Following on from last week, I continue to look at those players who did not appear on Sale Sharks’ official Jets team page, but appeared for the Jets last season, with a particular focus on how they got on in the 2015/16 campaign.
TOM SANDERS – LOCK – 22
Sanders is a long-time Jet, representing the Sale Sharks second XV since at least 2013. Dominant for his club side Caldy, he regularly appears in despatches on the club’s website and is a frequent Man of the Match winner.
Indeed, this last season he was selected alongside Jets colleague Forbes Edwards in the Cheshire squad which made it to the 2016 final of the County Championship as well as being picked in The Rugby Paper’s Dream XV for the division. This represents the latest milestone a remarkable recovery from an extremely serious injury: after 20 minutes against Luctonians in January 2014, Sanders suffered a freak neck injury and was rushed to hospital, leading to the cancellation of the game.
In total, for Caldy this last season he started every single one of their 30 league games this season, broaching the 100 cap mark for the Wirral side on his way to doing so. He also managed three league tries, against Macclesfield, Huddersfield and Harrogate.
The Caldy vice-captain made 5 appearances for the Jets in 2015/16, starting in the victory against Newcastle A and the loss to Gloucester United. He appeared off the bench against Worcester Cavaliers, Leicester A and Northampton Wanderers.
It’s tough to see a place opening up for Sanders in Sale Sharks’ squad, as Sale have excellent depth in that area of the pitch. Bryn Evans, Andrei Ostrikov, Jonathan Mills, Lou Reed, George Nott and Josh Beaumont are all first-team squad players with experience in the second row, and short of a miracle it would appear that another productive season with Caldy is on the cards for Sanders. His best chance of making it into the top flight, in my opinion, is to be picked up by a Championship side and being scouted from there, following the same path as former Shark Hendre Fourie.
BEN MARTIN – HOOKER – 19
Ben Martin represents something of an anomaly amongst players in these reports, in that he is yet to make his senior debut for any team. Last season he was listed as a member of the Sharks’ under 18s squad, and his club side is Chester. Indeed, he appeared on the bench twice for Chester last season, against Sale FC and Preston Grasshoppers, without being called upon on either occasion.
For Sale Sharks, Martin has regularly turned out for the under 18 side, as well as featuring as a Jet last season. He was the replacement hooker in the first Jets game of the season, against Worcester Cavaliers, before dropping down to the under 18s.
It will be interesting to see how Martin develops next season, whether he stays at Chester and fights there for the hooking slot, or whether he has a better chance of development at a different club at this level.
TED STAGG – HOOKER – 26
The man replacing Ben Martin on the Jets’ bench was well-travelled hooker Ted Stagg, who probably has the most experience in professional rugby of all the Jets from last season, having been a regular in various Championship sides since the 2011/12 season. Stagg, who started his career down south with Bath and Taunton, found a starting place at Rotherham Titans before moving onto Doncaster Knights via Richmond, London Scottish, and Plymouth Albion.
For a player who has appeared for so many clubs, Stagg is no cast-off. He has represented England under 16 and under 18, and was part of a Championship select XV that took on a touring New Zealand Maori side in 2012.
Last season, Stagg was unable to nail down a starting spot for the Knights, appearing in 9 league games, making a solitary start against Yorkshire Carnegie back in October. In the British and Irish Cup, he had more success, starting 2 of the Knights’ 4 games, against Newport Gwent Dragons and Cornish Pirates. Stagg also made 3 appearances for Sale Jets in 2015/16, each time coming off the bench against Newcastle A, Gloucester United, and Northampton Wanderers.
Another season at Championship level beckons for Stagg, who will look to build on a promising first season in Yorkshire and push on for a starting spot.
CONNOR WILKINSON – FLYHALF – 19
A flyhalf called Wilkinson, eh? This Wilkinson is a recent graduate of Kirkham Grammar, a solid production line for rugby talent, finishing his schooling there in 2015 after captaining their first XV. He also appeared for North under 16s, leading to a trial for the England under 16 team. Since then, he has been playing for National League One outfit Fylde, alongside the previously-mentioned Jets Sam Bedlow, Tim Jeffers and Tom Morton.
Last season Wilkinson was called up to a Lancashire under 20 squad, and toured Russia in June with the England Counties under 20 squad. I don’t have a definite date of birth for Wilkinson, but he appeared for an under 18s side last year, and an under 20s side this year, so it’s fair to assume that he will be roughly 19 at the start of the coming season.
Making his Fylde debut off the bench in February against Ampthill, Wilkinson has since made two starts, against Darlington Mowden Park and Blackheath, before coming off the bench late on against Wharfedale. Not yet trusted with kicking duties, Wilkinson did manage a try against Blackheath, capping off a good debut season for the rookie.
For the Jets, Wilkinson appeared as the replacement fly-half in the first two games of the season, against Worcester Cavaliers and Leicester A, after which Sale played pacier backs on the bench and used Macleod as a backup 10 from his starting position at inside centre.
Next season Wilkinson should see more game time with Fylde and the Jets side, although he is still definitely behind Tom Morton in the selection for the second string XV.
PAOLO ODOGWU – WINGER – 19
Although England under 20 cap Paolo Odogwu didn’t make any appearances for the Jets last season (as he only arrived this summer from Leicester Tigers), and is unlikely to make huge waves in the first team next season. Since he played at a similar level to much of last season’s Jets, at Leicester instead of down at Heywood Road, I feel it is entirely appropriate to include him in these reports.
For Leicester’s “A” side, he played in 4 of the 5 A League fixtures, missing out in the final game against Worcester Cavaliers. He was unable to cross the whitewash in any of the second string games, but had a rather more productive season for Loughborough Students. For the National League One side, he made 9 appearances, of which 8 were starts, and scored a remarkable 8 tries. Braces early in the season against Richmond and Wharfedale were followed by a single effort in the Wharfedale reverse fixture, before a hat-trick against Fylde lowered the curtain on an extremely impressive first season at this level.
Odogwu was one of Sale Sharks’ stand-out players in the pre-season Singha Sevens tournament, scoring a record-breaking eight tries in three games. He wasn’t running them in from 80 metres, but his composure close to the line and the Christian Wade-esque ability to break past the outside shoulder of the covering defender were noticeable, and should serve him very well in XVs.
I find comparisons to Wade, aside from that specific talent, slightly off-focus as he is much more of an abrasive runner with a shimmying stride pattern that is more reminiscent of Rugby League’s sharpest, Tim Simona and Sam Tomkins coming quickly to mind. His most impressive attribute, by far, is his extremely fast feet, which when coupled with a decent fend and a willingness to attempt to break through contact instead of avoid it, make him a serious challenge for defenders.
Still 19, another season with the England Under 20s surely beckons, and hopefully he can improve on the two bench appearances he made in last year’s Six Nations. For Sale Sharks, I would be very surprised if he didn’t get some game time in the LV Cup, and his second year at Loughborough University will provide him with a full season at a good level developmentally. There are areas of his game he needs to work on, but he doesn’t shy away from putting in hits against bigger men, or competing in aerial contests, both of which will help him immensely as he develops as a Premiership-standard winger.
An excellent highlights compilation of Odogwu is available below:
Next week, I will wrap up the Jets reports, covering the remaining handful of players who turned out for the Jets last season. Since these players generally have very limited experience at senior level, usually due to age, I can’t discuss them in as much detail as the players in previous weeks.
The ages shown are the players’ ages on the 1st September 2016, normally the start of the Premiership season, and all statistics are compiled from rugby.statbunker.com and the relevant organising bodies (ERC, PRL, etc).
Matt Ferguson is looking forward to seeing Odogwu run in another eight tries at the Singha Sevens finals on Saturday. His Twitter can be found here.
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