The well-documented absence of Valentine Holmes, added to the unavailability of Sosaia Feki, has opened the door for two of the Sharks young guns to make their top level debuts at the Downer NRL Auckland Nines Tournament this weekend.
While Holmes and Feki, who has succumbed to a minor knee complaint, will leave something of a gap in the 18-man roster, Jayden Brailey and Bessie Aufaga-Toomaga are set to bring some youthful exuberance into the Sharks Nines assault.
One of the fittest players at the Sharks, Brailey is a former Australian Schoolboy and a highly rated hooker, while Aufaga-Toomaga is an outside back with an abundance of speed.
Sharks coach Shane Flanagan is confident the pair have what it takes to handle the step up when they get the call this weekend.
“Bessie has great speed and will be suited by the open spaces of the Nines, while Jayden is a young hooker, a former Australian Schoolboy rep, who has worked hard throughout the pre-season with the NRL squad and deserves his chance,” Flanagan said.
“The Nines will give them a taste of NRL football, I think they’ve both got the ability to contribute to our performances over in Auckland and I’ve got no doubt they will be better for the experience.”
As for the players themselves, both were a little overawed by their inclusion in the Sharks travelling party but the pair will be raring to go once they get the call up come Saturday.
“I was at work thinking about going to training with the 20’s boys tonight when I got the phone call,” Aufaga-Toomaga said. “I’m shocked but pretty excited at the same time.”
Likewise, Brailey was extremely happy to receive the call-up.
“I’m really looking forward to it, very excited to get the opportunity to play in the Nines and I’m ready to have a crack whenever Shane needs me to play over there in Auckland,” Brailey said.
The Sharks 18-man squad for the 2016 Downer NRL Auckland Nines, including jersey numbers, is as follows;
1. Ben Barba
2. Jordan Drew
3. Gerard Beale
4. Ricky Leutele
5. Mitch Brown
6. Jack Bird
7. Chad Townsend
8. Matt Prior
9. Matt McIlwrick
10. Sam Tagataese
11. Luke Lewis (c)
12. Joseph Paulo
13. Chris Heighington (c)
14. David Fifita
15. Kurt Capewell
16. Jayden Brailey
17. Josh Cleeland
18. Bessie Aufaga-Toomaga