TRANS-TASMAN PREVIEWS | We've got a look over and made our picks for the opening night of the rep ro...
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TEAM CRONULLA-SUTHERLAND SHARKS
COACH Stuart Raper
CAPTAIN Brett Kimmorley
BACKS After enduring a season in which the club was almost devoid of NRL level talent in the three-quarter line, some astute buys and benefit of added experience puts the Sharks in a much better position entering 2004. Nigel Vagana is the big name addition and he adds the touch of class that was missing outside playmakers Brett Kimmorley and David Peachey. Kimmorley is one of the top attacking weapons in the game and when his forwards lay the foundation, he builds the house. Peachey has been embroiled in off-field controversy but is capable of tearing defences to shreds with his creative running and under-rated short passing game. Paul Franze wrecked his knee early in 2003, and will be welcomed back perhaps on the wing to accommodate the return of Ryan McGoldrick from a short stint with the NSW Waratahs, McGoldrick is was poised for a regular starting spot before he went to union. Former Souths flyer Nathan Merritt will thrive in the open spaces on the flank but faces stiff competition from Matthew Rieck, Hassan Saleh and Jason Kent for playing time. The most open spot in the backline is five-eighth with Greg Bird and Michael Sullivan vying for the role, Sullivan?s versatility in the hooking role could see him move to the bench, allowing Bird first crack at the jumper.
FORWARDS A vastly under-rated unit, this pack of forwards is primed to thump the opposition in 2004. Make no mistake; any team that has the likes of Jason Stevens, Chris Beattie, Danny Nutley, and Andrew Lomu up front is bound to be physical. Stevens might be 31 but props are traditionally better late in their careers, Beattie is out to rediscover the form that won him a Queensland jersey, Nutley is a freak of nature with his ability to log big minutes and monster stats and Lomu will relish the opportunity to play more of a role now he?s left the Roosters. To complement that toughness, Phil Bailey moves from the centres to the backrow which suits his game far better, Matt Hilder looks comfortable in the lock forward spot and Paul Gallen is a very effective workhorse. Sam Isemonger, Matt Bickerstaff and Michael Russo are quality depth while 18-year-old Keith Galloway has a bright future. Dean Bosnich made an impression late in the season in the hooking role and should start the season as the Sharks first choice, but Pat Gibson and Sullivan are capable of mounting a serious challenge if Bosnich falters.
KEY PLAYER KIMMORLEY ? Even though Stuart Raper has replaced Chris Anderson as the Sharks head coach, don?t expect the attacking game plan to change much from simply ?get the ball to Kimmorley?. Unfairly maligned for the past few seasons since leaving the Storm, Kimmorley is a quality performer who leads his teams to far more wins than losses when fit. Without a genuine playmaker in the five-eighth or lock positions, Kimmorley has to dominate possession for the Sharks to have a hope.
ONE TO WATCH McGOLDRICK ? Despite only eight appearances with the Sharks in 2002, McGoldrick turned enough heads to land a contract with the Waratahs and start the 2003 Super 12 competition in the run on side. While the move did not work out, McGoldrick?s talent is unquestioned. With Nigel Vagana on board and Phil Bailey moving to the forwards, the Sharks are searching for an imposing centre, and McGoldrick could be the man.
BIGGEST ADVANTAGE Experience from 2003 ? Chris Anderson was crucified by the Sharks Board (and not without some reason mind you) but he stuck with his plan throughout the season and the club will reap the benefits in the coming seasons. Anderson has ripped up the plants and re-planted the garden, problem is he did a Backyard Blitz and the Board came home and didn?t like the change. Stuart Raper will be a fine coach but a lot of the improvement the Sharks should have in 2004 will be because of the hard decisions Anderson made.
BIGGEST DISADVANTAGE The demons of 2003. While Anderson had his enemies on the Cronulla Board, he had many allies amongst the players not least of all Brett Kimmorley. Raper must win Kimmorley?s respect and confidence early otherwise the Sharks will struggle to get the best out of their linchpin. Phil Bailey was another Anderson fan and rumours will swirl all season about his future at the club given he is off-contract for 2005. The legacy of Anderson will haunt the Sharks this season, and sadly, it didn?t have to.
BOTTOM LINE After reverting to their original name, The Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks, the club is trying to get back to the community feel that once captivated the Shire during their better (although still no Premierships) years. Stuart Raper is the local boy made good and he is an astute coach in his own right, having proven his worth in the UK. But is the massive turnover the club has imposed on itself in the past 12 months going to result in a Finals birth? Maybe not this year, but the Sharks will be a force to be reckoned with.
2004 STRONGEST LINEUP 1. D Peachey 2. N Merritt 3. N Vagana 4. R McGoldrick 5. P Franze 6. G Bird 7. B Kimmorley ? 8. J Stevens 9. D Bosnich 10. C Beattie 11. D Nutley 12. P Bailey 13. M Hilder Bench 14. P Gallen 15. A Lomu 16. M Sullivan 17. S Isemonger
Warrick NICOLSON ========================= Freelance Sports Journalist NICOLSON SPORTS CONSULTANCY Ph: 0402 851 485 Fax: 02 9653 1483 [email protected]