Josh Dugan has joined from the Dragons, Matt Moylan from Penrith, former Rabbitoh Aaron Gray is now a Shark and an exciting crop of youngsters are throwing down the gauntlet and challenging their more experienced teammates.
Valentine Holmes returns to clubland as the leading try scorer, while Ricky Leutele was arguably his team’s best back in a disappointing tournament for Samoa in the recent World Cup.
Add to that group Sosaia Feki, the scorer of a team-topping 13 tries in 2017, Jessie Ramien who had a taste of the NRL last year and has enjoyed an excellent pre-season, and there could be some difficult selection decisions for coach Shane Flanagan before the team flies to Townsville in early March.
“We’ve got some exciting outside backs who can score some points,” Flanagan said in somewhat understating his team’s potential prior to the Sharks taking a break for Christmas and before Dugan had even caught or passed a ball in his new training gear.
In Holmes, Leutele and Feki, Flanagan knows what to expect, however Dugan and Moylan offer a new dimension, with one wing position up for grabs due to the departure of Gerard Beale to the Warriors and the contenders lining up to fill the vacancy.
It’s a healthy position to be in, however after analysing the 2017 season Flanagan and his coaching staff felt the need for speed, or at least to find more points in 2018, with the crop of backs now at his disposal making that an achievable goal.
“That’s an area we identified, that we were down on from 2016. We scored 30 less tries so we’ve got to find 30 tries and defend the same. If we can do that we’ll be up there again and we’ve definitely got the talent to do it,” Flanagan said.
While Dugan only arrived this week due to an extended break following the World Cup, the other star recruit in Moylan has everyone at the Sharks excited.
Moylan started somewhat slowly back in November following some minor knee surgery, but since then has provided a new dimension to the team’s attack.
“I’m really excited about what he’s going to add to our footy team,” Flanagan began. “Offensively he’s sharp and we all know he can play a couple of positions. I’m super excited about what I’ve seen on the training paddock.”
It’s maybe too early to lock it in, however a Sharks backline with Holmes in the one jersey, Feki on a wing, Leutele and Dugan in the centres and Moylan at five eighth with Chad Townsend his halves partner, should have all members and fans salivating at the prospects.
As for the candidates to fill the wing vacancy, Sione Katoa, the Holden Cup’s top try scorer last year, has impressed all with his ability and attitude throughout the summer, Gray is a proven performer at the NRL level, as is the tall and rangy Edrick Lee.
Ramien, recently included in the NSW Emerging Blues squad and who was super-impressive on debut in the final game of the 2017 season, is a player of the future, while Josh Tuilagi is a physically imposing outside back who wouldn’t look out of place in an NRL side.
Finally, at fullback Will Kennedy is a youngster rated highly by many of the senior players at the club and 19-year-old young gun Kyle Flanagan, who could hypothetically play in the halves at some stage during 2018 and free up Moylan for a move elsewhere, provides even more possibilities.
If there was a need for more speed, an objective to add more attacking prowess to the outside backs and to complement the team’s defensive qualities with more points, then the recruitment and retention for 2018 has achieved that goal, with an exciting brand of football and more tries in 2018 the potential outcome.