Sharks rugby and where it is going?

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Posted in :Original Content, Reader Submissions, Sharks on 13 Apr 2016 at 09:43
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Regular reader Grant Wardell shares his thoughts on the state of Sharks rugby.

As a lifelong Sharks supporter, yes I was born a supporter and remember waking up to watch my beloved Sharks take on the Auckland Blues for a 4’o-clock kick off in the Super 10 final all those years ago, I am now extremely concerned at the state of our rugby.

The Sharks jersey, whether it be the banana boys or the Sharks as we know it now came with a sense of pride a sense of achievement to wear that jersey!

For me I feel that the culture of the Sharks, the team of the 90’s, the ethos of Natal rugby has somehow been lost.

I know that rugby has changed over the years, as a young boy I was besotted with my heroes, collecting the player cards and being so stoked to learn the stats of these great players. I wanted to meet the players and be just like them. I remember being a youngster and the players walking around the outer fields after the game. I remember Lee Stensness of the Blues coming to our car 2 years in a row because he loved our boerie rolls so much. The players were real life heroes, passing the ball with youngsters having a beer with our dads. Wow, really something to tell your mates about at school on Monday. That will bring friends to the game.

How do we get back to that? Where does this stem from. The professional game has changed but in being professional you need to look at how you make your team the best? How do we get our ‘Natalness’ back?

I believe that our feeder system in Natal is really poor. We do not have a Varsity Cup team, we have the Sharks Academy but with the advent of Varsity Cup this is by far a bigger draw card. Unfortunately our UKZN Impi fielded an ineligible player and lost out on playing the promotion-relegation game. It’s time the Sharks Rugby Union looked at Varsity Cup as a feeder system, our best young coach should be in there, our best future talent should be kept and made to play in these teams. This would mean stopping some of them playing for clubs during the season but if you want to get up you have to sacrifice something.

How do you form a Natal identity when players are being bought in from all over the country? You need to have a core set of players who are born and bred supporters.

I would like to see a Sharks team that plays for all it’s worth every game. I would like to see youngsters coming through that really want to have a go. Our 2007 team was just that, a ‘young’ coach being Dick Muir, a young inexperienced team, a lot of whom have become greats, with a strong Natal contingent – Brad Barritt, Waylon Murray, BJ Botha and Butch James. Along with a spread of players who came from a young age to the union. John Smit, Bissy, Kanko, JP Pietersen and Frans Steyn. Local talent should always be bred into the team along with some experienced heads. That balance is key.

A player I would like to see more of is Innocent Radebe, he has some great potential and the only way to test that is to let him play, unfortunately Garth April has not had much of an influence why don’t we give Inny a go? This will also show some faith in the born and bred youngsters. Add in the Du Preez brothers and a couple others and there is a sense of Natalness.

I really like the addition of Robert Du Preez as a coach and let’s hope he can take the reins and show some faith in what he can do.

I hope we can soon get back to a union that the players and fans alike can have a sense of pride. Let’s get the kids pumped up to be Sharks supports. Let’s have Sharks supporters cards for the kids, let’s have the players walk around and talk to the kids and parents after games, not just on the stage. Let’s invest in our local structures and really look at the varsity cup to regain some pride and get our top players to stay in our province.


  • Well written. I dont think we can do anything about our feeder system. Even if we dupply ukzn with top coaches, a student would still have Maties or Tuks etc to choose. I wish we could find a way to run a leaner business at the sharks. Maybe in talking kak, but we can afford to fly 30 players + staff to France for 2 weeks, but we cant tell Marcell Coetzee ‘heres a few bucks extra. Stay!’

  • Comment 1, posted at 13.04.16 09:54:13 by West Indies Cricket Board Reply
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  • @West Indies Cricket Board (Comment 1) : Sharks actually have been helping UKZN a lot. They sent them Horak and certainly are coming to the party in terms of players, in as much as they can.

    Varsity cup eligibility rules are constantly changing and making this harder and harder to do. It’s not like an open club, so you can just transfer a player from Rovers to UKZN. These guys have to be “bona fide” students at the university and there are all sorts of restrictions in terms of academic performance attached.

  • Comment 2, posted at 13.04.16 10:00:14 by robdylan Reply
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  • Well written from a very sensible guy. Its nothing new however- what you feed into the system is what you get out. If you feed in hungry, local guys then you get pride and effort week in week out as they are playing for something more than just the money. If you feed in a guy who was secured by a paycheque he will be playing for that paycheque. Simple as that unfortunately. Forget the playing style and the fancy stats etc…get 15 guys on the field that will do whatever it takes to win…then you will see Natal rugby being played. Easier said than done in this age it seems

  • Comment 3, posted at 13.04.16 10:13:12 by SheldonK Reply

  • Who is the ineligible player we UKZN fielded throughout the season?

  • Comment 4, posted at 13.04.16 10:14:32 by Uli Boelie Reply
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  • I see a headline like that and its me, YouTube and Talking Heads for a few hours. I love these nostalgia trips.
    Now let me read the article.

  • Comment 5, posted at 13.04.16 10:17:42 by Salmonoid the Subtle Reply
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  • Some points to ponder:
    – UKZN has been lauded as one of the most productive academic institutions in research for 3 years consecutively but you’ll hardly find an article about it anywhere. Surely this can be better utilized as a drawcard?
    – Regarding culture : the Bulls offer far more junior contracts than we do and I suspect there senior player recruitment is probably close to on par with our own. Despite the fact that the Bulls have also gone through some leaner times, one does get the sense that their culture is still very much intact. Point is, I don’t think recruiting from outside the union should necessarily have a negative effect on culture. It more about how you bring new faces into the fold. I think this is where the Sharks may struggle – imprinting their culture.
    – Do the Sharks perhaps need someone to take initiative and focus on driving their culture to a greater degree? Couldn’t hurt.

  • Comment 6, posted at 13.04.16 10:29:36 by vanmartin Reply
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  • I agree fulky. Signing a player like Coenie who has history of scrumming issues. Spending millions to go to France to play warm up games. Just to name a few wastfull expenditure. Theres lots more. Last years Believe campaign. Gary Gold. I can continue. Unfortunately until us the fans are not in the management of Sharks rugby, I don’t see things changing. We need rugby people there. The Macs and Plums of the world. Sorry but I also have given a lot to my beloved team and I just don’t see the same in return from the top. Many teams hit lows buy should we allow it. It’s now about 3 seasons. When will it stop. Question is… Does the right people want it to stop?

  • Comment 7, posted at 13.04.16 10:33:02 by ebenp Reply

  • I am sorry but this trip down memory lane to the good old Banana days,kinda reminds me of guys my age swapping army stories ,all they remember are the good times which honestly were less than 2% of the entire futile shite experience.
    Our rugby will only get better when we open up to the audience of 2016,its sitting there waiting to be invited to the party,but so far nobody at the Sharks is issuing an invitation.Patronising trips to take rugby to the township are not the answer.
    We need to actively make our game day more inclusive to that huge untapped potential waiting on our doorstep.
    Before I get the expected barrage consider for ten seconds why W.P rugby is alive and kicking,and its not the Bishops and Paarl Gym old boys who are feeding the coffers.

  • Comment 8, posted at 13.04.16 10:45:23 by The hound Reply
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  • @The hound (Comment 8) : Should we move the stadium closer to our mountain 😉 Were you at this last weekend’s game vs the Lions? The crowd was one of the better ones ive seen in a long time. Bearing in mind that there was a schoolboy curtain raiser so lots stayed and then you cant sit behind the poles anymore but still…

  • Comment 9, posted at 13.04.16 10:57:49 by SheldonK Reply

  • @SheldonK (Comment 9) : Yup was there crowd felt good,pity the Sharks kept their two shittest games of the year,for their fans,and chose to play their best two in front of fifteen disinterested Frenchmen.

  • Comment 10, posted at 13.04.16 11:06:13 by The hound Reply
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  • @The hound (Comment 10) : Yeh unfortunately couldnt agree more. The crowd were genuinely fairly excited last week…but that had died by half time. My mate said he was surprised there werent any boos after the game ended.

  • Comment 11, posted at 13.04.16 11:09:20 by SheldonK Reply

  • @Uli Boelie (Comment 4) : I’m not going to reveal that because it’s not the player’s fault.

  • Comment 12, posted at 13.04.16 11:12:56 by robdylan Reply
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  • I really enjoyed this article, nice one Grant.

    I liked the idea of fans stating what they want to see, I believe Rob did that article with the link etc last year or the year before.

    What I really don’t enjoy is the giant advertising over the seating behind the poles. It gives me the feeling that there aren’t enough fans to fill the stadium. Just a thought.

    I think more schoolboy games will draw bigger crowds to the games, and get club games as curtain raisers as well.

  • Comment 13, posted at 13.04.16 11:14:01 by StevieS Reply
  • @The hound (Comment 10) : and me…. I was at the Toulouse game 🙂

  • Comment 14, posted at 13.04.16 11:14:43 by robdylan Reply
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  • @SheldonK (Comment 11) : You I said at the time how stupid that trip to France was.Gold was still whining in the media about the unfair strenuous season his troops were being subjected to,as he chose on his freewill to pack the boys off to a n extra European winter trip.That folly robbed us of Pat for the season,and proved nothing as both Frlenchteams played second teams against us.
    But the biggest slight was he robbed us home fans of two games, in a season where we get the least home games in along long time.

  • Comment 15, posted at 13.04.16 11:16:02 by The hound Reply
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  • @The hound (Comment 15) : Look i do see the positives from that French tour (and cant count injuries as those could happen even at training). But i do also sympathise with your points regarding the home fans seeing their team in preseason and playing in home conditions. Ive always said id love to see a Sharks preseaon game at each of Moses Mabhida, PMB and down in Toti…

  • Comment 16, posted at 13.04.16 11:22:56 by SheldonK Reply

  • @SheldonK (Comment 16) : I was with you till you went to Toti,we need to draw line somewhere next thing you’ll want a game on the Bluff.

  • Comment 17, posted at 13.04.16 11:40:36 by The hound Reply
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  • The Bulls have been criticised in the past and still are for the number of juniors they sign but if you look at the turnover of players and the average age of this year’s Super Rugby squads their model may actually work in the long run. The Shark’s model of only contracting a handful of players will not work moving forward so in my opinion their recruitment strategy of schoolboys does need a rethink.

  • Comment 18, posted at 13.04.16 11:41:58 by slammerboy Reply
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  • @The hound (Comment 17) : Gotta do some charity work my man 😉

  • Comment 19, posted at 13.04.16 11:56:09 by SheldonK Reply

  • The Sharks are relying heavily on the guys that enroll at the Sharks Academy for the U19 and U21 sides. Not many guys contracted at all. They also using club guys for those 2 teams.

  • Comment 20, posted at 13.04.16 12:08:40 by Steve Reply

  • The legends from the team of the 90s were mostly born outside of kzn.wahl baartman must be close to the best signing the natal/sharks made.

  • Comment 21, posted at 13.04.16 12:12:13 by 50shadesofshark Reply

  • @robdylan (Comment 12) : although I would also like to know I do think it’s the right thing to do and will support your decision not to reveal his name. I also support the player as you said it’s not his fault!!!

  • Comment 22, posted at 13.04.16 13:06:20 by JD Reply
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  • @The hound (Comment 15) : what makes you think Gold was the one who decided on the French trip? Do you not realise that he reports to other people there?

  • Comment 23, posted at 13.04.16 13:29:10 by robdylan Reply
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  • @JD (Comment 22) : well, nobody else has revealed his name, so I’m not going to be the one to do it

  • Comment 24, posted at 13.04.16 13:29:35 by robdylan Reply
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  • @JD (Comment 22) : @robdylan (Comment 24) : I really hope the player does not feel in any way that its his fault – its not, it was clearly an administration error coupled with the boorish, pigheadedness of the organisers.

    BTW I wonder how many of the varsity cups and shields players are still registered and attending varsity now that the competition has run its course.

  • Comment 25, posted at 13.04.16 14:26:47 by Salmonoid the Subtle Reply
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  • @Salmonoid the Subtle (Comment 25) : Now that would be very interesting to know

  • Comment 26, posted at 13.04.16 15:28:32 by vanmartin Reply
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  • @The hound (Comment 17) : @SheldonK (Comment 19) : Lets not get nasty guys there’s lots that Toti can offer….. Like…um….well there’s the……um. There’s something here, I’m sure of it.

    On the preseason front, having a tournament day where we assemble 2 teams to play 2 back to back matches would surely pull a crowd and try to add the light hearted spirit that the 7’s brings to the crowd. Just a thought.

  • Comment 27, posted at 13.04.16 15:35:42 by Hulk Reply

  • @Hulk (Comment 27) : There is this road that runs through Toti and into Durban…thats pretty cool 😉

  • Comment 28, posted at 13.04.16 15:45:57 by SheldonK Reply

  • @SheldonK (Comment 28) : I know that one.

    I do know Toti must be better than Jo’burg because at every opportunity all of them just turn up.

  • Comment 29, posted at 13.04.16 16:01:35 by Hulk Reply

  • @SheldonK (Comment 28) : @Hulk (Comment 29) : please don’t forget the beach front – miles better than the smog and fog that the Jozzi guys have to face everyday, driving on gravel roads filled with patches of Tar 🙂 😈

  • Comment 30, posted at 13.04.16 16:13:55 by Henkb Reply
  • @robdylan (Comment 23) : I just found it strange that in the middle of his huge pre season media whine about unfair travel on the team he happily carts everyone off goes on an unnecessary extra European jaunt.
    But you are saying that he wields totally insignificant influence at K.P then I bow to your superior knowledge.

  • Comment 31, posted at 13.04.16 17:14:16 by The hound Reply
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  • @robdylan (Comment 24) : with you 100% boss!

  • Comment 32, posted at 13.04.16 17:38:43 by JD Reply
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  • @Salmonoid the Subtle (Comment 25) : @vanmartin (Comment 26) : interesting question indeed!?!?!?

  • Comment 33, posted at 13.04.16 17:39:57 by JD Reply
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  • @The hound (Comment 17) : @Hulk (Comment 27) : @SheldonK (Comment 28) : stop bashing Toti! Lekker place to go on holiday if you live in Middle Earth!!! ;-P

  • Comment 34, posted at 13.04.16 17:43:31 by JD Reply
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  • Nice article. However, I think that the reality is that the game has evolved and signing the best players on earth is a simple necessity.

    Player retention is probably more about getting players to believe in the team and culture rather than where they come from. Mac got that right, and the reality is that he signed guys from all over the place.

    I also second hound’s comment above about talking the game to a new demographic too. That’s the future of the game. I think that the exposure and marketing of playing a European team abroad is also part of the modern game.

  • Comment 35, posted at 13.04.16 19:45:48 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • @Big Fish (Comment 35) : It is also quite narrow to assume the Sharks brand needs to be centered around KZN.

    I started supporting Natal 3 years before I ever set foot in the province.

    I’m certain a lot of Sharks supporters weren’t born in KZN, nor do they support the Sharks for being based in KZN.

    The culture needs to be globaly accessible and identifiable. Considerably more difficult, but doable – ask Man Utd and the AB’s.

    Winning would be a very good start.

  • Comment 36, posted at 13.04.16 20:38:55 by FireTheLooser Reply

  • @Big Fish (Comment 35) : I’ve been chewing on this article since reading it…and you’ve pretty much summed up my view on it…the fact of the matter is that the professional era has changed the face of this game. I’m happy to be nostalgic about what was and I certainly remember it with fondness…but I doubt that what worked then would work now. Ian Mac took the first steps into the professional era earlier than most and Natal rugby reaped the benefit of that for most of the 90’s…

  • Comment 37, posted at 13.04.16 21:46:46 by pastorshark Reply
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  • Traditionally, I have supported Natal/Sharks rugby because they played attractive, exciting rugby, keeping ball in hand and running at every opportunity. This has given way to an unimaginative, predictable SSS-rugby (skop, storm en stamp) game which led to the loss against the Crusaders but will hopefully change before I become a Lions supporter.

  • Comment 38, posted at 13.04.16 22:21:30 by Langjan Reply

  • @FireTheLooser (Comment 36) : think you’re spot on. Winning/successful teams attract supporters (and players) and they tend to stick with the team during hard times (if it does not last for 10 years).
    I personally believe that although the Sharks should not necessarily be centred around KZN (exclusively a KZN brand) they should be involved in the whole province (golf days, junior games, warmup games, etc) and a fair amount of their players should be homegrown (either KZN schooled or products of Sharks junior structures) as it’s always nice to see players like Marcell, Pat or Beast come through the structures and become international stars.
    As for teams like Man U (although I personally support them) they have almost lost all of their Englishness/Manchesterness as to many of their players are already international players when they get signed. Yes they still have players like Giggs, etc but it’s way less than I personally would like to see.

  • Comment 39, posted at 13.04.16 23:21:26 by JD Reply
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  • Talk about ineligible players.

    When I was under-11, the coach tried to pull me into 2nd team, but my mother phoned the headmaster, complaining about playing against older boys. Next practice, myself and the rest of the boys in my grade were kicked back to under-11. The thing was though that precious few of us were actually under-11. We all knew…..but playing with your mates was lekker and winning all matches by plenty to nill was even better. Disaster stroke, shortly before league finals when protests from another school prompted our coach to walk into the classroom and ask all the boys who would turn 12 that year to stand up. The poor guy almost fainted when it was practically his whole friggen team. Needless to say, we had to withdraw. My dreams of a championship, forever shattered by the case of 11 ineligible under-11 players.

  • Comment 40, posted at 14.04.16 05:40:57 by fyndraai Reply
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  • @Langjan (Comment 38) : Though I can sympathize with your sentiments, two things:
    1. Natal didn’t win much of anything when they played that style of rugby. It was only once Ian Mac introduced some professionalism and his percentage rugby that we won trophies. I believe we need a balanced percentage approach to the game rather than the earlier traditional Banana Boys rugby. I believe that is the percentage approach that the Lions are striving towards too…they don’t always get it right but they get it right more than we do. To get there we need a better attacking game, but we also need to establish the basics – defence (which we have), a solid platform in the set-pieces (which we have only had inconsistently this season), effectiveness at the breakdown (which I don’t think we have right now)…and a sharp, accurate attacking game when the percentages speak for it (at the moment we don’t have that at all). I do see us working at it though…
    2. The professional game does result in different types of supporters, for example those that only support as long as we play pretty or those who only support as long as we win. Me, I’m one of those who will support as long as I live, no matter what tournaments we even qualify for or division we play in, no matter how much we win or lose. Of course I want us to improve, but that doesn’t change my support even if we don’t. That is not a quality judgment, just an observation. I recognise that the professional game will always have those different categories and that all are necessary and all are important…

  • Comment 41, posted at 14.04.16 07:25:58 by pastorshark Reply
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  • @JD (Comment 39) : Although he has been in our system for a while, Beast is not exactly homegrown…
    …and who supports Man U anyway? :mrgreen:

  • Comment 42, posted at 14.04.16 07:28:42 by pastorshark Reply
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  • @fyndraai (Comment 40) : Great story… :mrgreen:

  • Comment 43, posted at 14.04.16 07:29:55 by pastorshark Reply
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  • @JD (Comment 39) : giggs is welsh 😀

  • Comment 44, posted at 14.04.16 08:11:47 by 50shadesofshark Reply

  • @pastorshark (Comment 41) : I agree a lot with that comment.

  • Comment 45, posted at 14.04.16 08:32:45 by SheldonK Reply

  • @pastorshark (Comment 42) : Who watches football anyway? 😕 😉

  • Comment 46, posted at 14.04.16 08:36:09 by vanmartin Reply
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  • @vanmartin (Comment 46) : Easy answer for both you and pastor, those who don’t watch soccer support Man utd. Guess who I support 😉

  • Comment 47, posted at 14.04.16 08:57:20 by FireTheLooser Reply

  • The professional game is 21 years old ,doubt most here can remember when it wasn’t.
    There are two schools of thought here,one supporting the team ,two supporting the game.
    Man U has more supporters outside of Britain than in the U.K.
    The bulk of their income is from the sale of replica jerseys,these go for way more than a R1000 a piece.
    Thats why they can afford those record signings every time a new player moves his jersey sales follow him.
    It is also why there is always an Asian player in the Man U team,biggest Man U supporters cub Hong Kong.
    We had a brand like that once,but it is no longer a brand that stretches past the Drakensberg and the genuii
    behind our replica jersey sales still haven’t twigged on to selling the jersey with the player’s name and number on it.
    Maybe because like in soccer the player gets cut of the sales.

  • Comment 48, posted at 14.04.16 10:10:08 by The hound Reply
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  • @The hound (Comment 48) : think sharks slipped big time in 2010.could have signed both jacque fourie and habana,but didnt.did sign ludik,alberts and mostert.with a home superrugby semi-final back then worth 5 million rand to the hosting team,sometimes a union must say: ok,lets say with player x and z in the team,we can go for it.we will be in the red now,but will get out of it,because the team with these additions will be good enough for a top 2 finish.sometimes you have to be brave.and sometimes that brave is not about the type of game on the field,but the brave decision in the board room.

  • Comment 49, posted at 14.04.16 10:42:31 by 50shadesofshark Reply

  • And it was 10 million rands to host the superrugby final.

  • Comment 50, posted at 14.04.16 10:47:20 by 50shadesofshark Reply

  • @50shadesofshark (Comment 49) : Habana and Fourie (as good as they were at the Bulls abd Lions) were both nothing special when they went to the Stormers. No guarantees that signing these big name players will actually assist a team in doing better.

  • Comment 51, posted at 14.04.16 10:47:36 by Bokhoring Reply
  • @50shadesofshark (Comment 49) : I think the Sharks did some very brave things,getting rid of BJ and his entrenched mob,was brave.Appointing John was brave,firing Plum brave,hiring Jake brave.Firing Jake brave,hiring Gold not very brave.

  • Comment 52, posted at 14.04.16 10:50:51 by The hound Reply
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  • Amidst all the good discussion, I don’t think we should lose sight of what a phenomenal job the Sharks have done in building their brand.

    KZN’s rugby culture is dwarfed by all the other SA SR unions/ provinces, yet we are pretty much right at the top in terms of brand and always there or thereabouts in terms of performance.

    Not saying we shouldn’t aim for better, but reflect how well the union has done to get here and how much further we can go if we tap the huge market of people in KZN (for starters) who don’t really follow the game.

  • Comment 53, posted at 14.04.16 10:55:38 by Big Fish Reply
    Big Fish
  • @Bokhoring (Comment 51) : jacque fouries was an exceptional buy for the stormers.remember that brilliant individual try he scored against the saders in ct?imagine the potential income from season tickets with the signing of just habana?now think of signing 2 bok backline players.habana and fourie(with defensive coach mouneimne being another astute signing),made the difference to take the stormers to another level in sr 2010.

  • Comment 54, posted at 14.04.16 10:55:43 by 50shadesofshark Reply

  • @Big Fish (Comment 53) : best post this year 😉 😉 😉 😉

  • Comment 55, posted at 14.04.16 11:27:35 by The hound Reply
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  • The Sharks of 2010 cc semi and final.also the brumbies gameplan vs Sharks in 2013 [under jake white ]are 3 games to look at .sharks changed their style of play dramatically in those two cc games in 2010.and then that same style of play was USed by the brumbies against the sharks.

  • Comment 56, posted at 20.04.16 10:42:04 by 50shadesofshark Reply


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