Jayden Brailey is hopeful the addition of even more experienced representative talent at Cronulla will help him realise his own dream of one day playing rep football.
Cronulla announced last week the signing of former NSW and Australia outside back Josh Morris from next season just weeks after the Sharks finally ended months of circling Aaron Woods with the former Blues and Kangaroos prop’s immediate arrival in the shire.
At 22-years-old Brailey is one of the few outliers in Cronulla’s squad. Despite Brailey having featured for the Australian Schoolboys he has played relatively little representative football.
The Aquinas Colts junior was named the Dally M Holden Cup under-20s player of the year in 2016 to cap a strong personal season as he led the young Sharks to the finals.
But for Brailey, who was also chosen in the Holden Cup team of the year, the motivation for his success came from the hurt of missing out on the NSW under-20s team midway through that season.
He is yet to play senior representative football but with the capture of Woods and Morris, added to Cronulla’s side already stacked with current and former elite talent, Brailey is in a fine place to learn from experience.
Josh Dugan, Valentine Holmes, Matt Moylan, Andrew Fifita, Wade Graham, Luke Lewis and Paul Gallen have all played State of Origin and international football. Matt Prior has played for NSW. Chad Townsend and Joseph Paulo have played for City Origin, with Paulo also representing Samoa and the USA. Jayson Bukuya has played for Fiji. James Segeyaro has captained Papua New Guinea.
And Brailey believes he can learn plenty from the environment around him.
“Obviously Woodsy is another guy with a lot of rep experience. Everyone has got their own take on rep footy and different experiences so I guess I can feed off everything that they’ve gone through. Even though they play a different position I’ll still take a lot out of them. I’m playing in a highly experienced side where I’m still learning and I’ll take a lot from them,” he said.
“[Woods is] a really good character. I’ve got along with him really well so far. Out of all people I was probably the most excited to see him come. Another addition to our forward pack and someone I can play off the back of. I’ve identified his offload game and I’ve got to be ready for those balls out the back.
“It’s crazy our forward pack. I’m pretty lucky, to be honest. For a hooker it’s hard to play on the back foot. With our forward pack I’ve got every chance to be able to play some good football when we get some good combinations going. Especially going into the back end of the season as well. I think he’s going to bring that little bit of x-factor we’re going to need to go really far in the competition.
“Obviously [Morris] brings a lot of rep and club game experience to our side. Everyone says he’s a world class player and he is that. He’s one of those guys you highlight on the tip sheet. I think he’s a really good player and he’s going to bring a lot given the absence of Edrick [Lee] and Jesse [Ramien] next year. So he’s going to bring a lot to us.”
Cronulla will look to make the most of a friendly run into the finals with the Sharks to play five of their last seven matches against teams outside the top eight.
That run starts with Canberra at Southern Cross Group Stadium on Friday night. And Brailey said the Sharks were on the hunt for a top four finish.
“It’s massive. We’ve got to win five or six out our next seven if we want to be a chance of making that top four. We just can’t afford to lose too many games,” he said.
“We obviously want to be stringing a couple of games together. But if we lose straight off the bat it probably doesn’t put us in a very good mindset from the get go. We just want to get that roll on. We had a bit of a roll on when we won six in a row a few weeks ago. We want to get back into that form. Get that confidence back, because that’s what we really need if we want to be a chance in going far in the finals series.
“We know ourselves how important finishing in the top four is. [Coach Shane Flanagan] doesn’t need to say how important it is. We saw it last year against the Cowboys when we lost pretty narrowly. That was a game we had every chance to win. The Cowboys went all the way to the grand final and looked a little bit burnt out by that stage. If we want to have a chance we have to be in that top four. And this block is going to determine that obviously.”