The long hours under the summer sun preparing players for what lies ahead, is a necessary evil in getting a team up to speed and ready to tackle the rigours of an NRL season.
It also provides opportunity for players to stake their claim and secure positions in the top squad for the season ahead.
While the status quo can stay the same and line ups often look similar from one season to the next, things can also quickly change as new players emerge and squad lists evolve, with teams sometimes taking on a different look.
With three spots to fill on their 2021 roster, the Sharks have depth across most positions with a strong mix of youth and experience.
But who will run out round one when the Sharks tackle the Dragons and maybe more significantly, which players will cement positions in the top 17 as the year progresses?
In this first instalment we run an eye over John Morris’s fullback options for 2021. Maybe it isn’t quite as cut a dried as many would think when it comes to who might wear the number one jersey during the upcoming season.
After a year in which he continued to learn his trade in playing 17 games in the NRL side in 2020, Will Kennedy certainly appears to be the front runner for the fullback position come round one.
The Bathurst boy has some silky skills, his positional play improved as the year went on, Kennedy’s line break assists last season (13) ranked him first amongst the Sharks team (yes, even more than Shaun Johnson who had 12) and sixth out of all NRL fullbacks.
Kennedy, who also made huge improvements to his support play and was ranked third in that NRL statistical category amongst fullbacks, has also enjoyed a strong pre-season under the guidance of Morris, his assistants Josh Hannay and Dave Howlett and the new high-performance staff at the club.
However, lurking in the background and ready to grasp the opportunity should it present are a couple of former halves and an ex-fullback who might play in the halves, players more than capable of wearing the number one jersey should the opportunity present.
Connor Tracey has spent plenty of time training at the back and catching bombs during the summer and his robust running game and genuine speed is perfectly suited to the fullback position, with the local junior keen to become a regular in Morris’s starting 13.
If his place in the halves is blocked at present by Chad Townsend, Johnson and perhaps Matt Moylan, maybe a shift to fullback is a possibility.
In a similar boat is the returning Luke Metcalf, the Coffs Harbour product who came through the Sharks junior rep system as a half back before switching to the Sea Eagles, he has speed to burn and like Tracey can sniff out a try.
He too has spent some time at fullback during the pre-season and while only on a Development contract for 2021, should he continue to impress during January, February and into March, Metcalf could claim one of the remaining spots on the top 30 roster and become another fullback option.
Then there is Moylan, having played representative football as a fullback prior to his move to the Sharks, the former Panther has battled through some injury issues over the past two years with a switch into the halves, where his immense skills can be utilised and with less high intensity running required, something for Morris and his assistants to consider.
Moylan’s pre-season has been outstanding, he has miles in his legs and strength back in his hamstrings, so will the positional change to the halves be confirmed, or will the temptation be to have him return to the back. Watch this space!!
And in relation to another former representative fullback, Josh Dugan has done the job before and while his best position now appears to be in the centres, is more that capable of playing fullback effectively again if required.
There are around eight weeks to go until round one, with all players still having ample opportunity to push their claims.
You’ve seen the options, who do you think wears the number one jersey for the Sharks in 2021?