’d love to play for Australia one day - that’s the goal,” he said. “There’s never been any contact but if the opportunity ever comes I’ll jump at it.”

He has yet to meet head coach Roy Hodgson, but the former England boss regularly watches the U-23s, and will have taken note of Rich-Baghuelou’s power and presence.

He described the step up in level from the semi-pro game like this: “Welling and Dulwich was a more physical type of game.

“It’s not really about thinking - the strikers are more like brutes. They’re trying to ping you all the time.

“At Palace, you have to think about every move. It’s more passing out from the back to try and break the line.

“You’re playing on better pitches and everything you do has to be close to perfection.

“You can’t get away with certain things at Palace whereas you would at Welling and Dulwich. It’s way more technical.”

Jay isn’t the only talented prospect in his family, with younger brother Taj, 17, a highly-touted hope at the Brisbane Roar academy before a serious knee injury hampered his progress.

He’s on the way back to fitness now and though unattached to any club is "really good", according to Jay.

“Brisbane Roar didn’t even look at me back then but Taj was there doing well,” he added. “I guess we all have our own pathways.”