In recent years one rumour that did the rounds on an annual basis was England Rugby League winger Josh Charnley, following a path first blazed by Jason Robinson in 2000, switching codes from league to union and joining Sale Sharks.
Today we mourn the death of that rumour; for on the dawn of Wednesday morning Sale confirmed what most had apparently known two years ago - Josh Charnley will leave Wigan Warriors at the end of the current Super League season and become the latest League star to attempt to crack the 15-man code.
Charnley will leave Wigan something akin to a mini club legend. Despite being only 24, the Chorley born winger has so far racked up 152 appearances for the Warriors, scored a ridiculous 148 tries and also slotted 94 penalties. A two-time Grand Final and Challenge Cup winner who also led the Super League in tries scored in 2012 and 2013, Charnley will join up with the Sharks in November. Contract length was not specified.
I love this signing but there's no doubting its a high-risk, high-reward situation.
Charnley is by all accounts a star in Rugby League. Lightning quick but impressively strong with a try-scoring record that classifies him as an elite finisher and a tendency to score length-of-the-field solo efforts, Charnley is the game-changing backline player Sale have struggled to procure in recent seasons to play alongside talisman Danny Cipriani (ironic then, that the latter will leave Sale before the former's arrival).
Charnley has both the physical tools and the pedigree to immediately transfer his star power from League over to Union - his signing is an audacious coup for Sale, one that will definitely have made their top-six rivals sit up and take notice. And who knows, maybe some of the prophesied League-to-Union supporter converts that never really materialised following Sale's move to the AJ Bell and North Manchester may now be finally tempted by Charnley's presence to come and watch (and follow) the Sharks such is Charnley's attraction.
The risk comes not so much from Charnley's ability itself - especially as the transition to Union will be made easier since Diamond wants to keep him at his preferred position of winger - but in recognising the long and often unsuccessful history of League-to-Union converts. We need look only at last year's Sam Burgess fiasco (or the plight of Joel Tomkins, or Lesley Vainikolo, or Henry Paul) to acknowledge the tumultuous experience even the brightest of League stars have had in attempting to switch codes.
Luckily success rates are highest for League players being deployed in the back-three due to the distinct similarities in the roles performed by wingers and fullbacks in both codes. With Sale, Charnley will be expected only to replicate his explosive offensive game, bag some tries and get to grips with the mechanisms of rucking and Union-style territorial kicking. It is no coincidence that Jason Robinson and Chris Ashton, two of the most successful cross-code converts ever, played fullback and winger respectively - positions where what was required of them saw little change from the transition across sports.
So where does this leave Sale for next season? Whilst speculation continues to swirl about exactly who will be distributing the ball to Charnley and co. next season, Charnley's signing has more than adequately replenished Sale's previously diminishing wing depth following the announced departures of Phil Mackenzie and Tom Brady and, paradoxically, even boosted their options at fullback. Whilst I fully expect Charnley to be fast tracked into the Sharks first team wearing either 11 or 14 on his jersey next season, having Charnley and (presumably) Will Addison as the Sharks' incumbent wingers allows Sale to employ Tom Arscott as both the first reserve at winger and at fullback in relief of Mike Haley; Arscott's versatility is ideal for the 23rd man on the bench assuming everyone is fit.
But before we start imagining Sale's newest signing topping the Premiership's scoring charts immediately, don't expect to see Charnley in a Sale shirt particularly soon. With the Super League season only finishing in October and Charnley not expected to report and begin immersing himself in his new sport until mid-November it is doubtful - unless he takes to Union immediately - that we will see Charnley in any meaningful competition for Sale until well after the new year. Whilst Charnley has all the raw skills to make an immediate impact at the AJ Bell, I would be very surprised if Diamond doesn't opt to bed him in slowly.
Lewis Hughes can't wait to see how Paul Deacon plans to utilise his ex-Wigan teammate next season. Follow The Shark Tank on Twitter for more news, analysis, and opinions on all things Sale Sharks.
You really see it all following Sale.
A sudden thunderstorm that briefly forced the match to be suspended midway through the second half luckily didn't arrest Sale's momentum as the Sharks triumphed 27-20 over Leicester on Sunday afternoon, securing their first league double over the Tigers since the 2007-08 season and keeping their 11-month unbeaten home record alive for another round.
Tries from Cameron Neild, Neville Edwards and Danny Cipriani along with two penalties from the latter gave Sale their first home win over Leicester since 2009 despite a late surge from the Tigers whose defeat was only assured when they knocked on on Sale's try-line in the game's final play.
And whilst Sale were fortuitous that both Vereniki Goneva dropped the ball making an unnecessary cut inside in Sale's in-goal area (!) and Will Addison was deemed not to be in touch during the buildup to Nev Edwards' try, it was a fully deserved victory for the Sharks which sees them move past Gloucester into 7th place with a game still in hand on Harlequins in 6th.
Next up for Sale is a trip to the MadStad bogey ground home to relegation-favourites London Irish who are hanging onto Premiership status by a thread. Whilst the Exiles are desperate for a win to keep them in touching distance of Newcastle in 11th, a Sale win and a Harlequins loss could see the Sharks leapfrog the latter into the final Champions Cup qualification place with a game still in hand.
Follow The Shark Tank on Twitter for more news, analysis and opinions on all things Sale Sharks.
After weeks of speculation over possible new signings, Friday morning saw Sale announce the first two of potentially seven (!) new arrivals in the form of Juandre Kruger and Kieran Longbottom.
Kruger, 30, is the South African lock Dimes first revealed he was courting back in January and will join the club next season from Racing Metro 92. Capped 17 times for the Springboks since 2012, Kruger’s arrival will see him reunite with Steve Diamond (who first brought him to England in 2008 whilst serving as Northampton’s director of player recruitment) and another Parisian alumni, Brian Mujati, who he played with at both Saints and Racing.
Longbottom, also 30, meanwhile has signed from reigning Premiership champions Saracens. The Australian-cum-English tighthead first arrived in England back in 2014 from Western Force and will serve as a ready-made replacement for Vadim Cobilas who is leaving Sale for Bordeaux at the end of the season. Although predominately a tighthead, Longbottom can also prop down as a loosehead.
If I was skeptical before of the ‘challenging for top four’ rhetoric that has been repeated ad nauseum from the club in recent weeks and months, the announcement of Kruger and Longbottom now has me completely buying into the vision Steve Diamond and co. have created to further the club in the coming years.
Kruger and Longbottom are fantastic signings, especially considering they have both been lured away from two of world rugby’s wealthiest sides. The pair’s recruitment suggests Diamond has been able to sell both on an ambitious plan for the Sharks’ immediate and long-term future rather than simply an enlarged pay packet, a move which bodes well for a Sale team currently stuck in a pattern of mid-table respectability and that apparently have at least three more new signings to announce.
Juandre Kruger is probably the biggest signing Sale have made since Danny Cipriani and Richie Gray back in 2012. An esteemed Southern Hemisphere international, Kurger will be immediately earmarked as the Sharks’ first choice lock and will partner up with Bryn Evans to create arguably the most formidable engine room pairing in the Premiership not named Maro and George. Kruger’s superb ball-carrying skills and surprising turn of pace, lineout expertise, and wealth of experience and nous having played in all of three of the modern game’s biggest leagues will work perfectly in tandem with Bryn Evans, who, despite being a technically excellent lock who has been Sale’s most impressive performer this season, lacks the dynamic ball-playing skills that separate the game’s elite from the greats. Kruger will fit in perfectly alongside the Kiwi.
Longbottom meanwhile is far more than simply the backup to Mujati and mentor to Ciaran Parker many Sale fans were expecting to sign to replace the leaving Cobilas next season. A steady operator in the loose and a technically excellent scrummager, Longbottom will give Sale the genuine competition at the tighthead position they thought they were losing with Cobilas’ departure, plus the prop also offers the added bonus of EQP status to help boost the RFU contribution to the club’s coffers. Longbottom’s signing is not without some risk – due to a nasty foot injury he has only featured a handful of times for Saracens this season – but with that malady set to be completely healed before next season, fans can be excited about the arrival of a prop who was being touted for potential England selection before last year’s World Cup.
With Kruger and Longbottom joining Rob Webber and Laurence Pearce as members of Sale’s forwards corps for next season, it would be logical to think Diamond’s forwards recruitment may now be over. With both the BBC’s Nathan Middleton and the Manchester Evening News’ Neil Leigh reporting at least three more deals are set to be announced soon, could next week see the arrival of reinforcements for the Sharks’ backline?
Lewis Hughes doesn’t know whether he’s more excited by the arrival of Juandre Kruger or Kieran Longbottom. Follow The Shark Tank on Twitter for more news, analysis, and opinions on all things Sale Sharks.
A costly Bryn Evans sin bin which saw Sale concede three tries in a ten minute span either side of half time condemned the Sharks to only their second loss of 2016 as they fell 26-11 to fellow top-six hopefuls Northampton Saints on Saturday afternoon.
Despite an excellent first half, Sale conceded twenty-six straight points in the game's last 42 minutes and were unable to muster anything in response as they slumped to a disappointing loss, compounded by Northampton's five points gained following JJ Hanrahan's late try.
One consolation to hold is that due to Gloucester's loss to Worcester, Sale remain tied with the Cherry and Whites on 38 points in eighth, but are now five points back of a top-six place, trailing Harlequins who have 43 points.
Sale now face the unenviable prospect of travelling to the free-scoring Wasps next weekend as the Premiership finally begins to shed itself of the mid-table parity that has characterised this season. Losses for both Sale and Gloucester could see the current top-six begin to pull away and both sides' Champions Cup ambitions begin to fade. Its an important week for the Sharks.
Follow The Shark Tank on Twitter for more news, analysis, and opinions on all things Sale Sharks.
Apologies to those who submitted questions for the last Feeding Time which unfortunately never materialised. Anyway, following an excellent 29-23 victory over Harlequins at the weekend which leapfrogged Sale over the South-West London side into 7th and with two tasty clashes against Northampton and Wasps on the horizon as your context, here's the latest edition of the Feeding Time mailbag.
Honestly, with the way Sale have played since everybody had to go out and buy new calendars, nothing would surprise me. The 2016 iteration of the Sharks are playing with a confidence and conviction not seen since the title-winning season and one feels despite the prospect of having to travel to both Franklin's Gardens and the Ricoh Arena in back-to-back weeks, Sale could easily leave both games with something.
However being the pragmatic soul I am, its hard to envision Sale winning either game. Northampton are rounding into form after a slow start to the season, and despite missing a handful of internationals, will not be as severely weakened as Saracens, Leicester, Exeter, or Harlequins were in Sale's victories over them. Wasps meanwhile appear to be the form team in Europe and a dazzling backline of game-changing talent gives them the ability to employ one of the few strategies the Sharks don't match up well against.
This is a long way of saying I think Sale will get a losing bonus point at Saints on Saturday, but I have a sneaking suspicion Dimes, like last season, will use the trip to Coventry to rest a few key starters, especially with the back-to-back with Bath a few weeks later, and Sale won't get anything out of that game.
Neild himself said last week on Rugby Union Extra that he still seems himself long-term as a hooker despite predominately featuring at openside flanker for Sale this season. Long-term Neild will be Sale's starting hooker, but next season, with the arrival of Rob Webber as an experienced Premiership player capable of immediately filling the void left by Tommy Taylor, and Dan Braid transitioning to coaching, I believe Neild will see most of his minutes rotating with TJ Ioane at openside flanker much like this season.
That said, I do believe there will be an increase in the time Neild spends at hooker as well and I can envision when Dimes opts for extra backrow firepower on the bench (Lund or Pearce), Neild would be preferred to Neil Briggs as Webber's replacement.
Look, I'm not as down on Ryan Lamb as some Sale supporters I know, and I would have no problem if he was brought in as a backup next season to spark the offense in the last 10 minutes or relieve our #1 starter from playing too many minutes.
But should Cipriani's replacement as the Sharks incumbent fly-half next season be a 29-year-old who's already played for five out of the current 12 Premiership clubs, I'd be mightily disappointed as a supporter of the club.
Cipriani was one of the few bona fide stars Sale had capable of changing a game on a whim. He wasn't perfect, but he was a top-tier player who won more games for Sale than he lost. Should Sale replace him with a journeyman whose skill levels don't come close to matching Cipriani in any facet, it would suggest Sale's espoused ambitions of top-six and top-four finishes are empty.
In the front row Sale look set for the next few years; Ross Harrison, James Flynn, Ciaran Parker and Jake Pope are all coming through whilst in the second row George Nott has represented the England U20s for two consecutive years. He'll make the move up next season as a fourth/fifth option depending on whether Sale eventually sign another lock to their existing stable.
The backrow is definitely where Sale are weakest. Cameron Neild looks set to continue rotating with Ioane and Seymour for next season however eventually he'll move full time to hooker. David Seymour and TJ Ioane are only 31 and 26 respectively which means both should still have a number of years at the top, as should Josh Beaumont (22) and Laureance Pearce (25).
I would imagine said stable of five players (not including Magnus Lund and Mark Easter, should he be re-signed) will make up Sale's backrow for the forseeable future. Andy Hughes and Liam Parfitt have both featured for the Sale first team in recent seasons although neither has made enough of an impact to warrant further consideration.Matt Rogerson, a number 8, who joined the club this season following his graduation from Loughborough University is one name to keep an eye on however.
I wouldn't be opposed to introducing a bonus point system but I completely understand the concerns people hold regarding the possibility of a Six Nations winner who has only won four of their five games all with bonus points, triumphing over a team that does the Grand Slam but without any bonus points.
If a system could be structured in order to remove such an inequality, I'd be for it.
If we presume that Ostrikov is indeed away on international duty with Russia, conventional logic indicates that Bryn Evans and Jonathan Mills will start. I would expect Sale to bite the bullet and opt for no second row cover against Northampton, knowing Magnus Lund or Mark Easter could do a very brief job at lock if absolutely necessary. However personally, I would use this opportunity to give George Nott his Premiership debut with 15 minutes off the bench especially as it would give Sale a sense of whether he could be a tangible option for the Sharks with a number of games closely packed together next month, and rotation a must.
A lacklustre first forty minutes which saw Sale trail 13-9 at half-time was remedied by a resurgent second half performance as the Sharks propelled themselves beyond Harlequins 29-23, in the process keeping both their top-six ambitions and their impenetrable home record alive.
Sale's last defeat at their AJ Bell stronghold came, ironically, at the hands of Harlequins 11 months ago when a poor first half was compounded by two late, missed conversion attempts from Joe Ford which would have won the game.
However vengeance for that defeat came in the form of second half scores from TJ Ioane and Will Addison, along with 19 combined points from the boot(s) of Joe Ford and Danny Cipriani, as Sale leapfrogged Harlequins in the table - taking them only up to seventh due to wins for Northampton and Gloucester - to remain steady in their pursuit of a prestigious top-six or top-four place.
Lewis Hughes is seriously considering getting TJ Ioane printed on the back of his Sale shirt. Follow The Shark Tank on Twitter for more news, analysis, and opinions on all things Sale Sharks.
Laurence Pearce Signs for Sale Sharks / Tom Brady to Join Leicester Tigers / Johnny Leota Signs two-year Extension
Due to educational commitments this week I have been a bit slow in responding to news emanating from the club so forgive me for bundling three bits of news together.
This week, two long-rumoured deals both involving Sale Sharks and Leicester Tigers were officially completed. First, long-serving Sale winger Tom Brady, who graduated from the Sharks academy in 2010(?) was announced to be leaving for Leicester, likely as a replacement for either Gonzalo Camacho or Miles Benjamin. Coming back in the opposite direction will be No.8 Laurence Pearce, a former rugby league convert and ex-Rothertham Titan whose arrival bolsters Sale's options at the position beyond Josh Beaumont who is likely to be away with England again next season.
The signing of Pearce probably also signals the impending departure of sparsely-used No.8 Vilhami Fihaki whose contract expires at the end of the season as Steve Diamond looks to supplement his core of trusted players with additional depth to make a sustained run at the top-six and beyond in 2016-17.
It is always disappointing when home-grown players opt to leave and Brady, a member of the Sharks centurion club with 109 appearances, has been one of the few ever-presents in what has been a transitory six seasons for Sale - Mike Brewer was head coach and Edgeley Park was still the home venue when Brady debuted!
But we must recognise that Brady's departure is not like that of Tommy Taylor or Henry Thomas - swooped up by bigger clubs to further international aspirations and be paid the big bucks to the disappointment of Sale. Brady has found game time severely limited this season having dropped to a clear fourth choice at winger behind Will Addison, Tom Arscott, and newcomer Nev Edwards, and there's a sense that Sale won't consider this the monumental loss they felt with Taylor, or Gaskell, or Miller etc.
In short, Brady is leaving for additional game-time - which I'm not sure he'll get at Leicester - and Sale have three wingers who can all offer attributes Brady can't to soften the blow. Unfortunate but hardly detrimental to Sale's fortunes next season.
Pearce meanwhile is a superb signing who ticks all the boxes I look for when discussing potential new signings for; young (25), English (therefore EQP), lured from a bigger club where gametime is limited (Leicester) and in this instance a powerful ball-carrier who will really add some depth to the Sharks' backrow.
With Dan Braid retiring, Vilhami Fihaki likely to leave and the future of Mark Easter up in the air, Pearce is an astute pre-emptive move that gives Sale a genuine 1-2 punch at Number 8, adds another formidable ball-carrier to a pack that has historically lacked that skill, and also gives Sale another option to replace Braid with at Blindside Flanker. Although I believe Pearce will see the majority of minutes in relieving Beaumont and adding some abrasiveness off the bench, this is a great signing that really boosts Sale's rotation for next season.
Finally, on Thursday morning Sale announced their latest re-signing; centre Johnny Leota.
Leota was one of Steve Diamond's first signings at the club in 2011 joining from Manawatu in New Zealand and has also made over 100 appearances from Sale; his centenary appearance coming against Exeter last month.
The 32-year-old has impressed this season in combination with Sam James; the Samoan's power and ball-carrying nous working well in tandem with James' more methodical and cerebral approach, and on form it should be the midfield pairing to end the season. Able to play both inside and outside centre, Leota extending his deal is doubly important with the rumours swirling around Sam Tuitupou's possibly retirement - Leota gives Sale security and depth at both midfield positions for the next two seasons alongside Mark Jennings and the aforementioned James.
Follow The Shark Tank on Twitter for more news, opinions, and analysis of all things Sale Sharks.