Team of the Half Century: The Props

The old adage states that the forwards, predominantly the big men in the engine room, and the battle they wage in the middle of the field having a huge impact on the success or otherwise of their respective teams.

As the first pre-requisite front rowers need to be tough and hard-nosed, intimidation often being a key ingredient in their effectiveness, with size, added to a little bit of skill, also going a long way towards them having a positive influence on the outcome of games.

The nominees for prop in the Sharks Team of the Half Century all displayed the above characteristics in large doses, with the eight former and current Sharks all leading from the front in helping create the opportunities for those around them.

Tales of Cliff Watson are legendary, with the pommy international striking fear into his opponents back in the early 70’s, while helping to steer his team to a Grand Final appearance in 1973.

Steve Kneen was another to terrorise those he came up against, often falling foul of the judiciary of his day but another to play a dominant and extremely effective role during his years in Sharks colours.

Dane Sorensen and Danny Lee exhibited slightly different traits, endearing themselves to teammates and to fans with their work rate and durability, as did Les Davidson, a man who played with old school ferocity and a never say die attitude.

Throw in Martin Lang, who only knew one way, which was to run hard and to run straight, Jason Stevens, a player as skilful as he was tough, along with 2016 Grand Final hero Andrew Fifita, one of the leading front rowers of the current era and the set is complete.

Different characters, varying strengths to their game, all extremely effective and valuable to the teams in which they played. Which two would you include in the Sharks Team of the Half Century?

 

 

The Nominees

Props

Cliff Watson

One of the hard-men of his era, Watson played an extremely effective role as peacekeeper and protector of sorts to his Sharks teammates, fellow Englishman and Sharks Captain-Coach Tommy Bishop amongst them, during their Grand Final year of 1973.

Watson was a tower of strength for the Sharks in those early years culminating in the Grand Final of ‘73, with him, Bishop and their teammates only denied success by two touches of Bobby Fulton magic in the premiership decider.

He was however much more than just a bully-boy, with Watson’s rugged style earning him over 30 Great Britain caps and a reputation as one of the leading front rowers in the game.

Played three seasons and 38 games for the Sharks, but despite his being just a relatively short stint, it was certainly a memorable one with the physicality of the ’73 Grand Final and the performance of Watson still spoken about to this day.

Maybe the oldest prop forward nominee for the Sharks Team of the Half Century but certainly amongst the favourites to claim one of the two positions available.

 

Steve Kneen

One to sometimes fall foul of referees and the NSWRL judiciary, Steve Kneen’s toughness and ability was without question, highlighted by the fact he would earn selection on the 1978 Kangaroo Tour.

Kneen played six matches for Australian on that tour of the UK and France.

A local junior from the Sutherland club, Kneen moved south to Wollongong which was where he was spotted and brought into the Sharks fold before beginning his first grade career in 1976.

Kneen would go on to play 86 top grade matches for the Sharks, two of those being the 1978 Grand Final against Manly and the midweek replay that would follow.

Split his playing time between prop and second row, Kneen finished his playing career with the Sharks in 1982.

Never one to take a backward step, Kneen wouldn’t look out of place if chosen in the Sharks Team of the Half Century.

 

Dane Sorensen

A Kiwi international who would finish his career with 19 Tests caps, at the time of his retirement Dane Sorensen held the club record for most appearances with 216 First Grade games with the Cronulla Sharks.

Sorensen first made the New Zealand team in 1972 as a teenager before joining the Cronulla club in 1977, later that year becoming the first New Zealander to be selected for the Kiwis while based overseas.

A player known for his high work rate and determined attitude, Sorenson turned out for the Sharks for seven seasons, before departing in 1984 then returning in 1985 where he would play through until his retirement in 1989.

Was joined at the Sharks by brother Kurt, with the pair exhibiting vastly different styles, Dane the ever reliable go-forward man in the middle, Kurt the barnstorming back-rower capable of breaking a game open with one of his trademark charges.

Somewhat unusual from a front rower, Sorenson was also a capable goal-kicker, slotting 66 goals in his 216 games played.

Kiwi international, 200-gamer for the Sharks, a quality performer, Sorensen should come under strong consideration for one of two prop positions in the Sharks Team of the Half Century.

 

Danny Lee

Affectionately known as the ‘Ox’, Danny Lee was a big man with a big heart characterised by a long, loping stride and a player who gave plenty for the Sharks in a 212-game, 11-year First Grade career.

From northern NSW, Lee joined the Sharks in 1988 and quickly became something of a cult hero in the Sutherland Shire, with his strong charges and deft ball skills key to a lot of the success enjoyed by the Sharks during the 1990’s.

A member of some quality teams during his time at the Sharks, a lot of what the legendary figures at the club such as Andrew Ettingshausen, Jon Docking, Gavin Miller and Mat Rogers were able to achieve came off the back of the hard work Lee did in the engine room in the middle of paddock.

Played for NSW Country, for NSW in the SuperLeague Tri-Series of 1997 and the SuperLeague Grand Final of the same year when the Sharks went down to the Broncos.

A proud Shark and another worthy nominee for one of the prop forward positions in the Sharks Team of the Half Century.

 

Les Davidson

Next to intimidation in the rugby league dictionary would be a photograph of Les Davidson, a man known to protect his teammates and hand out rough justice to opposition forwards when he felt it necessary.

Tough and uncompromising, ‘Bundy’ as he was known probably didn’t receive enough accolades for the quality of his football, however a resume that included four games for Australia and five for NSW was testimony to his abilities.

Davidson joined the Sharks in 1991 after three years in the UK, while prior to that he played for the Rabbitohs for seven seasons, debuting in First Grade in 1984.

A member of Sharks finals teams in 1995, 1996 and also the SuperLeague Grand Final side of 1997, Davidson was integral to the success of those teams.

In a tough field of contenders, another earning serious consideration as a Sharks Prop of the Half Century.

 

Martin Lang

Followed his famous father, Coach John Lang, to the Sharks in 1995 and would go on to forge a hugely successful rugby league career at Cronulla, Penrith and for Queensland in Origin football.

Ran straight, ran hard and ran often in his 109 First Grade games for the Sharks, 67 matches at Penrith and eight Origins for Queensland, earning a reputation as one of the most fearless forwards in the game.

Forged successful front row partnerships with the likes of Jason Stevens and Chris Beattie during the late 1990’s in an era where the Sharks came close and threatened greatness only to fall agonisingly short of Grand Final appearances on a couple of occasions.

Upon leaving the Sharks in 2001 would join his dad John at the Panthers where they claimed the 2003 NRL Premiership.

A fan favourite and a player known for putting his body on the line for whoever it was he played for, Lang would be a popular choice in the Sharks Team of the Half Century.

 

Jason Stevens

Came to the Sharks from ‘across the bridge’ at St George and went on to play 167 games over eight seasons in becoming one of the best front rowers to play for the Cronulla club.

After signing with the Sharks in 1997 Stevens played a huge role during that SuperLeague season in helping guide his team into the competition Grand Final while forging a reputation as a NSW and international player in his day.

Possessing skill, durability, toughness and a cheeky side which often got under the skin of his opposition forwards, Stevens was one of the great characters in the game, attracting plenty of media attention, something he has built into his post rugby league endeavours.

In emphasising his standing in the game Stevens would play 22 matches for Australia and 8 Origin games for NSW throughout a celebrated career.

Definitely a front runner for one of the two prop forward positions in the Sharks Team of the Half Century.

 

Andrew Fifita

Arguably by season’s end Andrew Fifita was the best front rower in the game, making his omission from the Australian Four Nations squad difficult to comprehend.

A polarising character off the field, Fifita’s talents on the paddock are of the highest order, this season helping guide the Sharks to a maiden NRL title, with his barnstorming four-pointer – a try very few other players, if any, in the game would have scored – propelling his team to that history-making victory over the Storm.

While overlooked most recently for Australian selection, Fifita has previously been a consistent performer at representative level, having played six Test matches for Australia and seven Origin games for NSW, ranking him amongst the games’ elite.

Joined the Sharks in 2012 and has gone on to play 102 games for the club, scoring 24 tries, which is an impressive strike rate from a player plying his trade in the front row.

A big man with speed and skill, Fifita will continue to play a vital role for the Sharks as they attempt to defend their 2016 crown and also in the years to come. Is he one of your picks for the Sharks Team of the Half Century?

 Vote now for the two props in your Cronulla Sharks 'Team of the Half Century' today and be a part of history.