SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 10: Wade Graham of the Sharks makes a break during the round six NRL match between the Cronulla Sharks and the Gold Coast Titans at Southern Cross Group Stadium on April 10, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)

Pool: Waiheke Pool (Sharks, Titans, Panthers, Bulldogs)

Squad: Wade Graham (c), Luke Lewis, Matt Prior, Chris Heighington, Gerard Beale, Kurt Capewell, Joseph Paulo, Jack Bird, Ricky Leutele, Manaia Cherrington, Jesse Ramien, Will Kennedy, Jayden Walker, Kyle Flanagan, Sione Katoa, Billy Magoulias, Malakai Houma, Kurt Kara

Games

vs Gold Coast Titans (10am Feb 4 AEDT)
vs Penrith Panthers (1:55pm Feb 4 AEDT)
vs Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs (8:35am Feb 5 AEDT)

Featuring seven players from last year’s NRL Grand Final, Shane Flanagan has named a strong squad ahead of this weekend’s tournament. Jack Bird will play his football after suffering a hyper-extended elbow in the Grand Final, and is expected to a bulk of the playmaking at the Nines with James Maloney and Chad Townsend rested.

RELATED: Click here to see the 2017 Auckland Nines jerseys!

One playmaker sure to create headlines in Auckland is young Kyle Flanagan, the son of head coach Shane. Only 18 years old, Kyle will look to cement his spot in the NRL squad after graduating from SG Ball in 2016.

Wade Graham will captain the team as he looks to become the Shark’s fulltime captain in 2018 with incumbent leader Paul Gallen set to hang up the boots in 2017. Graham will run out alongside recruit Manaia Cherrington, who’s battling it out with Dan Mortimer for the starting hooking role. Fellow rake Jayden Brailey surprisingly misses out on a spot, though that could mean Flanagan is resting him for bigger things.

Who To Watch: Kurt Capewell. A debutant from last season, Capewell impressed in his short stints in 2016. Playing his juniors as winger/centre in Brisbane’s Holden Cup side, Capewell possesses the speed of a back and the defence of a back-rower. If the makeshift halves can click, expect to see Capewell cross the white line multiple times this weekend.

RELATED: Click here to see the 2017 Auckland Nines squads!

Why They Can Win: Creativity. While Wade Graham and Luke Lewis both have the frames of backrowers, but their skills far exceed that. While they’ve played for New South Wles on the edge, both have spent seasons playing in the halves, meaning that they’ve got an array of attacking capabilities in their back pocket. Along with Jack Bird and Kyle Flanagan, Cronulla will have no issue setting up chances for their speedsters.

Why They Can’t Win: Kicking game. While Lewis, Graham, Flanagan and Bird have strong short kicking games, they lack any long-distance pressure. The ability to find the grass from their own half is an essential asset in the format, and while the likes of Corey Norman, Shaun Johnson and Adam Reynolds will be pinning opposition in their own half, Cronulla will be putting the ball on the other team’s chest.

Prediction: The Sharks have a good, nifty squad, sure to create some havoc at the tournament. And while the squad is good, so are all the squads in the Waiheke pool. Unfortunately for Cronulla, good won’t be good enough as the Sharks look destined to fight it out with Canterbury for 3rd place in their pool.

Finish: Pool Stage

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