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If you were looking for a few lines to best describe Shark number 132, David 'Danga' Hatch, then you need look no further than the back of his 1989 Stimorol football card: "Very level headed and his experience is a great bonus to the youthful Sharks. Frontline defense is granite-like."

A local junior from the Gymea club, Hatch was a key member of the 1973 Harold Matthews Cup team that beat Penrith to claim one of the club's first major trophies 51 years ago.

Hatch quickly moved through the grades at Cronulla, and in 1978, as an 18-year-old, was chosen to sit on the bench through the finals including the replayed grand final against the Manly Sea Eagles. Despite not getting onto the field, it showed that coach Norm Provan saw great potential in the rangy, raw-boned teenage backrower. Hatch said during the week: "I think Norm (coach) selected me to blood me. It was a great feeling, but disappointing after we lost the replay."

The following season, during this week, on the 8th April 1979, Hatch made his first-grade debut when he was used off the bench in the Round 3 clash with the Balmain Tigers at Endeavour Field.

The Cronulla side on that day was captained by Steve Rogers and featured club icons Rick Bourke, John McMartin, Paul Khan and the Sorensen brothers. The Tigers, coached by Ron Willey, featured hardened test forward Rod Morris and flyer Larry Corowa on the wing.

Cronulla, the red-hot premiership favourites, were humbled by the Tigers 14-5 in front of nearly 12,000 fans. The ferocious defence of Tigers David Grant and Dennis Bendall was credited for the upset win. Hatch came into the game after only 30 minutes to replace Steve Kneen who fell victim to a Tiger pack intent on unsettling their more fancied rivals.

Despite the first-up loss, the form showed by Hatch was enough to warrant promotion to the starting side the following week against the Eastern Suburbs Roosters, a game the Sharks lost 16-5.

Hatch only featured in one more match that season, the Round 8 local derby against the St George Dragons which Cronulla won 12-5.

In 1980, Hatch failed to add to his first-grade games tally, switching between the under 23s and reserve grade. Then first-grade coach Tommy Bishop later lamented overlooking Hatch that season. Speaking at Hatch's testimonial in 1990 Bishop stated: "I didn't think he would make it. He wasn't big for a forward. He certainly wasn't fast and there was nothing to suggest he was overly skilful."

Bishop informed those present at the testimonial lunch that he had never been happier to have been proven wrong.

Sharks 1981 coach Greg Pierce thankfully didn't share Bishop's assessment and was quick to promote Hatch to his starting side, and it was at the back of the scrum that Hatch remained for the entire decade.

A key moment in Hatch's career came in 1985 while under the coaching of Jack Gibson. After losing Steve Rogers in the opening match through injury, Gibson allowed the squad to vote on who they thought should captain the side. A youthful squad, brimming with local and emerging talent, were quick to identify that to reach their potential, a hardnosed, no-nonsense captain was required. Enter David Hatch!

Hatch's leadership qualities in that first season were recognised by the NSWRL when he was named the 1985 Dally M Captain of the Year which coincided with selection in the Presidents XIII team chosen to tour Papua New Guinea.

Hatch claims the 1985 Dally M Captain of the Year award.
Hatch claims the 1985 Dally M Captain of the Year award.

In 1988, Hatch led a star-studded side featuring club legends Gavin Miller, Andrew Ettingshausen, Jonathan Docking and Mark McGaw to the club's first minor premiership.

The final match of the regular season, played in front of a full house at Caltex Oval, saw the Sharks defeat the St George Dragons 16-14 and claim top spot, which ultimately meant a saloon passage straight through to the major semi-final in week two of the finals.

Unfortunately, the Sharks failed to capitalise on their extraordinary season, losing their first finals match to eventual premiers the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs, and then their second match to an Ellery Hanley-inspired Balmain Tigers.

The 1988 season wasn't without reward for Hatch who, for the second time in his career, was named the Dally M Captain of the Year.

On 29th July 1990, Hatch played his final game for the Sharks in their Round 18 clash with the St George Dragons. Cronulla were soundly beaten 28-6 in front of 12,163 fans at Kogarah Oval, but it wasn't only the scoreboard that took a battering with Hatch forced from the field with a fractured cheekbone, an injury that put a punctuation mark on an incredible 13-season career.

Despite a promising start to the season, the Sharks were unable to secure another victory in 1990 after the departure of their inspirational captain. As a result, they struggled and ultimately ended the season in tenth position, limping their way through the remainder of the matches.

In the club's 1990 Annual Report, Peter Gow paid Hatch the ultimate compliment: "He, himself, has become a giant – if not in stature, then certainly in his achievements. A steady influence and a damned good Club Captain. Something that not many clubs have the privilege of being able to boast."

Speaking at Hatch's testimonial luncheon, former coach Alan Fitzgibbon said: "The example he sets at every training session sums up his value to this side. There are plenty of 'brighter lights' here than David Hatch, but he is the one that keeps them all together. I couldn't ask for more from a captain. He mightn't talk much, but when he's got something to say, the players listen."

The accolades continued post career for Hatch when, in 2012, he was named in the Gymea Gorillas' best-ever team, named to mark the club's 50th anniversary.

Hatch has continued to stay involved in rugby league through his association with the Milton-Ulladulla Bulldogs, where his daughter Cheyanne is carrying on the family name with the same granite-like defence, but slightly more flair.

Hatch with daughter Cheyanne.
Hatch with daughter Cheyanne.

David Hatch fact file

Born: 18 June 1959

Position: Lock/second-row

Nickname: Danga

Playing weight: 83kg 

Height: 183cm

Years at club: 1978-90

Player no: 132

Games for club: 255 (188 in first grade, 59 in reserve grade and four in under 23s)

Debut: Round 3, Sunday 8 April 1979 against Balmain at Endeavour Field

Last game: Round 18 Sunday, 29 July 1990 against St George at Kogarah Oval

Statistics for Cronulla: 54 points in first grade, 31 points in reserve grade and three points in under 23s

Awards: Dally M Captain Of The Year: 1985, 1988

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.

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