Valentine Holmes of the Sharks.
Valentine Holmes of the Sharks. JULIAN SMITH

Barba exit creates selection headache for Flanagan

THE off-season departure of Ben Barba from the premiership-winning Cronulla side has naturally created debate over who will fill the fullback jersey for the Sharks in 2017.

But it's the ripple effect of that decision that's keeping coach Shane Flanagan up at night.

Valentine Holmes and Jack Bird are both quality options to fill the No.1 jersey, with Flanagan conceding that Holmes was the favourite to switch off the right wing and into the spine.

However, in an interview with Sharks TV for Cronulla's official website, the coach revealed there was no obvious candidate to jump into the right wing role that a switch for Holmes would leave vacant.

"Probably from a team structure point-of-view Val could be the best one but I'm not striking Birdy off that list just as yet,” Flanagan said.

"Birdy's got a headstart there. He's been at training for a couple of weeks there but I'm sure it's probably more about who's going to stand up and take Val's right wing spot.”

It's a dilemma that could potentially open the door for Bird, who has made no secret of his desire to play a position where he can get his hands on the ball more often.

One of the NRL's most precocious talents, 21-year-old Bird would put five-eighth, back-row and fullback all above centre on his list of preferred positions, despite the fact he has emerged as one of the game's best three-quarters after just one season on the right edge.

A move for Bird into the No.1 jersey would in many ways be easier for Flanagan to cover, with utility Gerard Beale an excellent centre in his own right and young gun recruit Jordan Drew a ready-made NRL centre.

It's a different story where natural wingers are concerned after 2016 Sharks back-ups Mitch Brown and Jacob Gagan moved on to other clubs.

"Val's obviously everyone's first-choice fullback but Birdy does that fullback role really well, he finds it comfortable and gets to roam both sides of the field,” Flanagan said.

"Unfortunately with Birdy playing right centre he sometimes gets locked in there and his strength is turning up everywhere.

"There's a bit to go into it and there'll be speculation over Christmas and into when we start playing, who's going to be that fullback, like there was last year.

"I'll just let them speculate for a while and you'll have to turn up here on that Thursday night (for Cronulla's round-one clash with the Broncos).”

Retired Sharks hooker Michael Ennis.
Retired Sharks hooker Michael Ennis. PAUL MILLER

Regardless of who Flanagan eventually opts for in the No.1 jersey the Sharks will be well served by a player of representative quality.

That's not the case in their other problem spot in the spine, with Flanagan admitting he was no closer to deciding who will fill the gaping hole left by the retired Michael Ennis.

"We've got some choices there. Obviously there's Manaia Cherrington and Jayden Brailey, two No.9s,” Flanagan said.

"(Daniel) Mortimer can play there but Daniel's been hurt, he hurt his hamstring and hasn't been in the main training group.

"He can play seven, six and nine and I bought him for that utility value. He can put a bit of pressure on Chad (Townsend) and Jimmy (Maloney) as well.

"Nu Brown can play six, seven and nine as well, so we'll just see how they trial.

"They're all champing at the bit to get the first crack at it. But as I said, I'm undecided at this stage and trials and Nines will probably tell.”

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