GRAND FINAL DAY LOCKED IN | Three big fixtures next Sunday at Sydney's ANZ Stadium! Burleigh and Ill...
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There are five good reasons why the Sharks could win the 2004 World Sevens rugby league tournament were provided at Aussie Stadium on Saturday as the young Cronulla outfit claimed first-day honours.
Former Rabbitoh winger Nathan Merritt celebrated his debut for the Sharks by notching a World Sevens record of five tries in one match as the Cronulla side moved to the top of Pool A and into the box seat for tomorrow's finals.
While upsets are the norm with sevens footy, the Sharks provided back-to-back surprises by opening with a 20-12 win over defending champion Parramatta then thrashing England's Widnes 34-14 thanks to Merritt's record haul.
Merritt's effort against Widnes beat the previous World Sevens best of four held by Mark Ross (Gold Coast, 1988), Martin Offiah (Wigan, 1992) and Noa Nadruku (Fiji, 1993).
"I think he was made for Sevens. Hopefully he plays well in the 13-a-side. It was a terrific game from the fella - he hit the holes and played well," Sharks coach Stuart Raper said of Merritt, who played two seasons with Souths before relocating to the Shire.
It was an impressive effort from a Sharks side minus the likes of David Peachey, Brett Kimmorley and Nigel Vagana.
They opened the tournament with a win over an Eels outfit featuring Origin players Daniel Wagon and Jamie Lyon.
"To beat Parramatta, who take this competition very seriously and have been training for some time, it's a big accolade for the guys," Raper said.
"We will give it out best and see how it pans out. It's so hard to predict sevens - we'll have a dig and see what happens."
But Raper - in his first tournament at the Sharks helm since replacing ousted Chris Anderson - was still feeling anxious after the opening win when young flyer Ryan McGoldrick was stretchered off at fulltime with concussion.
He was ruled out for the rest of the tournament and replaced by Jason Kent.
The Sharks went to the top of Pool A with a perfect 2-0 record ahead of the hapless Eels (1-1 record) who were forced to borrow jerseys from visiting English team Widnes for the opening game after their strip failed to arrive on time.
They were back in the familiar blue and gold when they kept alive their slim finals hopes with a 48-6 thrashing of qualifier NSW Country (1-1).
The No.1 team in the seven pools goes through to the finals on Sunday along with the winner of a repechage game featuring the two best performed No.2 teams from the pool stage.
Lyon said Parramatta was still hoping to clinch three straight World Sevens titles via the repechage game.
"The gear steward was getting a bit of a blow up for that (missing jerseys) but these things happen and our opening loss had nothing to do with that - we just didn't go out there ready to play," he said.
Another surprise packet was South Sydney, which cruised through the opening Pool B matches with a 31-24 win over Canberra (0-2) and 18-11 victory over Penrith (1-1).
Penrith grand final hero Scott Sattler opened the tournament with new team West Tigers (1-1) with a 31-15 Pool B loss to Penrith.