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THE FIRST FEW

September 4th: Sharks started their season at the very top, with champions Leicester Tigers coming to Edgeley Park.  Richard Cockerill guided his side to two finals last season, after the departure for personal reasons of Heyneke Meyer. David Rose was referee - his first Sharks' game since the controversial match at The Rec last December when PSA & Co felt aggrieved about the penalty count. Well, so much for the 'doom and gloom' brigade, as the Sharks won 15-12 and the spirit inculcated by KJ, JR, P K-R, BH et al shone through.  Five booming pens. from Bomber Thomas, UKFast's number two kicker (clever move by Mr.Lawrence Jones, that, to get all those mentions from the announcer.....)  Before the game, it was felt that Sharks were stronger in the backs and that the Tigers had the edge up front.  Humble pie......the front row (Roberts, M.Jones, Forster and those who followed) were great!!  Jamma continues to defy logic - the highest intensity game of his career, and took to it like a duck to water. 

September 18th:  Bath were next up.  Who knows what effect the alleged and proven drug revelations have had on the men from The Rec.?   Stevens and Harrison admitted their faults, Higgins retired and the others lost their appeal.  Sharks usually win this one but not this time round.  Truth to tell, it was a case of "worst fears realised". Still no Charlie, so Lee Thomas was asked to kick some long penalty attempts, ending up with 4 out of 8. No danger of a conversion - The Sharks didn't look like scoring a try.  Sadly, Bath showed them how three times.  The visitors' centre pairing of Shontayne Hape (pronounced Hoppy, I'm told) and Aussie Matt Carraro won the day.  Perhaps this was the defeat that was expected, giving the club something to work on as we adjust patiently to our new style team.

Nick Macleod

October 2nd:  London Irish.  They did ever so well last year, picking up a lot of try bonus points early on whilst PSA was ordering victory by kicking to death.  Not affected by international calls too much (Armitage Bros. excepted) and always a strong lineout.  Sharks did ever so well against the Not Nots, losing 8-11.  Lineout not the best feature of their game.  Guts and spirit there for all to see.  Try for the Fridge, penalty for Man of the Match Nick Macleod (right), but we were just not smart enough for the worldly wise mixture of English, Pacific Islanders, Springboks....and the occasional Irishman.

 

October 16th: Cardiff Blues with an 8 p.m. start for the telly. Only Heineken can do this. Kingsley's calculated gamble came off!  For the first twenty minutes, don't know where Sharks were. 6-0 down anyway.  Then, experience started to show, the pack began to dominate, and three tries came from the mighty forwards - Sisa Koyamaibole, Dean Schofield and the young whippet James Gaskell. Powell got yellowed for an off the ball shove on Peely, and for once it was the Sharks who made the most of numerical superiority.  They even bucked their trend of conceding a try early in the second half and put one in themselves. The big blow was losing Andrew Sheridan - dislocated shoulder, out for four months.  Step up Gavin Kerr, Rob O'Donnell, maybe Lee Imiolek in the months to come.  Anyway, a win's a win, even though they sneaked up to gain a bonus point at the end when NB and the lineout got their wires crossed. Back to backs with the Quins in December next.

Game five........October 30th: Brush (Bryan Redpath) brought his Gloucester side to EP.   They were on the slide last year whilst Dean Ryan was in charge. Started off by hammering Bath, but came to grief at the Mad Jet Ski and then sinned against The Saints. Lost heavily at Biarritz after a struggle against NGD (The Dragons), then shipped 35 at home to the Waspies. Sharks usually win this one, and they did this time, 28-23.  But the story was one where Glos scored three tries to one, but Charlie Hodgson (sponsored by UKFast) kicked 23 points and Lee Thomas (sponsored by UKFast) ran home the only try after a great burst from Dwayne Peel. The chat afterwards was along the lines of, "A win's a win, but I wish they'd stop this endless kicking....".  A glance at the papers for the next two days and all the coverage went to Mike Tindall, who limped off early doors after being released by England to prove his fitness.

Rob O'DonnellThen came Leeds in a downpour.  Fitting that a side linked with a University should turn out such a young team, but they'd beaten the Leicester Cubs the week before.  Don't forget - any Leicester team is a good team!  Well, this 'game of one half' against Carnegie was won by half time.  27-3 up and, although they butchered a couple of chances late on, the home defence held firm. First tries for the club from Marika and 'Boris' Seymour. The heavy boys wouldn't be left out - ROD (left) and Oriol (I'm joking, Senor!) scored, making it four in short time. Can't get round this Carnegie business - sounds like a Scottish golf course........

London Wasps came and didn't want to play.  Enough said.

Then two games against the Harlequins which restored our faith in the game. Both sides wanting to play, although first time, a green, soft pitch turned into a balletic snow scene, then on New Year's Day, it was nippy round the edges. Power from Sisa, speed from James Gazelle. Different games, but almost identical scores, 21-17 and 21-16. Mathew Tait

Common sense prevailed and the game against Saracens was firstly switched from Friday to Saturday, then postponed altogether as the icy grip on the country made travelling an 'Elf n' Safety' crisis. We thus had to wait until the French aristocrats Stade Toulousain arrived.   Despite a lovely try from Mathew Tait (right), victory against them wasn't far off (it finished 13-19) but events elsewhere saw Sale Sharks, like London Irish and Leicester Tigers, finish third in their Pool.  Just the LV= Cup and the Guinness Premiership to go for as January ended.

Sisa KoyamaiboleWhat is about old "friends" who come back to haunt you?  The Saintly Northampton ones (six players short thanks to England)) came to Edgeley to face our heroes (two missing - Cueto and Tait). Chris Mayor waltzed through after three minutes.  Forty minutes of playing time later, Sharks were 0-17 down.  The revival started, pulling the score back to 14-20 but it wasn't enough. At least the half time rocket eventually had its effect.  What odds would you have had on Sisa (left) being top tryscorer with five as February arrives?

The came Leeds Carnegie on February 19th. A must win game - again. Lost 10-19.  Thoroughly miserable weather, pitch, performance.  Well done to the visitors - their first three wins have been away.  The others were at Wasps and Newcastle.  Note that Sharks haven't managed to win at either this year. Carnegie actually completed a double over The 'Pests'.

Far be it for me to suggest that Sharks have 'grudge' matches, but there's an agenda whenerever Northampton Saints and London Wasps appear in a coach up Hardcastle Road SK3. The Saints marched in on a sunny but sharp Sunday afternoon, with Sky's cameras present to view the beach. Myler had an off day, Sharks went up the half time tunnel 7-0 down, fought hard but were 7-15 behind when Charlie hit a post with a last minute penalty. The ball bounced the wrong way and the chance of a bonus point had slipped away.  Leeds beat Sarries to see Sharks slip down to the strongest position in the table.

No game is easy, but the Saints' game was probably the hardest of the eight, now seven, left. The 'game in hand' - Wasps on March 19th - came in the 'crucial' category. The tension, the edge (call it what you will) was evident as Martin Toal tried to inspire the fans.  Well, something clicked, even though some wayward Wasps' passing kept them on nil while Charlie was racking up three penalties.  The famous Danny Boy (Cipriani, friend of Ms Brook) came on and set up a try for Jacobs.  Almost immediately at the other end, 9-5 became 16-5 as the said Danny Boy was put in trouble by a rotten Lemi pass.  Wiggy pounced to score his second try of the season.  CH converted.  Sharks still insisted on increasing the penalty count (no problem for Danny Boy there) but Wiggy sent over a penalty to leave it 19-8 at the end.  Wasps' Mr.Hanks (who didn't see a forward pass in High Wycombe) thought his side had played all the rugby but admitted that they weren't good under the high ball.  Interesting that Wiggy and Schoey (who are leaving) played 'top' games but Toulon-bound Mr.Sackey gave a good impression of wanting to be somewhere else.

After the 38-0 reverse at Irish, it was the Good Friday meeting with Worcester Warriors. Everything was crossed (fingers especially) and after Sir Charles eased us into another 9-0 helf time lead (two DG's included this time) the Tait/Cueto experience paid off with a Quates try in the corner. 17-3.  More like it!  Game by game now - PHEW! The bubble burst in the second half against Sarries because they were a different kettle of fish.  We had slow forward grinds up against their slick, three-try handling backs.  Tactical nous? 19-30 final score.

Came another 'must win' game: this one was 'just lost'. The club couldn't have done more in the buildup: surely the players knew that the crowd would take a 6-3 win? Any win! Credit to Jimmy Gopperth, but the Falcons aren't that special and they went away safe from the 'R' word after a 30-28 win at what used to be Fortress Edgeley.  It was 'Edgy Park' all night. We had to become Honorary Yorkies and hope Leeds could help us. They did - just. 12-10 against Worcester. It shouldn't have been like this. BK promised change, and within the week, it was "Brewer's Fayre".  Change? The way Mr.B came in talking, there'll be almighty upheaval.  Haven't had anything like this for years: reminds me of John Mitchell following Paul Turner.

Just the Quins to go.