Cronulla fans will get a glimpse into the future on Saturday night – and Sharks coach Shane Flanagan says it won’t be the last time this season.
The Sharks host Manly in their first trial match of the 2018 season at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Saturday night.
With Flanagan opting to hold back some of his more experienced players for the trial against the Wests Tigers at Campbelltown next weekend, a host of Cronulla's excellent youth products will be on show against the Sea Eagles.
Cronulla’s 2017 NYC player of the year Billy Magoulias, the 2017 NYC leading point scorer Kyle Flanagan and Blayke Brailey, younger brother of first grade hooker Jayden, will all be given the chance to impress against Manly.
Another of the club’s NYC graduates, Sione Katoa, will also get his first chance to impress on the right wing with Katoa the front runner to start the season outside incumbent Test centre Josh Dugan.
Flanagan told the Leader he had been greatly impressed by his young players in pre-season and said they had earned the opportunity.
“They’ve all come along really well. Blayke has put on a bit of size and weight which has been good,” he said.
“Some of them want it now but they’ve got to understand they’re still boys and they’re going to play against men. It does take a bit of time but I’m really happy with the way they’re progressing.
“Especially with Blayke playing in the middle, in the NRL big forwards are going to find you. Blayke will handle it when he gets his chance and his body is right. Jayden was 21 when he made his debut, Blayke is still 19. So he’s still got a bit of time. He’s a good chance to play this year but I don’t have to rush him.
“[Billy] I see as a middle forward. He’s got some good ball skills, got a good passing game, offload. He’ll definitely play at some stage this year. He’s in that Gallen mold.
“Sione is a chance to start the season. He’s probably a little bit different playing on the wing. [He’s a] year older than Blayke and Kyle but different position, not playing in the middle of the field the workload is not as high and he doesn’t have to tackle those big blokes for 80 minutes. He’s a chance of getting a start early on but those other boys will definitely get a chance probably around that Origin period.”
Magoulias, Katoa, Kyle Flanagan and Blayke Brailey were named in the NYC team of the year last season alongside fellow young Sharks Jesse Ramien and Briton Nikora.
Magoulias has been at Cronulla since the under-16s and was part of the under-18s side, along with Flanagan and Brailey, that won the national championship in 2015.
The 21-year-old said his goal for 2018 was simple.
“I want to get a spot on the bench somewhere. I think I’ll be playing [NSW Cup] for Newtown first up. Hopefully I can play a good block of games there, 10 or 15 games playing against men, then when Origin comes around hopefully get a spot then,” Magoulias said.
“I hope the boys don’t get injured but if there is a few injuries maybe get myself on the bench there.
“Last year my body wasn’t ready for NRL. Whereas this year I’ve dropped a bit of body fat, put a bit of muscle on. Being my first pre-season you get a lot of gains. You’re working harder than you ever have.”
The younger Brailey should have no doubt he can eventually crack first grade with Cronulla, given the perfect blueprint is sleeping under the same roof.
Blayke, also a talented hooker, watched on last season as older brother Jayden enjoyed a stellar debut NRL season.
“It was a bit weird really. Seeing all these people on the street come up and say hello to him. He’s still my brother. It’s still a bit weird for me but obviously he’s been playing well so hopefully I can follow in his footsteps,” Brailey said.
“We’re really close. At home we always do video together. We’re always talking about ways we can improve our games so I really learn off him.
“In the off-season I’ve been trying to put on a bit more weight. So if I get a crack I want to put my best foot forward.”
Sharks fans could also get the chance to see new signing Matt Moylan in the black, white and blue for the first time, with Flanagan likely to give Moylan and premiership-winning halfback Chad Townsend time together in the halves.
First grade kick-off is scheduled for 7.30pm on Saturday night.
NSW Cup is at 5.05pm, with under-20s at 3.05pm.