On the heels of news that Kyle Eastmond will join Wasps, rather than Sale, for the 2016-17 season, the Sharks responded with their own, potentially more significant statement of intent on Monday morning, announcing that number eight and new club captain Josh Beaumont has penned a three(!) year contract extension.
In addition, a slip up from Premiership Rugby a few hours later revealed that fullback Mike Haley has joined Beaumont in pledging his next three years to the Sharks. Expect to see that news made official at 6am tomorrow morning (Tuesday).
Without resorting too drastically to hyperbole, this could very well mark a new beginning for Sale Sharks. Plagued for so long by a cyclical combination of low attendances, limited financial capabilities, and a perceived lack of domestic ambition, the last half-decade has proved to be a tumultuous time for Sale and their supporters having watched a conveyor belt of young, home-grown players with genuine international aspirations leave the club in search of greener pastures in Coventry.
The list is long and makes for frustrating reading. I won't repeat it here.
But today, with the news that Beaumont - arguably the most promising player to come through the Sale academy in the last decade and who has already received England international recognition - has made a long-term commitment to the Sharks, it potentially signals that the flood of North-West rugby talent moving south to further their careers will finally dry up.
The announcement of Beaumont's extension this morning was cathartic enough, especially as fans were already beginning to fear the talented backrower could be lured away at season's end to a club pushing with greater regularity for silverware i.e. Tommy Taylor. But the leaked news that Mike Haley has likewise opted to remain with Sale until the 2019-20 season has proven to be a second boon for the club as a new season draws closer, the new era under CorpAcq ownership begins and optimism envelops the club and fanbase.
What is particularly encouraging about the extensions for Messrs. Beaumont and Haley however is that securing the long-term commitment of two of Sale's most promising players before the season has even begun suggests that the Sharks are finally operating in a position of strength in regards to negotiating new contracts.
For one, the new ownership group has helped establish a palpable aura of ambition around the club with all indications suggesting there is now a clear, long-term vision for Sale Sharks RUFC - something noticeably lacking in the waning years of Brian Kennedy's ownership. That both Beaumont and Haley alluded to the new ownership group as a rationale in committing themselves to Sale Sharks is evidence that there is now a strategy in place to sell young English players with international ambitions on staying in Manchester - and the players are buying in.
And as mercantile as it sounds, one can also infer that Steve Diamond now has the funds at his behest to immediately offer his most sought-after players lucrative contracts in line with the other clubs in the Premiership top-six. It is not ideal but this is the new Premiership
Yet is the length of said extensions for Beaumont and Haley that also add to the excitement emanating from the club. As professional rugby continues to grow increasingly acquisitive, it is shorter deals (typically one or two years) that have become the market norm, hence why Exeter (Slade, Nowell, Cowan-Dickie) or Saracens (Itoje, Kruis) locking up their own English stalwarts earlier this year, before their final contracted season began, was such big news.
Not only have Sale managed to do likewise - thus eliminating any potential contract-related distractions - they've also removed that distraction for another four years. Beaumont and Haley figure to be cornerstones of the Sale first team until 2020 at the very least - this is the long-term planning and ambition that has been so desperately missing from the Sharks in recent years.
It is also an encouraging first hurdle cleared by the club's new owners. Sale can talk about stopping the north-south talent drain and consistently attaining top-four finishes all they please but unfortunately in recent years the actions to support such conjecture has been sorely lacking.
CorpAcq and Simon Orange have so far made the routine sound bites in talking about Sale's ambitions in the near and long-term - challenging for trophies, consistent play-off challengers, Northern Powerhouse etc. But green-lighting Steve Diamond (and giving him the resources) to ensure Sale's top players recommit to the club, well before they are set to leave, is a promising first declaration that this is an ownership group who will 'put their money where their mouth is' as it were.
Two final points. First, it is telling that negotiations new deals with Beaumont and Haley appears to have taken precedence over all other players with expiring contracts at the club. Even if the rumoured extensions for Will Addison, TJ Ioane and Bryn Evans do materialise in the next few days, the sequencing of announcements is indicative of Beaumont and Haley's now-solidified roles as the new faces of Sale Sharks in a post-Danny Cipriani world. Beaumont and Haley are young, English and from the local area - marketing gold for a Premiership rugby club recasting its identity in a sporting landscape saturated by football and rugby league.
Finally, congratulations to Josh Beaumont on being named the new club captain for the 2016-17 season. Perhaps an inevitable choice given his background (i.e. Bill Beuamont Lions captain), I wrote back in September of last year why Josh was the obvious choice to succeed Dan Braid in the role. I argued at the time handing the 24-year-old the captaincy could be a savvy tool to help ensure a player of Beaumont's calibre remained at the club beyond the 2016-17 season and Monday's announcement suggests that Sale have made it clear this definitively Beaumont's team.
Should this early-season trend of ambitious progressivism continue in how Sale builds its team for the future, some very exciting times could lay ahead. Just get Will Addison signed up next.
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