Concluding possibly the busiest week in The Shark Tank's history, Friday morning saw the announcement that Samoan flanker TJ Ioane has signed a new three-year-deal with Sale Sharks.
Ioane joins Byron McGuigan, Josh Beaumont, Mike Haley, and Bryn Evans in committing their long-term future to the club, a huge boost for the Sharks given that all four are integral members of Sale's first-choice lineup - first names on the teamsheet if you will.
Ioane, 27, joined Sale from Otago in January 2015 and instantly became a cult figure at the club with his combination of abrasive ball-carrying, ferocity in tackles, incredible motor and distinctive dreadlocks. He also happens to be my favourite player.
But my personal biases shouldn't detract from the notion that this is once again a huge move for the club both on and off the field. Ioane is what I like to call a 'toolkit' player as his versatility in position and plethora of talents allow him to fill any number of roles within the Sale first team. Ioane can slot in anywhere along the backrow (he played all three last season) but he is as comfortable functioning in the 'super-sub' role where his tireless energy wreaks havoc against tiring defences.
Off the pitch, this once again builds on the aura of positivity and excitement revolving around the club. Sale are clearly laying the groundwork for future seasons by locking up and building around the spine of their first-choice XV , so refreshing after years of having said spine ripped out at the end of each season. Sale fans finally have the luxury of knowing that four of their most prominent players have been retained with aplomb and that further deals are in the off.
Interestingly, Steve Diamond implied that Ioane had already been scouted by rival clubs looking to potentially lure the Samoan international away from Manchester at the end of the season. If true, it only reinforces that players are buying into the notion of a new era at the club and that they believe their long-term future is best settled with the Sharks. Again, a huge boon after years of players citing international ambitions and opportunities to win trophies as motives for leaving Sale.
Ioane will probably start the season as Sale's first-choice openside flanker, although that could change depending on how frequently Cameron Neild is deployed at hooker as the season progresses. Should Neild be moved, either Ioane-Seymour or Pearce-Ioane will likely assume the role of the go-to pairing at flanker.
Regardless, Ioane will be a ubiquitous presence in the Sale first-team next year, and, pleasingly, for three seasons after!
Lewis Hughes can now feel reasonably confident in investing in a 'Ioane 7' shirt.
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