Preparations for the Sharks title defence ramped up with a trial clash against the Broncos and a weekend in Auckland for the NRL Nines.
Results were mixed and an injury to Valentine Holmes was a negative ahead of the World Club Challenge match in the UK, however the Nines is a pre-season commitment for every NRL club and trials something coach Shane Flanagan realises is a part of getting a team ready for the year ahead.
“You don’t need too many of them, there is the risk of injury, but we needed tonight,” Flanagan said on Saturday night in Redcliffe. “Trials are a necessary evil. I needed to get the bigger boys some time and we had some kids who had never played first grade before who lacked a bit of experience. We’ll send those boys back to 20’s and to NSW Cup and now they’ve had the taste.”
As for Holmes, a hamstring strain, suffered in the second half of the Broncos trial, looks likely to keep him sidelined at least until the Sharks meet Brisbane again, this time in round one of the season proper.
“He just felt his hamstring grab a bit when he jumped and over-extended in trying to score. It’s possibly a three to four-week injury which means he is unlikely to play in the World Club Challenge,” Flanagan said.
In Redcliffe the Sharks showed glimpses of their premiership winning form from 2016, however when the scores were tallied at the end of the four-20-minute quarters it was the Broncos who were comfortably ahead.
While the 30-12 score didn’t read well, Flanagan was more concerned about his teams’ upcoming match against Wigan and a return bout with the Broncos on March 2.
“I wasn’t worried too much about the score line, I brought Jimmy (James Maloney) and some of the senior boys off in the first half and we had some kids out there. The Broncos forwards jumped into them a little but as I said that will be good experience.”
As were the Broncos, the Sharks were missing a number of players on duty at the Auckland Nines, while skipper Paul Gallen stayed back in the Shire over the weekend to rest up and recuperate due to a minor injury suffered at training last week.
“He’ll be fine for the World Club Challenge,” Flanagan said of Gallen. “He had a neck complaint. We did some contact early in the week and he pulled up a little sore.”
At the Nines while Saturday produced few highlights, the performance of a young Sharks team in dominating the Bulldogs on day-two was a definite positive to come from the Auckland-based event.
Jesse Raimen, Sione Katoa and Will Kennedy, who scored a 80-metre intercept try in the victory over the Bulldogs, were three young Sharks to come away from the Nines with their reputations enhanced.
Another positive surrounded the Sharks coming away from the event with a clean bill of health. Other than the bumps and bruises associated with their first official games of the season, there were no injuries reported.
Flanagan and his coaching staff will now get together to select a travelling party for the Wigan clash, scheduled for DW Stadium on February 19.
The Sharks are due to leave for the UK on Saturday evening.
Stay tuned to the Sharks website for a World Club Challenge team announcement in the coming days.