Cameron Neild has become the fifth player this offseason to commit his long-term future to Sale Sharks, the club announced Tuesday morning.
Neild, 21, joined Sale in 2013 immediately after graduating from Manchester Grammar School and burst into the first-team last season, compiling 23 appearances and offering valuable relief with Dan Braid ruled out for the entirety of the season's second half. He follows Josh Beaumont, Mike Haley, Bryn Evans and TJ Ioane in penning a new long-term deal with the Sharks.
And whilst Sam James (not undeservedly) garnered most of the national headlines for his own breakthrough campaign last year, Neild quickly became as influential a figure in the Sale first-team; his industrious performances alongside TJ Ioane in the Sale backrow being rewarded with a joint Young Player of the Season honour.
Neild has clarified, including in an recent interview with the BBC's Nathan Middleton which I urge all to listen to, his long-term ambition of remaining as a hooker despite his recent utilisation at blindside flanker. Yet with new signing Rob Webber and Neil Briggs offering ample cover at the position for the coming season, the expectation is for Neild to once again see the majority of his playing-time at flanker.
The somewhat unprecedented length of Neild's new deal (four years!) however clearly suggests that the Sale brass likewise share Neild's vision of his positional future. Rob Webber is 30 and will be 32 when his contract with Sale expires. Likewise Neil Briggs will turn 32 at the end of the current season. By committing himself to remain as a Sale player until 2020 at least, one can infer that Steve Diamond has outlined his vision for Neild to gradually assume the starting hooker shirt, which, depending on how Rob Webber fares in his first season in Manchester, could be as early as next season.
Regardless of where Neild ultimately plays, this is a fantastic signing for Sale on two fronts. First, Neild's versatility, his ferocity at both the tackle and the breakdown, and his ability to spin out of contact makes him an ideal fit in Sale's hard-nosed-but-mobile pack whether he starts at hooker or flanker. Second, Sale have once again flexed their new-found financial muscle and ambitious outline for the future in signing Neild up to such a lengthy deal; having one of their star performers from last season - and a player with genuine international aspirations to boot - instantly commit his long-term future to the Sharks speaks enormously of where Sale are as a club and what they are now able to offer their plethora of budding stars.
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