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First look: Outside Backs

Now required to be more multi-faceted, with reading opposition attack defensively and yardage runs from deep inside their own end of the field just as important as finishing off try scoring movements, as the outside backs play a vital role in the success of an NRL team.

And with a group possessing a variety of shapes, sizes and skills, in 2022 the Sharks are well-equipped to trot out a quality group of wingers and centres during the season ahead.

While injury interrupted their seasons at varying stages last year, Ronaldo Mulitalo and Sione Katoa were two of the regulars in wing positions in 2021.

Katoa had the flair for the spectacular, his fancy feet and evasive skills equally as important in getting the Sharks sets moving in the right direction as they were diving for the try line.

On the other flank Mulitalo brought his energy, enthusiasm and competitive instincts to every game and like his wing partner managed to find the stripe on a regular basis, with 10 four-pointers from 16 games further evidence of his abilities.

Katoa and Mulitalo will be in line to front up again in the 2 and 5 jerseys in 2022 but there will be no shortage of competition.

Arriving from the Roosters is the 28-year-old Matt Ikuvalu, the scorer of five tries in one game last season and a noted finisher. Ikuvalu is experienced, robust and strong, bringing a different a body shape and dynamic to the Sharks outside back options and a player definitely set to push the incumbents for a spot in the starting side come round one.  

Mawene Hiroti returns this year after making a positive impression in limited opportunities in 2021 and with the ability to play centre or wing will also come into contention for a place in the Sharks 17.

In relation to the rookies, youngsters Jensen Taumoepeau and Jonaiah Lualua will be eying debuts in the top grade, with Taumoepeau a physically imposing outside back who can play on the flank or in the centres. As for Lualua, he played for the local Aquinas Colts club as a junior and has been a part of the Sharks development system since the age of 15. Tough, quick and versatile, he will likely begin his year at the Jets while then looking to push into the Sharks top squad at some point in the future.

As for the Sharks centres, Jesse Ramien appears certain to lock down a place on the right side, with his partner tipped to be Connor Tracey, a player looking to make a permanent move to left centre in 2022 after being the man for all positions and situations in previous seasons.

Ramien is strong and skilful, Tracey runs hard and brings maximum energy to every play, with the pair’s varying styles complementing each other in the Sharks backline.

However, while they are firm favourites to be in the Sharks squad for the early weeks of the season, coach Craig Fitzgibbon has a handful of willing replacements should injury or form force a change to his plans.

Mulitalo came through the junior Queensland ranks as a centre and would relish a move closer to the action and while Teig Wilton might be an emerging star in the back row, the South Coast product is someone who did a quality job when required in the centres in 2021 and wouldn’t let anyone down if needed out wide again this season.

Similarly, Siosifa Talakai filled in capably in the centres in times of need although his abilities are best utilised in the Sharks forward pack.

Also don’t discount Kayal Iro, Sam Stonestreet, Jordan Samrani and Tigers recruit Zac Cini, youngsters training with the full-time Sharks squad during the summer, listening, learning and working towards getting their chance should the opportunity arise and lets not forget Jackson Ferris, the Kiwi who was outstanding on debut in 2020 until a wretched run with injury stalled his progress.

Ferris will shortly ease his way back into full time training before attempting his comeback through the Sharks NSWRL partner club the Newtown Jets.

Acknowledgement of Country

Cronulla-Sutherland Sharks respect and honour the Traditional Custodians of the land and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the lands we meet, gather and play on.