The worst kept secret in rugby was finally outed on Tuesday morning as Sale Sharks officially announced they had signed Castleford Tigers winger Denny Solomona on a three-year-contract.
Solomona, 23, becomes the second Rugby League star to be signed by Sale Sharks this year. Unlike Josh Charnley however, Solomona has previous experience playing Union having played the 15-man code in his native New Zealand until he was 18. Last season, Solomona broke the Super League try-scoring record touching down 42 times for the Tigers and made his debut for the Samoan international team in October of this year.
Conventional logic would dictate that all Sale fans are already aware of the details of the messy contractual debate and impending litigation between Solomona and Castleford which has loomed over the New Zealander's cross-code switch. Regardless of whether you believe Sale, Castleford, Solomona or his agent Andrew Clarke are in the wrong in this particular instance (and knowing little of the negotiations which alledgedly transpired between Sale and Castleford in August one does not feel comfortable explicitly stating which party has acted imorally, or indeed, illegally) Solomona has officially retired from rugby league - despite having two years remaining on his contract with Castleford - and is now a Sale Sharks player.
Whilst the litigation against Solomona, confirmed as being brought forward by Castleford in a statement released by the Tigers today, leaves a ominous distraction hanging over Solomona's debut in union, this is another ambitious and long-term (Sale have Solomona signed for the next three seasons), albeit high-risk move conducted by the Sharks as they look to recover from a poor run of form heading into the winter months.
This, however, is clearly a deal that has been in the works since summer and Solomona's arrival should not be expected to turn around Sale's season immediately - after all he is not the bruising, ball-playing lock/flanker the team is in such desperate need of. That said, Solomona's background in union plus his pace, athleticism and finishing ability gives Sale yet another weapon to get their backline firing again.
Most importantly, at 6ft 3' Solomona gives Sale some much needed height out on the wings - as impressive as Josh Charnley and Paolo Odogwu have been to start the season they stand at only 6ft 1' and 5ft 8' respectively. Whilst neither player is small, Sale's lack of size has been one of their major weaknesses thus far this season and Solomona gives the Sharks a genuine aerial threat that Paul Deacon's league-style attack should look to exploit. With Sale struggling to move the ball at pace through the backs in recent weeks, Solomona gives AJ MacGinty (or Sam James) the option of lofting the ball cross-field and having the New Zealander chase and compete for possession.
The Solomona signing does not come without some (on-field) questions however. Whilst the 42 try-season is a wonderful stat to trot out, as seen below a substantial number of them were walk-ins created by his Tigers teammates in the midfield. Solomona is clearly a capable, composed and robust finisher especially in tight corners, but how Solomona adjusts to the reduced space afforded to wingers in union could prove pivotal if he is to emerge as the latest player to star in both league and union.
Furthermore, exactly where Solomona fits into this current Sale side is not clear - interestingly, in the official press release announcing his signing, Solomona is touted as capable of playing wing, centre and fullback. Versatility, especially in a squad as small as Sale's, is extremely important and adding Solomona along with Charnley and Odogwu naturally allows Will Addison to move to Outside Centre on a permanent basis but with Mike Haley and Byron McGuigan (and Tom Arscott) covering fullback and the former three players in steady form, the one possible vacancy in the Sharks backline is at inside centre.
Is Sam James now required to move across to acomodate Solomona as his midfield partner or does Solomona replace Odogwu, Addison or Charnley in the starting lineup? Also, given Solomona's star-power (and the effort expounded just to get him at Sale) can you afford to keep him out of the matchday squad? Having too many quality attacking players is a nice problem for Sale to have for once but inserting Solomona into the Sharks' backline corps throws up yet more questions and possible combinations for a side who have struggled to retain any consistency or familiarity in their attacking play this season.
How Solomona is ultimately utilised by Diamond, Deacon and the rest of the coaching staff should become clearer on Sunday with Steve Diamond having confirmed Solomona will make his Sale debut against Saracens in the Champions Cup.
The jury is still out on Sale's signing of Solomona regarding its wider, cross-sport implications and unfortunately it does not appear that Castleford's case against Solomona and Sale will be resolved quickly. As exciting a talent as Solomona is, hopefully the furore surrounding his move to Sale will not prove too much of a distraction both on and off-the-field as the Sharks look to stop their slide down the table and out of Europe.
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