The Freak Show: Impressions from
the Cronulla Trial

For someone who isn?t easily impressed, (hey look, a blue car) the first Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks Trial offered much to be impressed about. Sure there were low lights, like losing to Erina via a miracle try almost on fulltime after an extraordinarily dodgy display of reffing, but for the first time in more than a year, I came home from a Sharks game able to revel in the fact that there were many more positives than negatives.

For everything that has been said about Hassan Saleh in the last couple of days, the boy played very well. I?m pretty sure he scored more tries than anyone else over the course of the night (four) and he looked a definite class above most of the Premiere League boys he was initially placed with. Hell, at times he even looked better than Ryan McGoldrick. Saleh?s inclusion in the 25 man squad could spark a veritable war for spots in the backline this season, which should warm the hearts of every Sharks fan who suffered through four months of Jared Anderson and Laloa Milford in 2003.

Andrew Dallalana is looking good, and for mine should perhaps start at 5/8 this year. He led the Premiere League side round the park well, and seems to possess a very adept kicking game. Should Dallalana be included in the side at 5/8, the team's attacking options would increased, as the defence wouldn?t just be able to collapse on Noddy on the fifth tackle, as happened so much last year. I?m sure this news will annoy the Aitkin fans to no end, but from the looks of last night, he still has a ways to go. Start Dallalana on March 13th against the Tigers, and let Aitkin earn his way into the side. For mine that?s the only way to go.

Dallalanas goal kicking was also spot on all night, as was Travis Byrnes. These two were slotting them from El Masri-land all night, and made it look like shelling peas. Noddy kicked reasonably well for the first grade side, though one would still hope that Nathan Merritt will get the gig once the season starts. A Sharks side with four good kicking options? I never thought I?d see the day.

Time for a whinge. Ryan McGoldrick looked very strong early on, but then perhaps went missing throughout the later games. Nutley is STILL giving away penalties, and definitely needs to get that sorted out before the season starts. There were some good runs by Nuts, but when you negate these with stupid, basic penalties it takes the shine off your performance. The dropsies returned with a vengeance against Erina, and the boys looked frustrated at times. Stephan Ross looked completely bewildered under the high ball, and the fear on his face as he went up, completely mistiming his jump, was tangible even 12 or so rows back. Both Merritt and Emilio looked much safer at fullback later on in the evening, which is nice to know should Peachey?s hamstring or wife act up again during the course of the season. At times the team looked rusty, pushed passes, and perhaps tried to do too much. At other times they played very much within themselves, but then why do a cruciate against Woy Woy?

The exception to that last statement was Beattie. Beats ran hard all night, put on some great hits, and almost got in a punch up twice. It was awesome to see the old Beattie back in action. The Beattie we used to know and love. The Beattie who got charged with biting. The firebrand. The guy who put Wayne Bartrim on his arse in that one fateful game a couple of years ago. Its great to have him back, and if he can play like that every week, were finally going to have the go forward that Noddy craved all of last season. Especially if Andrew Lomu starts like he should.

That?s right. If last nights game is anything to go by, then Andrew Lomu should definitely be starting in 2004. Just like in the Sevens, Lomu pulled off some magical hits and was an absolute rock in defence. Also on display last night was the Lauititi-esque offload. At one point Lomu dragged four defenders behind him, and as he was finally falling to ground, stuck his arm out and threw a round the corner pass to Bickerstaff to put him through a gap. Bickers was eventually pulled down short of the line, but imagine a similar scenario with Rieck or Merritt on the end of one of those passes. The mind boggles at just how many breaks we could make with combinations like that. I know the very idea of benching Stevo would be sacrilege to many, but if Lomu isn?t starting by the end of the year I?ll be extraordinarily surprised.

The Franze/Rieck combo looked to be back to its best. Rieck finally seems to have his rather fragile psyche sorted out, and he looks to be playing with great confidence. The fact that Isemonger started the game at the expense of Gallen was a little surprising, but then the odds are that both of those guys will be fighting for a spot behind Nutley and Bails in the second row once the season begins. Add to this long list of worthy young men Keith Galloway, who looked like a taller version of Dane Carlaw, and Greg Bird, whose style will probably see him shift into the second row soon. As a second rower, Birdy can run hard and not pass all he likes. A luxury not afforded to him at 5/8. The only other notable thing perhaps is that Lomu was placed on report, but I doubt that much will come of it as his hit was rather innocuous when compared to the actions of several of the Ourimbah boys last night.

So there we have it. Wow, a positive column. I could get used to writing these. Here?s hoping I do.

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