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Tuesday 13th January 2004 By Rob Willis
The LG Sharks, about to embark on an exciting season with a somewhat revamped squad and a new coach in Stuart Raper, have scheduled four pre-season trial matches in a bid to be on song for the opening match of the 2004 Telstra Premiership.
The Sharks will travel to Gosford on the central coast, Mollymook on the NSW South Coast and to Port Macquarie and Ballina in the north of the state, for games that will hopefully blow away any off-season cobwebs.
Both the established stars and the young hopefuls will take to he field at some stage during the month, with Kangaroo tourists Brett Kimmorley and Phil Bailey, along with prized recruits Nigel Vagana and Andrew Lomu to take part. However, just when and where the high profile stars will play has yet to be decided.
?Everybody will probably play at least two trials each,? Greg Pierce, assistant coach and football manager, said. ?At this stage we?re not sure who will play in which trials. We?ll work that out closer to the games.?
The first game will feature the Sharks playing four local Central Coast teams at Express Advocate Stadium in Gosford on Saturday February 7.
One week later they travel north to Ballina to take on the Parramatta Eels for a series of trials on February 14, before heading south to the seaside holiday destination of Mollymook for Premier League and Jersey Flegg (Under 20) games against the Canberra Raiders.
The final trial will be at Port Macquarie where the Sharks will play three 30-minute periods, one in opposition to the local team from Port Macquarie, another against a team from Coffs Harbour and the final period opposing a squad from Wingham.
?If we have any selection headaches, they will probably be decided at the final trial at Port,? Pierce said.
The trials will assume extra importance considering the change in playing style that is expected under new coach Raper. While Raper has insisted that he will not ?reinvent the wheel? so to speak, Shark fans should see a differing style of play than what on display during the Chris Anderson reign.
?The way I coach and the way I see the play wouldn?t be categorised into any particular style, ? Raper told Sharks.com. ?I?m big on developing individual skills. I like to work with the individual and to try to mould your pattern to suit your individuals.
?It?s no use creating a style if it?s not natural to the player. I don?t like to change a player?s game. I like to try to bring out his natural ability and work on his strengths. I?m very much a skills oriented coach.
?The two things I work on very hard is preparing sides for the games but also working with the individual to improve their game and to give them every opportunity to achieve their potential.?
Following a two-week break after the Port Macquarie trial the Sharks will take on the Wests Tigers at Telstra Stadium on March 13 in round one of the premiership proper. The Sharks will be taking part in what will be the first match of the double header. The Sharks-Tigers confrontation kicking off at 5.30pm, with the Bulldogs playing the Parramatta Eels at 7.30pm.
The first assignment for the 2004 will be the Cougar World Seven?s to be played at Aussie Stadium. More information and the Sharks squad of 15 players will be named in the next few days. Stay tuned to Sharks.com for more information.