Backline musical chairs has Sharks on song
It’s the case of three-into-two that has paid dividends for Shane Flanagan and his men already in 2016.
It’s the square peg in a round hole that not only fits, but sits snug.
And it’s a major factor that has the side primed and ready to take on any team, anywhere, confident that they’ll walk away with the two points.
Almost inseparable off the field, Sharks backs Gerard Beale, Ricky Leutele and Sosaia Feki know that competition runs hot to hold their place in the run-on 13.
Though to start the season, Beale would be the man consigned to interchange bench.
Forever one to look at the glass as half-full, the 25-year-old Kiwi said the shift from right side to left – via the bench – has been a positive one for both he, and the team.
“The depth at the Club means there’s a lot of competition there in the outside backs, it’s lucky that we’re all good friends,” he laughed.
“But I’m not going to lie, I was pretty gutted with being the one who missed out at the start of the year.
“Take nothing away from Ricky (Leutele) or ‘Birdy’ (Jack Bird), because they trained as hard as anyone in the pre-season and earned their spots in the centres.
“It’s a certain situation which most other teams are not as lucky to have. And that’s the way we have to look at it.”
Though he perhaps didn’t consider himself so lucky as to be the man forced to run extra shuttles – alone – at the back end of sessions in the preseason.
Running five, then ten, then fifteen metres, on repeat, under a hot Summer’s sun, Beale nurtured the burn that missing minutes of NRL action would bring.
“... it’s taught me to take chances when given them, to not take the place for granted.”
“I had to rediscover some of that hunger and that fight that maybe I had forgotten about,” he said.
“It was one of those things that made me train that little bit harder, and I guess getting back in the team was a bit of a reward for that.
“That hard slog in the preseason made me appreciate what it meant to be out there from the first whistle.”
Missing Round 1 through injury, Beale would play just nine minutes against the Dragons in Round 2.
And, if not for an injury to Bird versus the Sea Eagles in Round 3, he may have again seen only limited time on the field.
“Obviously everything happens for a reason, and take nothing away from Birdy that night (at Brookvale) while you don’t like to see your mates injured, it presented a chance,” Beale said.
“It’s definitely much harder to prepare mentally not knowing if or when you’ll be thrown into the mix.
“But it’s taught me to take chances when given them, to not take the place for granted.”
Beale – though chosen on the bench – would not see a minute of the action in Rounds 4 (versus Storm) and 8 (versus Panthers), respectively.
But returning to the run-on side at left centre for the side’s top four clash with the Broncos in Round 9, Beale would play 80 minutes against Brisbane – and go on to not miss a minute inside the three matches since.
“A back on the bench … it’s not your usual line up,” he laughed.
“In saying that, Flano is a smart man and he has our best interests at heart. He doesn’t want us to miss out, he has faith in all of us.
“And in fairness, it suits our team perfectly. With big-minute forwards, we can probably afford to carry a back on the bench. It’s all going to plan so far.”
NRL Team List: Sharks v Cowboys
Round 14, Southern Cross Group Stadium
Kick off: 7:00pm (AEST)
1- Ben Barba
2- Sosaia Feki
3- Jack Bird
4- Gerard Beale
5- Valentine Holmes
6- James Maloney
7- Chad Townsend
8- Andrew Fifita
9- Michael Ennis
10- Sam Tagataese
11- Luke Lewis
12- Wade Graham
13- Paul Gallen (C)
14- Ricky Leutele
15- Chris Heighington
16- Jayson Bukuya
17- Joseph Paulo