It will be big occasion for two young Sharks, and also for one not so young, when the 2019 NRL season gets underway for the Cronulla club in Newcastle on Friday night.
Running out for their debut NRL games will be exciting youngsters Briton Nikora and Blayke Brailey, while John Morris is set to be in control of his first game as an NRL Head Coach when his team tackles the Knights in their season-opener.
Nikora, a Kiwi-born, Gold Coast-raised back rower, has been chosen to start, while Brailey, a local junior from the Aquinas Colts Club, will likely substitute his older brother Jayden and come into the match as a hooker replacement from the interchange bench.
It is an exciting moment for both players and for their families who will be in attendance at McDonald Jones Stadium tonight.
“Mum and dad are coming down from the Gold Coast, I’ve got cousins and uncles, some friends coming,” Nikora said. “It’s like a childhood dream and I can’t wait.”
As to when coach Morris broke the news as to his inclusion in the Sharks 17, it was a moment that left Nikora lost for words.
“It was Tuesday before training. It was unbelievable. I thought I might be 18th man. I was stoked, I couldn’t really say much, I was just happy.”
While for Brailey, who has been a part of the Sharks system since being a member of the club’s academy program as a 13-year-old, tonight represents a special occasion for not only himself but for the family as well.
“I’ve always wanted to play for the Sharks and sharing the field with Jayden will be a great experience not only for myself, but a proud moment for the family,” Blayke said.
“It’s something I’ve been dreaming about, working hard for and I’m really looking forward to it.”
The young pair have been slotted into an experienced Sharks squad, one which will be even further enhanced by two seasoned campaigners set to play their first games in Cronulla colours.
Shaun Johnson makes his Sharks debut, while Josh Morris in switching from the Bulldogs to the Sharks during this past off-season will be keen to impress in his new colours.
However, in addition to the two youngsters about to begin their NRL careers and the two first-time Sharks, there will be a third debutant on Friday night, but this one won’t be strapped and kitted up ready play, with John Morris to be in charge of his first game as an NRL Head Coach.
In his final words before the game tomorrow night, Morris expressed his excitement as to the challenge ahead, with his first senior coaching assignment at the ground where he made his NRL debut some 18-years ago.
“It’s something I’m looking forward to, going back to the ground where I made my debut for the opposite side, as a 20-year-old, is ironic,” Morris said. The nerves will always be there, but we’ve got to trust what we’ve done, stick to what we’ve done at training and we’ll be OK.
“I’ll have family there watching and I just hope the boys can play to their potential.”
With Nikora and Brailey confirmed in the Sharks 17, there are no changes expected for the game which kicks off at 6.00pm.
Stay tuned to Sharks media channels for a late mail preview, in-game updates, as well as post-game interviews and match reports.