No question Junior Representative trophies are hard to come by.
Despite having numerous quality local juniors come through the Sharks system over the years, very few teams have been able to claim the silverware by winning a junior rep competition.
Back in 1973 and 1977, the Sharks managed to take away Matthews Cup titles.
In 1982, when the under-19’s competition was called Jersey Flegg, a team containing the likes of club legend Andrew Ettingshausen and Rothman’s Medal winner Barry Russell, went down to the Tigers in that competition decider.
After years of trying, more than two decades in fact, the Sharks won their way through to contest another Grand Final, with the 2001 Matthews Cup team capping off a dominant season with a victory over Penrith.
A team made up almost entirely of local players, the Sharks proved far too good in the championship decider in beating the Panthers 28-8 at Kogarah Oval.
In qualifying for the Grand Final the Sharks had beaten Newcastle 28-18, after getting over the top of the Illawarra Steelers the week before that.
It was a well-deserved win and one which launched the careers of a number of future NRL players.
Prop Keith Galloway was a standout in that Cronulla side, with the red-headed (now bald-headed) front rower debuting in the NRL just two years later as a 17-year-old during the 2003 season.
Reece Williams went on to play at an NRL level, only for injury to cut short his career, with Matts Cup teammate Jess Caine unfortunately following a similar path.
Caine would also graduate through to the NRL, however on-going back issues also meant his time in the top grade would be cut short.
Scott Porter was a goal-kicking winger in that Sharks team, however perhaps the biggest accolades at the time were reserved for five-eighth Russ Aitken.
Aitken scored four tries in a finals match in 2001, dominated in the Grand Final, but as good a player as he might have been, the local Cronulla-Caringbah product would play in the NRL but never quite reached the heights many were predicting at the time.
Throw in names such as Ben Killalea, the captain of the side, Kurnell’s Chris Pyper and big centre Stan Tuitavake, players who for varying reasons didn’t become the household names their abilities may have warranted, and it was a slick Sharks side.
The coach was Kurt Wrigley, now assistant to Michael Maguire at Souths, while Mark Noakes, a member of the Sharks NRL football staff over the past few years, was a team trainer.
Fast forward to 2015 and the Sharks now have an opportunity to win not one, but both NSWRL Junior rep titles, with the Matthews and Ball teams set to line up in Grand Finals on Saturday.
Both are in with a tremendous shot, however equally determined will be their opponents in Parramatta and Souths in the respective matches to be played at Leichhardt Oval.
Barry Russell, now the Commercial Sales Manager with club corporate partner Harvey Norman Commercial Division, sponsors of the Cronulla Junior rep program, wished the two teams luck while remembering back to his formative days as an up and comer in the Sharks system.
“Congratulations to you and your team, in particular all the young men representing the Sharks this weekend, it is fantastic to see,” Russell said in a written message to Sharks headquarters.
“It has brought back some great memories for me, being part of the Sharks 1982 Jersey Flegg team up against Balmain in the Grand Final. Great times.
“Good luck to all the management and the teams.”
SBA, Salmon Buckets and Attachments, are also proud sponsors of the Sharks Junior rep teams.
2001 Sharks Matthews Cup squad
Ben Killalea ©
Coach – Kurt Wrigley
Manager – Darryn Horton
Asst Coach – Martin Shipley
Trainer – Glen Hogan
Trainer – Brett Taper
Trainer – Mark Noakes
Trainer – Fiona Low
*Team names supplied from 2001 team photo. Apologies for any errors or omissions.
Caption - The 2015 Sharks SG Ball team following their win over Penrith in the preliminary final last week.
Pic courtesy Steve Montgomery/ourfootyteam.com