STARHALF: Shark pivot Russell Aitken.
STARHALF: Shark pivot Russell Aitken.

Shark star understudy

By STEVE SPINKS

RUSSELL Aitken knows he is bound to spend most of the season in Cronulla's lower grades.

This is despite his starring efforts for the Sharks in their 24-18 victory over Parramatta in Saturday night's National Rugby League trial match at Oakes Oval, Lismore.

The halfback scored one try and set up two others as the young Cronulla outfit overwhelmed the more experienced Eels combination.

But don't expect to see Aitken a first grade regular just yet.

Cronulla have NSW and Australia representative halfback Brett Kimmorley on their books and have just signed experienced five-eighth Adam Dykes from Parramatta.

Dykes made his name with the Sharks before an unsuccessful two-year stint with the Eels.

But Aitken has time on his side. After all, he is only 19.

"I was pretty nervous about the match," Aitken told The Northern Star.

"I'd thought we'd go alright, but we went better than expected.

"It was good to beat the big blokes."

Aitken, who has played six top-grade matches, was one of only six players with first grade experience in the Sharks squad of 23.

Four players were fresh out of Cronulla's Jersey Flegg (Under-19s) team from last season.

"I got a bit downhearted when they first signed him (Kimmorley)," Aitken said.

"Not so much when they signed Dykes.

"But I just decided to have a big off-season and I think it's paid off."

Aitken opened the scoring in the fifth minute with a converted try and then laid on the Sharks' second with a soaring bomb which was eventually gathered by second-rower Phillip Leuluai.

Parramatta new-signing Mark Riddell then crashed over from dummy-half.

His signature kicking style with the straight arm salute was well received by the Oakes Oval crowd.

Aitken then extended Cronulla's lead to 18-6 at half-time when he put flying winger Nathan Merritt through a gap in the 31st minute.

The third quarter belonged to the Eels with five-eighth John Morris scoring after good lead-up work by halfback Tim Smith.

Parramatta fullback Wade McKinnon then forced his way over from dummy-half to level the scores at 18-all.

The last quarter was marred by a host of Eels mistakes as they were pressured by an enthusiastic Cronulla defence.

But it took the Sharks until the 77th minute to wrap up the match when forward Cameron Ciraldo crossed.

Besides Aitken, hooker Matt Hilder, five-eighth Greg Bird, prop Keith Galloway and lock Daniel Dumas were others to stand out.

Man-mountain Clifford Manua, playing off the bench, also made his mark, while Merritt proved a slippery customer on the wing.

For the Eels, new signings Glenn Morrison and Mark Riddell were impressive, while young halfback Tim Smith proved elusive.

Five-eighth John Morris was busy, while prop Aaron Cannings showed he is set for a big season.

Cannings made a number of powerful runs and he can only hope it is not a case of deja vu this season. Last year he suffered from injury.Centre Luke Burt also played well.

CRONULLA 24 (Russell Aitken, Nathan Merritt, Phillip Leuluai, Cameron Ciraldo tries; Luke Covell 4 goals) d PARRAMATTA 18 (Mark Riddell, John Morris, Wade McKinnon tries; Mark Riddell 2, Luke Burt goals). Half-time: 18-6 Cronulla. Penalties: 7-4 Parramatta. Referee: Tony Archer. Touch judges: Greg Graham, Peter O'Connor.



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