Ian Donnelly in action.
Ian Donnelly in action.

Donnelly waits for NRL clash

FORMER Marist Brothers and Ballina prop Ian Donnelly will have to wait to the last minute to see if he will play for the Cronulla Sharks in their NRL clash with the high-flying Gold Coast Titans at Skilled Stadium tomorrow.

The 28-year-old was named in the squad of 17 this week but Sharks coach Ricky Stuart may make some late changes which could ruin a homecoming for Donnelly.

The 1.85m 109kg prop shifted to the Sharks in April after two seasons with the Titans.

Donnelly joined the Gold Coast club a similar way in 2007 when he moved from the Melbourne Storm to the Titans, who were struggling with injuries mid-season.

Cronulla was his fifth club - after St George Illawarra, Manly, Melbourne and the Gold Coast - and unfortunately it's been a move from the penthouse to the outhouse.

The Titans have gone on to record their best season since entering the NRL with a top-four spot assured, while the Sharks are battling to avoid the wooden spoon after a disastrous year in which the club has lurched from one controversy to another.

“Obviously I hope to play but I won't know until Saturday,” Donnelly said from Sydney.

“The Titans are third at the moment and obviously you look back and think what could have been but even though we're sitting second- last it's been good with the Sharks.

“They are a good bunch of blokes even though it's been tough.

“It's always exciting when you play your former club because you are close to a lot of the boys.

“I told the Gold Coast boys when I left that when I left Melbourne during the season in 2007 they went on to win the grand final, so I joked with them that they would probably win it this year.”

Asked if he thought he was a jinx, Donnelly chuckled: “It looks that way. I played at Manly as well and they won a grand final a few years after I left.”

To be fair to the big front-rower, he left the Sea Eagles in 2004 and they won their premiership in 2008.

Cronulla has had more off-field controversy in one season than the NRL usually generates in a year.

Matt Johns, Tony Zappia, Reni Maitua and Brett Seymour have been at the forefront of bad publicity, but Donnelly said spirits remained high.

“From a player's point of view, we haven't talked much about it and we've pretty much kept to ourselves,” he said.

“The club hasn't exactly shielded us from it but we've made sure our interest is focused on the playing side of things and not off the field.”

Donnelly said Stuart deserved plaudits for the role he'd played keeping the Sharks together.

“He's an ex-player and an experienced coach who has coached the Kangaroos,” he said.

“He's definitely intense when it comes to coaching but all first-grade coaches are intense these days.”

Donnelly has played four games for the Sharks since joining the club and hopes to add to his 77 NRL appearances tomorrow. However, 2009 could be his last year as a professional.

The former St John's College Woodlawn student is off-contract at the end of the season and has yet to receive another offer.

“At this stage I'm not too sure what I'll be doing so I'll have to weigh things up with the family,” Donnelly said.

When asked if a move back to Ballina was a possibility, he said: “That could be on the cards but the wife (Jill) is from Perth.”

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