Matt Ikuvalu, Ronaldo Mulitalo and Connor Tracey know that three into two positions won’t go but the Sharks trio are willing to play wherever they are needed to fit into Craig Fitzgibbon’s backline this season.
Ikuvalu may be best known for his try scoring feats on the wing for Sydney Roosters but the 28-year-old grew up playing centre and fullback, as did Mulitalo, who has pledged his allegiance to New Zealand for the end-of-season World Cup.
In contrast, Tracey was a playmaker who last year developed into Cronulla’s version of Mr Fix-it as the Sharks struggled with injuries to their outside backs and is now tipped to start at left centre in next week's round one clash with Canberra.
“I think I only played two games for the Roosters at centre," Ikuvalu said. "Every other NRL game I have played on the wing, but I definitely back myself to play in the centres.
“I have said to Fitzy, and he backs my ability to play anywhere in the backline, that if there is a position in either those spots - left or right side - I will play there.”
Mulitalo has had a similar conversation with Fitzgibbon and he spent about 15 minutes at left centre in last Monday night’s 30-6 trial win against the Bulldogs.
“I said to Fitzy that I don’t care if I am playing wing or centre, as long as we are winning games,” Mulitalo said. “I had never really played wing until I was selected in first grade, but I am more than happy to learn my craft in the NRL.
“I like to get my hands on the ball and I feel that if I get my hands on the ball things happen around me, but Connor is one of those players who is too good to leave off the field so wherever I slot in I will be happy to do it.”
Ronaldo by name, Ronaldo by nature
Tracey set the tone for the ‘next man up’ mentality adopted by the Sharks last season; playing nine matches in the centres, nine others on the wing, three as an interchange utility and a further three at five-eighth.
A similar attitude has helped Ikuvalu to make the most of every chance presented to him in the NRL, including a stunning five-try haul when called in to play for the Roosters in North Queensland after an injury to Brett Morris in the pre-game warm-up.
“I grew up always being the ‘next player’. I was considered not good enough,” Ikuvalu said. “When I was in juniors at Manly, I got dropped. I went back to Wyong in the NSW Cup and I think I only got to play six games in my first year, and played a lot of A-grade.
“The next year I played 10 games and a lot of A-grade, then I finally got one crack and I ended up playing the whole year. It gave me that confidence that I am good enough to play there.
“It was the same with the NRL, I moved up and kept playing. I had an ability to break some tackles and score some tries and I got confidence in my own ability. I am confident that I can play NRL and be a first stringer if I can get that spot. I just need a chance and I will perform for you.”
Ikuvalu scored 25 tries in 38 NRL appearances for the Roosters but he was never quite able to nail down a regular spot so when Fitzgibbon left his assistant role to take on the head coaching job at Cronulla, he saw an opportunity.
High five for Ikuvalu
The pair had developed a close bond while on the Sunshine Coast last year, with Fitzgibbon’s children regularly offering to look after Ikuvalu’s son Harvey, and knowing the Sharks were light on for outside backs he saw a chance to further his career at Cronulla.
“Fitzy was obviously a big part of me making the change because I knew that I had a coach who trusted me and a system that I knew, but I think I was just ready to move on - I was ready to take that next step in my career and my family’s life,” Ikuvalu said.
“I had another year at the Roosters but I think it was a really good option for myself mentally, and I think physically I am probably in the next best shape I have been since playing NRL.
“I didn’t expect to come straight into a side that has already got set outside backs who were performing really well. I knew that if I came to a new club I was also going to have to work hard to earn a spot.
“Connor is just a really good footballer, it doesn’t matter where he plays he will excel.
"Obviously, he hasn’t grown up being a specialist centre or an outside back but he has shown he can play those positions, so he deserves to get first crack but I see myself hopefully coming in, in the next couple of rounds, and filling in wherever I can.”