Old timers will tell you a rugby league team is only as good as its front rowers, with the good news on that front being the Sharks have enough quality big boppers to take them forward and put the skill players on the front foot in 2015.
Size isn’t everything but it is important when it comes to front rowers, with the Sharks boasting a couple over 120kgs, a few smaller, more mobile types, as well as a handful of players equally comfortable in the back row as they are up front, making for some intriguing options available to coach Shane Flanagan this season.
The skipper might even find himself playing as a prop on a more regular basis, however only time will tell on that one.
Please see the following Sharks.com.au’s take on the Sharks front row stocks for 2015 and who might make the biggest contribution to the cause this season.
The favourites - Andrew Fifita, Tinirau Arona
Andrew Fifita – At his best is close to an automatic selection for Origin and Australian teams and will be looking to bounce back after a disastrous 2014 season hampered by injury.
Has a huge engine which means he can churn out plenty of minutes, while his speed and agility for a big man makes him difficult to defend.
Coach Flanagan will be hoping for a fit and firing Andrew Fifita to lead the charge in 2015.
Arona – His selection in the Sharks.com.au starting side might surprise some, but not anyone who has seen his attitude and application at training throughout the summer.
Not the biggest prop going around however Arona is extremely professional, strong enough to do the job and with the footwork and speed to make defenders miss. We just think he might have the front running at this early stage for the second starting berth.
The rookie – Saul Houma This bloke is massive. Over 120kgs, somewhere around 6’4” on the old scale, Houma has trained the house down during the summer, impressing those that matter with his ability and desire.
The coach explains that Saul’s body shape makes it tough for opponents to get a good shot on him, which should see him punch through defensive lines with the ball in hand.
Comes with big wraps for his efforts at a NSW Cup level, if Houma can make the step up to the NRL opposition teams won’t relish the prospect of having to deal with him if and when he gets his chance.
The smokey – Paul Gallen
Might sound strange Gallen being placed into this category, however over the past few years has played more prop than lock for NSW and good judges have been predicting a more permanent move to the front row at club level as well.
With the big minutes he plays each week, carrying the load in the front row might burn him out quicker than the coach would want although the positional switch will make only a subtle difference to the role he plays now as a lock.
It would however seem certain he will play there for the Sharks at some stage during games, even if not as a starter in round one.
The contenders – Sam Tagataese, David Fifita, Matt Prior, Chris Heighington, Junior Roqica Tagataese – Sammy makes the 17 somewhere, but the decision the coach will have to make is whether he is better suited to starting the game when the defensive intensity is at its highest, or perhaps to inflict him on the opposition as first interchange prop when they are beginning to tire.
We like him 20 or so minutes in where his speed and power can have great impact.
David Fifita – Looks the same, talks the same, drives team mates crazy at training the same, but can he produce similar performances to his twin brother Andrew.
That will be the challenge for David, who does have the attributes of size, foot speed and ability to be a success at an NRL level. If he can give coach Flanagan about 75 per cent of what a fit and firing Andrew delivers, will be a player who can have an impact in 2015.
Prior – His versatility has perhaps been his downfall in the past, never totally getting used to the same role, however it appears Prior will play in the middle of the field at prop or as a lock in 2015.
Very fit and deceptively strong, Prior is extremely dependable and now appearing more comfortable in the Sharks set up in his second year at the club, look for the coach to call on him to play a more substantial role in the team this season.
Heighington – A call up to the front row might be a case of take the opportunity if offered, with the glut of back row talent and the minutes commonly played in his favoured position of lock by Gallen, making it difficult for Heighno to cement a permanent place in the side at 13.
If used up front he won’t be the biggest front rower going around, might well be one of the smallest, however his heart and experience will enable him to get the job done if required.
Roqica – His body shape and skill set might see Junior better suited to an edge back rowers role, but similar to Heighington, a number of quality players in front of him in the back row at present might restrict his opportunities.
That being said, he is big enough to play prop and has played there before, so if he can display an ability to handle the front row as well as a number of positions in the forward pack, a seat on the interchange bench and a spot somewhere in the 17 becomes a distinct possibility.