1.Flanagan’s selection headaches
While to many, the Sharks team list may seem somewhat predictable for the round one clash with the Cowboys in Townsville, however similar strong performances from a handful of players on the fringe of selection in the second trial this weekend will leave coach Shane Flanagan with a few headaches.
Newcomer Aaron Gray ran with purpose and his defence was solid in his first outing for the Sharks, young winger Sione Katoa has electric feet and will be hard to keep out of the team, while Edrick Lee is extremely dependable and wouldn’t look out of place in any NRL side.
Then throw in centre Jesse Ramien who scored a smart try against the Sea Eagles and there is plenty of depth in the backs.
And don’t even get started on the forwards. Scott Sorensen was outstanding, Joseph Paulo showed his versatility and considerable skill set, with local product Kurt Dillon doing his chances no harm with a busy and enterprising performance.
Flanagan has 36 full-time players (the top 30 plus six development players) in his squad and genuinely believes all are capable if called on to play in his NRL side. Fitting 36 into 17 won’t be an easy task.
2. The youngsters stand up
Further emphasising the above, the second half provided a good indication of the depth Flanagan has at his disposal.
With the score 10-8 at the break, both coaches pulled their stars out of the game and threw in the younger brigade for the second 40-minutes.
Kyle Flanagan, Isaac Lumelume, Cruz Topai-Aveai and Blayke Brailey are still eligible for Jersey Flegg, try-scorer Briton Nikora has only this year graduated from the 20’s, same with Billy Magoulias Will Kennedy, Brock Ilett, Josh Tuilagi, Jack Williams and Daniel Vasquez.
With these players on the field, led around by former NSW Origin number seven Trent Hodkinson and experienced hooker James Segeyaro, the Sharks ran away with the points in the second period.
Depth is important and the Sharks seem to have it in spades.
3. Halves combo a work in progress
Despite a couple of handling errors and the predictable rust in what was their first real hit out together, it could be said that the new Sharks halves pairing of Matt Moylan and Chad Townsend received a pass mark for their efforts on Saturday night.
As Moylan said in a post-match interview with Sharks TV, they can’t expect to be at their best at this time of year, but there were enough good signs to be positive about the potential the Sharks ‘spine’ has for the season ahead.
Sharks fans know what they get from Chad, which is a strong kicking game and good organisational abilities, and when coupled with the silky skills and running game of Moylan, of which there were a few glimpses of both on Saturday, the prospects look bright.
They’ll get another chance to work together on Saturday night against the Tigers, then it will be Moylan and Townsend against Morgan and Thurston in Townsville. A considerable challenge but one all Sharks fans should be excited about.
4. No injuries a blessing
Trials are said to be a necessary evil, with teams needing to fine tune combinations before the season proper gets underway, as training can never replace actual game time.
However, the one negative to playing trials is the prospect of players getting injured in a game that means nothing in terms of the competition points table.
Unfortunately, Manly found out all about that when stand-in skipper Darcy Lussick was assisted from the field early in the first half with what looked to be a serious ankle problem.
The Sharks came through unscathed, Kurt Capewell experiencing some discomfort with a lower back complaint, one which shouldn’t see him miss any game time, the only problem.
‘Touch wood’ the Tigers game on Saturday goes the same way for the Sharks and they are in ship shape for round one and the Cowboys on March 9.
5. They were warned!
When game day captains Jayson Bukuya and Darcy Lussick tossed the coin prior to kick off on Saturday, they were warned by referee Matt Cecchin that the match officials weren’t going to turn a blind eye to any rules indiscretions.
And that’s how it played out.
The referees whistle was heard loud and often, with Manly’s Frank Winterstein even receiving a 10-minute stint in the sin-bin after the fourth or fifth consecutive penalty conceded by his team while they were defending their line.
The rucks were messy and attracted the ire of the officials, and players have been tipped off that they must play the ball with their foot, or at least make a concerted effort to do so, otherwise they will be penalised accordingly. If the players didn’t cop the tip on the play the balls before the trial, they know all about it now.
Better to learn all about discipline in a trial and to get the house in order before the season starts, than to get hammered by the refs in round one.