The Sharks have built a squad with strong depth across most positions for the 2015 season, with youth set to battle experience for a place in the NRL squad for round one.
The ‘old stagers’ are intent on keeping their positions in the side, while the ‘young guns’ have impressed throughout the summer and are focussed on making a name for themselves in a Sharks team confident of a success this year.
For the centre position coach Shane Flanagan has a variety of options up his sleeve, with a host of quality players at his disposal.
The next month of training, trials and the Nines will determine who plays in the centres in round one, however here is Sharks.com.au’s take on the battle for the Sharks two centres positions in 2015.
The favourites – Ricky Leutele, Gerard Beale
An season relatively uninterrupted by injury gave Leutele a chance to gain in confidence and cement an NRL berth, with his improvement immense during 2014.
With good footwork and speed and an ever improving grasp of what is needed to be a successful centre in the top grade, Leutele seems to have the inside running on the left centre position for the start of the 2015 season.
His combination with Sosaia Feki down the left side is also a plus in his favour, with the pair solid in defence and getting better and better with ball in hand.
As for a centre partner, Kiwi international Beale has the experience and ability to become a standout on the right, especially considering he is now fit and healthy after a frustrating run with injury over the past few years.
The coach was excited when Beale went on the market after being shown the door by St George Illawarra and with the added motivation of proving some doubters wrong, the former Dragon and Bronco could just turn out to be one of the buys of the year.
The rookie – Jack Bird
There are huge wraps on this kid and after watching Bird in the finals series for the Dragons NYC team in 2014, then seeing him go about his work at Sharks pre-season training during the summer, it’s not hard to see why he is so highly regarded.
Possessing impressive skills, with good speed, strength and evasion to go with it, Bird might be just 19 years of age, but physically he looks up to the challenge of the NRL, while mentally he has a quiet confidence that tells him he should be there.
A minor shoulder problem set him back just a little during the summer, so if it’s not round one, look for Bird to be in the Sharks NRL side somewhere in the not-too-distant future.
The Smokey – Blake Ayshford
It’s not as if he is someone we don’t know about, however after a 2014 season where he would have been slightly disappointed with his performances during what was a difficult year for all concerned, Ayshford is something of the forgotten man of the Sharks backline roster.
Certainly has some ground to make up on the leading contenders but at his best makes any NRL side in the competition and so far has made very post a winner with a strong pre-season campaign.
In a string to his bow Ayshford has the ability to off-load and put a winger away and if coach Flanagan sees enough of those attributes during the pre-season trials the former Tiger will definitely come into calculations for a centre berth at the start of the year.
The contenders – Mitch Brown, Kyle Stanley
Brown – Can play there, having slotted into the centre position on more than a number of occasions throughout his NRL career, however at the present time the coach will be looking for him to perhaps fill one of the wing spots at the start of the 2015 season.
It must be remembered though that the season is long, things happen, and Brown would let nobody down if he wound up in the centres at some point in time.
Stanley – Was once a centre, and a more than capable one, however has recently made the shift into the halves, having played the Four Nations tournament at number seven for the Samoans in the Four Nations tournament at the back end of 2014.
The good ones never forget how to get the job done, with Stanley a player who could easily make the transition back into the centres if the situation warranted.
Just maybe – Gordon-Feki-Gagan
Not their most favoured position however if circumstances such as form, injury or tactical manoeuvring dictate, these three have played there before and would be capable of performing in the centres should th eneed arise.
Gordon switched there for a game or two due to the injury crisis affecting the club in 2014, Feki has an NYC grounding in the position, he was Konrad Hurrell’s centre partner in two NYC premiership winning teams at the Warriors, while Gagan was rated amongst the best schoolboy prospects in the game while playing in the centres not all that many years ago.
Unlikely, but just maybe!
Next – Halves