This is your guide to the Sharks travelling squad for the NRL Auckland Nines. See our player previews!
It is understandable that Barba is eagerly anticipating his next two weeks of football. Firstly the Nines, then the All Stars, the nature of both formats will suit him down to the ground, with the emphasis on attack and letting the skill players do their thing. The Nines also represents an outstanding opportunity for Barba to make a statement prior to the Sharks selecting their team for round one.
While Blake Ayshford was the standout at the 2015 Nines for the Sharks, look for Beale to be that man in 2016. Now more familiar with his Sharks teammates, it will be his time to shine for the Kiwi international who will look to take on a more dominant role this year in Auckland.
Predominantly played on a wing in the 2015 Nines, look for Bird to assume more a playmakers role this time around. When the Sharks squad splits up and the Nines boys separate to do some preparation for this weekend’s event, Bird’s excitement levels go up a couple of notches. He is excited to play and looking forward to the challenge.
A late addition to the squad, Brailey is a talented young hooker who has worked with the NRL squad throughout the off-season and deserves his chance at the top level. A former Australian Schoolboy, Brailey is a text-book defender and one of the fittest players in the club, with his durability and endurance certainly to be a benefit to the Sharks the deeper they go into the tournament.
Something of the forgotten man of the Sharks backline, Brown is versatile enough to play a variety of positions and considering the squad is light on forwards and dominated by backs, be may be required to do some of the hard yards as well as play the role of finisher this weekend.
A lot of people will be keen to see what the rangy centre/second rower can do at the Nines, with his size and speed set to be an asset to the Sharks in New Zealand. Played an ad-lib, attack oriented style at Ipswich, the perfect grounding to star at the Nines
Like his Ipswich counterpart in Capewell, Cleeland should be suited by the attacking style necessary for success at the Nines. Has looked sharp in the limited Nines-specific training the team has been doing, so watch for Cleeland to impress at this year’s tournament
Another former Queenslander, Drew as a finisher and outside back will be out to cross the stripe a number of times at Eden Park this weekend. Another who will be intent on making some sort of statement ahead of round one teams being announced.
Successful Nines teams need a few big bodies to get them on the front foot and David Fifita has that responsibility this time around. Like his twin brother has a big engine and can play under fatigue, which will be a useful commodity under the breakneck speed of the Nines.
Chris Heighington ©
The co-captain of the Sharks at the 2016 Nines, Heighington showed that ‘age shall not wary them’ by being named in the Team of the Tournament last time around. His smarts and his all-round experience will again be an asset to the Sharks
A tradesman out in the centres, Leutele returns to the Nines this year with added confidence after nailing down a regular NRL berth in 2015. Quicker than he appears, stronger than he looks also, Leutele could be a surprise packet at Eden Park this year.
Luke Lewis ©
Another of the co-captains, Lewis says he is going over to New Zealand to have a little bit of fun, but wait for his competitive instincts to kick in and there will be very limited fun for opposing teams. Big and strong and still possessing good speed, Lewis will relish his first opportunity on the NRL Nines stage.
The specialist hooker chosen in the Sharks 18-man squad, McIlwrick can expect plenty of game time over the two-days of the tournament. Extremely fit and durable, he will be a vital cog in the Sharks Nines ‘machine’ and he, alongside Brailey, could hold the key to his teams’ chances at this years’ event.
Silky skills, coupled with the physique of a front rower, Paulo promises to be difficult to predict and therefore tough to defend at the Nines. Will be pass, will he kick or will he just run over someone? Only time will tell but Paulo is set to be an important player for the Sharks in Auckland.
Outstanding in the 2015 Nines, it was his performances at Eden Park last year which helped propel Prior to a regular spot in the Sharks NRL 17 come season kick off. A dependable defender, hard to tackle on-on-one, with a good off-load, he was a major reason the Sharks went so deep into the tournament last year. Look for more of the same this year.
After running over and around opponents in 2014, Taga succumbed to a pre-season injury and missed the 2015 event. Has all the attributes to be successful in the Nines format in that he is big, strong and extremely fast. At his best, will without doubt help the Sharks in chalking wins at the Nines this weekend.
Likely to be the Sharks ‘general’ at the Nines, Townsend has the ball-playing ability and football smarts to make others around him better. His control of the play will be crucial if the Sharks are to have any success but after an outstanding pre-season and from what he has shown in limited Nines ball-work drills, Townsend appears more than up to the task.
New to the club in 2016, Bessie has impressed all with his speed and agility and with his attitude and application to training when called up to train alongside the Sharks NRL stars. He can certainly motor and the wide open spaces are sure to play to his strengths, with the Nines a perfect introduction to top level rugby league.