Front rowers often escape the headlines when it comes to the reporting on rugby league, with the accolades usually heaped on the playmakers and try scoring backs, those who excite the fans and bring the crowd to their feet.
However ask any NRL coach and the ‘big men’ controlling the middle of the field certainly don’t go unnoticed. They will tell anyone who listens that you can’t win a competition without a couple of good ones up front.
Bryce Gibbs, who crossed for just one try for the Sharks in two seasons, only four in a 197 game NRL career, consistently replied to banter about his lack of try-scoring prowess with the fact that it was him and his fellow front rowers to put the team in a position to score.
“Yeah but how many did I set up,” he would quickly reply.
And it’s hard to argue. Win the battle in the middle of the field and often the war is won.
As far as front rowers go the Sharks have fielded a number of quality props throughout the years, Cliff Watson often credited with lifting the team into the 1973 Grand Final on the back of his aggression and physicality.
But what of the more recent era?
In continuing to remind Sharks fans of the best to represent the Sharks since 2010, we’ll offer up a few names from the recent past who certainly wouldn’t look out of place in a Cronulla team of the last decade.
Our props were amongst the leading players in their position during the Grand Final winning year of 2016, but there are many more from the last 10 years who deserve consideration.
We’ve provided ‘tip sheets’ on the best outside backs, the halves and back rowers, now we shift out focus to the front rowers.
In asking you to name a Team of the Decade, a Sharks squad 1-17 which you believe to be the best from 2010 to the currently suspended 2020 season, who are your selections in the front row?
During the 2010-2011 seasons under the words ‘durable’ and ‘reliable’ in the rugby league dictionary were the names of the Sharks two starting front rowers in Luke Douglas and Kade Snowden.
They played big minutes each week, rarely missed a match, Douglas in fact running out for an incredible 215 games in succession from debut at the Sharks in 2006 until round 23 in 2014 while at the Titans, with the pair certainly in any calculations for a ‘best of’ Cronulla side.
Snowden would also play Origin for NSW, Douglas for NSW Country and as an 18th man for the Blues, confirming there was quality in their performances to go with the quantity in terms of their minutes and games played.
Unfortunately for the Sharks both departed in 2012, with likeable larrikin Bryce Gibbs partnering Ben Ross and an emerging prop named Andrew Fifita in the Cronulla front row.
A premiership winner at the Tigers, Gibbs was as tough as they come and between him and the experienced Ross, the duo were the perfect mentors for the up and coming Fifita who as we now know would develop into one of the leading props in the game.
Extremely capable and ultra-consistent, Ross had returned to the Sharks after beating a serious neck injury and following a couple of years away at the Rabbitohs.
The 2011 season would also be Sam Tagataese’s first of many at the Sharks as he excelled in the impact player-interchange role, with the likes of Sosaia Vave, the late Jonny Mannah, Mark Taufua and David Fifita others to contribute over the next few seasons.
In 2014, while a difficult and disappointing season on many fronts, the Sharks did secure the services of a front rower who would be the mainstay of their pack through until the end of 2019, with Matt Prior landing in the Shire after a successful career at the Dragons.
The following year Prior would come into his own, sharing the front row responsibilities with Andrew and David Fifita, Tagataese coming off the bench, with that combination, minus David Fifita who departed for the UK, carrying the Sharks hopes into the 2016 season.
And with Joseph Paulo and Jesse Sene-Lafao playing cameo roles alongside the above-mentioned trio, it proved to be a group good enough to help drive the Sharks to that maiden premiership success.
Prior and Fifita would continue in 2017-18 and 2019, Jeremy Latimore and Ava Seumanufagai joining them for a season each, before Australian and NSW big man Aaron Woods made a mid-season switch to the Sharks in 2018.
Woods, Fifita and Prior would carry the responsibilities in 2019, but they were joined by a tearaway newcomer in Braden Hamlin-Uele, the ex-Cowboy going from journeyman to front line performer in a breakout season.
Hamlin-Uele, Woods and Fifita were set to again be the Sharks middle-men this year, with a brash rookie in Toby Rudolf also making an immediate impact over the opening two rounds, before the shut-down of the season.
A quality list of front rowers, many who would fit comfortably into any Sharks Team of the Decade. Which two do you choose?
Download the Sharks Team of the Decade template here and start filling it out today - once you've finished your squad, upload a picture to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and tag our pages plus use the hashtag #UpUp - or email your sheet to [email protected].