Cronulla Sharks not just team of senior citizens: Noyce

Cronulla chief executive Steve Noyce took a swipe at critics of the club's growing number of 30-something players after 30-year-old Michael Ennis was recruited to replace talented 20-year-old Michael Lichaa, who signed with Canterbury earlier this season.

Ennis joined skipper Paul Gallen (32), Luke Lewis (30), Michael Gordon (30), Chris Heighington (31), Jeff Robson (31) and Anthony Tupou (30) as the club's senior citizens, but Noyce did not take kindly to the suggestion the club does not seem to be doing enough to push their young guns through to the top grade.

''Paul Gallen and Luke Lewis' birth certificates didn't seem to stop them the other night [for NSW in Origin II],'' Noyce said on Saturday. ''I've heard the criticism of Michael Lichaa leaving the club and his being replaced by Michael Ennis. However, things like that happen. People have the opportunity to stay at their club but, if they choose not to take that up, I respect that. They get on with their life and we get on with ours.

''But we have kids like Fa'amanu Brown who is eligible for the under 20s [but playing first grade]; Andrew Fifita is 25, Wade Graham is 24. Todd [Carney] tells me he is 28, Sosaia Feki [23], Ricky Leutele [24] … And, if anyone watched [Canterbury play Canberra on Friday night] they'd have realised Michael Ennis is a very competitive guy. He lives in the Shire, he's married with kids and I think he'll prove to be a good signing. At the end of the day, you don't play with your birth certificate.''

Noyce acknowledged juniors were the lifeblood of the club and revealed the Sharks had formulated a strategic plan aimed at ensuring a number of its home-grown products would not only benefit from being exposed to the likes of Gallen, Lewis and Ennis, but they would be part of Cronulla's silver jubilee season in 2017.

''I am excited we have four players who'll go to the Australian Schoolboys trials next weekend,'' he said. ''Whilst those four are all under-18 players, they've all played under 20s this year.

''One of the frustrating things is no matter how much Gatorade I give them and no matter how many times they train, it'll be another two years before they turn 20.

''It's about balance and in any group dynamic I think leadership is very important. We're putting a lot of focus into providing - as well as the coaches - that overarching support of our [junior] representative program.

''Our strategic plan talks about being strong in junior league, being strong in the academy and being strong in our junior representative program and bringing home-grown products into grade. But, that takes a bit of time.''

Former Cronulla prop Jason Stevens said he had no problem with the club relying on 30-year-olds to break through for its first premiership title, as long as they provided energy and desperation.

''The key is they have the enthusiasm and the hunger, and from what I've seen, the Cronulla guys still do,'' Stevens said. ''There's guys there who haven't won a competition and they'd want to do that before they retired.

''I remember my last few years were arguably my best because every game was a mission. I left no stone unturned because I realised I was running out of time to win a premiership.''

The story Cronulla Sharks not just team of senior citizens: Noyce first appeared on WA Today.

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