Team of the Half Century: Back rowers
Some are noted for the defence, others for their ability to carry the football, and their team, forward when the game dictates.
Others still have that little bit of ball playing smarts about them, with all needing one vital commodity, that being to play tough, play lots of minutes and to provide a link between the forwards in the middle of the field and the backs looking for opportunities on the outside.
The backrowers role has evolved over time, with the modern second rower playing wide of the ruck, running at centres and half backs and protecting his inside men in the defensive structures.
Throwing back to a previous time, and backrowers were just another forward, used to run hard, tackle hard and be a part of that pack intent on intimidating their opponents. Times have certainly changed.
However the group selected as nominees as back rowers in the Sharks Team of the Half Century has all bases covered.
From Greg Pierce and Ken Maddison leading the charge in the 1970’s, Kurt Sorensen bursting onto the scene and steamrolling defensive lines, to Gavin Miller wheeling and dealing his special brand of rugby league magic in the late 80’s and in the early days the Sharks boasted a collection of the very best back rowers.
David Hatch was as dependable as the day is long, Chris McKenna arrived as a rangy centre and became a representative backrower, before our two current stars in Wade Graham and Luke Lewis helped steer the Sharks to their maiden premiership.
An outstanding group, one highlighted by the differences in their play and the variety they offer, which two make your Sharks Team of the Half Century?
A Sharks Immortal, Greg Pierce played in the backrow and at lock for the Cronulla Club in what was a distinguished career totalling 210 First Grade games, eight Tests for Australia, two matches for City against Country while representing NSW on six occasions.
A player with an abundance of both skill and toughness, along with Ken Maddison and Steve Rogers would be the first Shark to embark on a Kangaroo Tour of the UK and France, with Pierce going on to later captain his country in a Test match against the Kiwis in New Zealand in 1978, making him one of only two Sharks players to be afforded that honour.
Graded from the local Gymea Club in 1968 and making his top grade debut in 1969, Pierce played through until 1980 with the Sharks, including an appearance in the 1973 Grand Final, however after having a leading role in 1978 was cruelly ruled out premiership decider due to a judiciary suspension.
Upon retirement Pierce would coach the Sharks in 1981 and 1982, guiding the team into the competition finals in his first season at the helm.
No question Pierce will go down as one of the greatest Sharks to ever wear the jersey. Where does he fit in your Sharks Team of the Half Century?
Joined the Sharks in 1972 after transferring from local rivals the Dragons, Maddison would play a leading role in the Sharks successful 1973 season, with his outstanding form winning him a place on the Kangaroo Tour that year.
In being named in the Kangaroo Touring squad became one of the first three Sharks to be bestowed the honour, with Maddison playing in all three Ashes Tests, in one Test against France and in nine minor tour matches scoring six tries in all.
The following year he made his sole state appearance for New South Wales.
In further recognition of his talents won the prestigious Rothman’s Medal in 1973, becoming the first forward to do so.
In all played 78 First Grade games for the Sharks in four seasons at the club.
A true legend of the Sharks and more than worthy of consideration for the Sharks Team of the Half Century.
Younger brother of former Shark and fellow Team of the Half Century nominee Dane, recognised by his curly hair and impressive physique, Kurt Sorensen played with a fearless and rugged style, one which could strike fear into his opponents.
Following his brother to the Sharks in 1979, Kurt played in the back-row, at lock and sometimes in the front row, proving to be equally effective in whatever position he found himself as he became a leading light at the Sharks during his five-year stay.
Sorensen played 124 games at the Sharks from 1979-1983, before leaving to join the Roosters for one season, then returning for one more year at the Cronulla club in 1985.
Also like his brother was a Kiwi international, Sorensen representing New Zealand on 28 occasions, and when added to 132 Sharks games, 252 appearances for Widnes, plus stints at Northcote, Whitehaven and Wigan in the UK, and his was a long and celebrated rugby league career.
An outstanding performer who fits nicely into the list of back row nominees, could there be room for not one, but two Sorensen’s in the Sharks Team of the Half Century
Without question one of the toughest and most skilful backrowers to represent the Sharks in their 50-years, Gavin Miller may also go down in rugby league history as one of the games’ smartest footballing brains.
One of three original Club Immortals, Sharks teams of his era were picked around Miller’s abilities, players to fit into the game plan and complement his vast array of skills.
He could rumble with the heavy hitters, pass selectively with the best ball players in the game and carry the ball forward with determination when the situation dictated, with a Rothman’s Medal in 1989, coupled with two Dally M Player of the Year awards in 1988 and 1989 testimony to his talents.
Had two stints at the Sharks, 1980–1983 and 1986–1992, where he played a total of 178 top grade games. In addition Miller played five games for NSW and three Test matches for Australia.
One of the legends of rugby league, and not just when the conversation shifts to great players from the Cronulla Club, Miller stood tall during a challenging era for the Sharks.
A front runner for one of the two back row positions in the Sharks Team of the Half Century. Does Miller get your vote?
A local boy from the Gymea club, David Hatch was a quietly spoke character who let his on field deeds do the talking through a distinguished top grade career.
Despite playing alongside NSW reps and internationals, such was the respect for Hatch he would assume the role of club captain for seven of his 12 seasons, thrust into the role in 1984 and continuing through to his retirement in 1990.
In all he played 188 First Grade games for the Sharks, his debut coming in 1979, many of those at matches at lock but also a percentage in the back row, Hatch was a popular and reliable teammate, one known for his dependable defence, fitness, work ethic and team-first attitude.
Formed close relationships with Terry Fearnley, Jack Gibson and Allan Fitzgibbon, coaches at the Sharks during his time, with all three acutely aware of Hatch’s worth to the team and his leadership abilities.
Maybe not flashy, possible not a player with an extensive highlight reel, Hatch was nonetheless an integral component in all Sharks teams in which he was a part.
If choosing an ultimate team player, Hatch may just warrant inclusion in the Sharks Team of the Half Century.
Also a nominee as a centre, as his career wore on and his versatility became apparent, Chris McKenna developed into a devastating ball runner and solid backrower in Sharks teams during the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.
From Queensland, McKenna would join the Sharks during the SuperLeague year of 1997, playing a leading role in the team that would eventually win through to the competition Grand Final that season.
Following his debut season McKenna would find his feet in the Shire, going on to play six years in total and 118 games for the Sharks.
While representing the Sharks his talents were recognised with McKenna earning Queensland selection on eight occasions and also playing two Tests for Australia, in what would evolve into a highly decorated rugby league career.
Played through an era where the Sharks threatened success, running out alongside the likes of Andrew Ettingshausen, Mat Rogers and Jason Stevens in some quality Cronulla outfits, with McKenna’s abilities complementing those around him.
A centre, a second rower, a quality player, wherever McKenna fits is it as a member of the Sharks Team of the Half Century?
The heir apparent in terms of the club captaincy at the Sharks, Wade Graham realised his enormous potential during an outstanding 2016, a year in which he would win a Premiership with the Sharks and earn Origin selection for NSW.
A schoolboy prodigy, Graham arrived at the Sharks as a five eighth with promise, only to be trust into a positional change and a place in the backrow shortly after by Coach Shane Flanagan, a move which has since reaped outstanding rewards.
Graham has played 137 NRL games for the Sharks since joining the club from Penrith in 2011 and despite still being just 26 years of age, is fast approaching 200 NRL games in total.
Plays with toughness and a maturity beyond his years, however it may be his skill level which stands Graham apart from others in his position, a passing and kicking game honed by a junior career played in the halves making him a dangerous commodity with the ball in hand.
Current skipper Paul Gallen has anointed him as the man to take over the mantle upon his retirement, with Graham’s past form meritorious but his best perhaps still in front of him.
A key figure in the Sharks Premiership win in 2016, despite being in a hot field of current and former players, Graham is deserved of his nomination and a genuine contender for a place in the Sharks Team of the Half Century.
The Clive Churchill Medallist has played for Australia, represented NSW and after a stellar Grand Final performance in helping the Sharks claim the 2016 NRL title, Luke Lewis now has two Premiership rings to show for his efforts.
One of the leading players of the modern era, once a gangly winger, Lewis has evolved into one of the best backrowers in the game, not only emphasised by his performance at ANZ Stadium in October but by the contribution he has made to the Sharks since joining the club in 2013.
Since his club debut three years ago Lewis has played 76 games for the Sharks and when coupled to his 208 matches for the Panthers, included amongst those a Grand Final win back in 2003, health and fitness permitting he should reach the magic 300-game mark sometime in 2017.
His representative record also reads impressively, with Lewis having played 16 Tests for Australia and 17 games for NSW in Origin football.
Supremely fit and strong, with size, speed and skill, Lewis is the complete package and certainly wouldn’t look out of place in the Sharks Team of the Half Century.
Vote now for the two back rowers in your Cronulla Sharks 'Team of the Half Century' today and be a part of history.