With the 2016-17 season now well past the halfway mark and recruitment for next season underway for the majority of teams, now is an opportune time to revisit Sale's transfer dealings from a year ago and assess how they've fared in their first six months in Manchester.
CorpAcq's summer acquisition of the club - and promise of substantial investment into the playing squad - ultimately came too close to the beginning of the season to drastically affect any of Sale's transfer activities before July.
Erstwhile, despite the losses of club stalwarts Tommy Taylor, Vadim Cobilas and Danny Cipriani, Steve Diamond found himself predominately investing in a number of squad players to supplement the core of young, English players the club hope(d) will ascend to a similar star status of those who departed in June, with the team's most exciting signings - Josh Charnley and Denny Solomona - were both considered project players who, whilst talented, may have required a substantial bedding in time in union.
With that in mind, let's assess how the thirteen new members of Sale have fared thus far as a return to Premiership action looms.
Halani Aulika – B
Originally brought in, presumably, to back up Brian Mujati and Kieran Longbottom, Aulika has since dispatched that narrative, pouncing upon injuries to the former two to decisively win Sale’s starting tighthead jersey.
Having brought his infamous destructive loose play with him from London Irish, Aulika has also shown a pleasantly surprising ability to force turnovers at the breakdown (including three in twenty minutes against Scarlets a fortnight ago) and has been one of Sale’s most consistent performers in the season’s first half.
And whilst his scrummaging has flitted between dominant and vulnerable depending on who is matching up against, Aulika has, in the majority of encounters, remained in the ascendency and shed his label as the most penalised prop in the Premiership (2015-16), especially since being paired with Rob Webber and Ross Harrison.
Indeed it is only his unfortunate tendency to give away hot-headed and costly penalties that stops Aulika from attaining a perfect A* grade.
Josh Charnley – C
As a player new to the game of union and coming off a long, Grand Final-winning season, Josh Charnley’s relatively slow start to his Sale career (especially in contrast to Denny Solomona) can be forgiven.
Charnley clearly has all the physical attributes to exceed in union and has impressed in early outings with his strength in contact and a decisive quickness which lets him explode through gaps in the defensive line.
However it is his defence – both his individual tackling which sees him too frequently attempt to go high on an opposition ball-carrier - and defensive positioning (a tendency to ‘blitz’ out of the defensive line) – which still require the work to propel him into a quality Premiership player.
Those things will come in time, however. At this stage patience is the key for Charnley and Sale fans. Expect big things next season.
Curtis Langdon – N/A
Hasn’t featured for the first-team this season but was selected in England’s U20 Six Nations squad. Definitely one to be earmarked for the future.
AJ MacGinty – C
An injured hamstring suffered by MacGinty in the season’s opening game hampered any semblance of consistency in the Sale backline for much of the season’s first half and prevented the American fly-half the ample time necessary for him to embed his distinctive playing style into the Sharks’ attack.
So with MacGinty’s distribution and orchestration of the Sale backline having been cumbersome at best, it is instead his instinctive ball-carrying and ability to break the line himself which have been the standout moments of MacGinty’s career as the Sale fly-half thus far.
However with his goal-kicking above 80% for the season, his defence as tenacious as advertised and his in-play kicking immediately benefitting from the arrival of Denny Solomona, I’m an AJ MacGinty apologist and am determined he should be given a consistent run of starts until the end of the season before assessing his true value to the team. After all, it took Danny Cipriani a while to acclimatise to Manchester and MacGinty no longer has the reigning Pro12 Player of the Year Bundee Aki outside him.
Kieran Longbottom – C-
Another player who spent a sizeable portion of the early season (two months) out with injury, and who is still recovering from nearly two years out with a foot injury, Kieran Longbottom understandably has yet to make the impact expected of the former Saracens prop.
Most worrisome is that the Australian has struggled at times with his scrummaging and has been worked over by more technically adept looseheads; his natural scrummaging style means his legs are planted very far back and is a liability to collapse, something more opportunistic props have seized upon.
Longbottom has, however, continued to improve as his recovery from both injuries has progressed and like with a number of Sale’s summer contingent has turned in his best performances in a Sale shirt in recent weeks.
Byron McGuigan – B
Impressive whenever called upon be it at full-back or wing, Byron McGuigan, especially in light of Arscottgate, has cemented his place as an invaluable utility back in the Sale first team.
Abrasive in contact but also with the ability to beat defenders to the outside, McGuigan’s versatility has been key with Mike Haley’s September layoff with a shoulder injury and the termination of fellow winger Tom Arscott’s contract. Add in the fact that he’s also shown himself to be an adequate place-kicker when called upon, the Namibian has made an ideal start to his time in Manchester.
Dan Mugford – C-
Mugford has so far struggled for gametime with the Sale first team with Sam James’ promotion to fly-half behind MacGinty indicative of how he is probably viewed by the coaching staff.
The one advantage Mugford does possess however is how his natural skillset as a distributor appears to make him a better fit than MacGinty within Sale’s current attacking structure.
That said, should another Premiership-standard fly-half become available, one expects Mugford is a likely candidate to move on in search of greater gametime.
Paolo Odogwu – A
Already showing international potential at 19, Paolo Odogwu’s game-breaking foot pace, complimented by a powerful motor in contact has made him one of the signings of the season, period.
Having spent September and October as Sale’s most impressive attacking player, Odogwu’s has also impressed on the other side of the ball – his defensive positioning within the Sale back-three has shown a clear understanding of the intricacies of the modern game whilst his individual tackling has been second-to-none, complimented by his recovery speed.
Odogwu’s game-time will be managed closely in the season’s second-half to prevent a burnout, however the immediate impact he has made this season and the potential he has flashed to expand upon in seasons to come make him the pick of Sale’s signings for this season so far.
Laurence Pearce – C
Laurence Pearce was one of the more intriguing summer acquisitions coming into the season given his brief but enticing career at Leicester Tigers. But after a debut performance in the Premiership’s opening round that saw him subbed off at half-time, Pearce has since been conspicuously absent for the majority of the season’s first half (although in recent weeks a shoulder injury has been mooted as the explanation for the 26-year-old).
Indeed for someone anticipated by many, including myself, to become a consistent fixture in the Sharks’ backrow, that six of Pearce’s ten appearances in a Sale shirt thus far have come in the LV Cup / latter rounds of the Champions Cup pool stage speaks volumes about how there would appear to be a behind-the-scenes reason as to why the number eight has played so little a role in 2016/17, especially given how Sale’s most pressing need has often been a combative ball-carrier in the pack.
Despite an underwhelming start to the season however in which he has failed to nail down the blindside flanker spot he appeared a natural fit for, Pearce has shown a lot of promise in recent weeks. Returning to the first team noticeably leaner, Pearce has shown both his destructive capabilities with ball-in-hand and his prowess as a breakdown jackal in the wins over Scarlets and Cardiff. A big second-half of the season could hopefully follow.
Mike Phillips – D
For all the experience the 34-year-old, 94-cap Phillips’ brings to Sale, his slow distribution, poor tactical kicking and inability – or disinclination – to use his sizeable physical frame to bully opposition scrum-halves means he’s been a poor fit with Sale’s backline which thrives exclusively on quick ball.
Even in the twilight of his career it is clear Phillips can still play at the top level but he’s just an ill-fit with this current Sharks team.
Lou Reed – F
Left the club by mutual consent on Wednesday. Nothing more than a panic buy following Juandre Kruger’s u-turn. As a signing, hard to see it as anything other than a waste.
Denny Solomona – A
A natural try-scorer (five tries in his first five appearances and four in his last two) and a player whose aerial ability and pace out-wide has brought dynamism and a much-needed focal point to the Sale attacking setup, Solomona’s conversion to rugby union has been, at least on the pitch, seamless.
Rob Webber – B
A broken arm in his first appearance ruined the end of Webber’s 2016, but the ex-Bath hooker has been in sublime form since.
Powerful scrummaging and increasingly imposing ball-carrying has helped bring the ballast missing from the beginning of the season back to Sale’s Monster Pack ™ whilst concerns about Webber’s throwing accuracy have been quelled by a series of consistent set-piece showings.
Now if only he could jackal like Tommy Taylor..
Follow The Shark Tank on Twitter for more news, analysis and opinions on all things Sale Sharks.
Enjoyed reading The Shark Tank over the last two-and-a-half years? If you would like to continue to support The Shark Tank please consider donating to its Patreon page.