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Former Tiger gets boost at Sharks

Brad Forrest Of The Leader
Thursday, February 14, 2013

HARD-RUNNING, woolly-haired forward Junior Roqica could be another former Wests Tigers player lining up in the blue, black and white of Cronulla Sharks top squad this season.

The unheralded Roqica impressed in the first-half of Cronulla's trial game they won 24-12 against Manly Sea Eagles on Saturday night at Brookvale Oval.

The 22-year-old Tigers junior of Fijian descent was just happy to get his chance when the Sharks picked him up as one of their second-tier buys in the off-season.

With both sides fielding inexperienced line-ups for the first-half, it was the 105 kilogram Roqica who stood head and shoulders above other forwards with his bullocking runs wide of the ruck.

The former centre and Australian Schoolboys representative showed surprising pace for a big man, scoring one try and busting his opposition consistently, and by providing a platform for more experienced players like centre Ricky Leutele (2 tries) and Tyrone Peachey to shine.

If he can back that form up, his size, pace and youth could mean he joins other former Tigers like Beau Ryan, Chris Heighington, Andrew Fifita and Bryce Gibbs in the top squad, and become the sixth first-grade prop forward behind Gibbs, Fifita, Ben Ross, Mark Taufua and John Green.

With a lot of muscle missing in forwards Paul Gallen, Luke Lewis, Gibbs, Fifita and Chris Heighington, along with Todd Carney and Ben Pomeroy, it was the inexperienced first half players who shone brightest for the Sharks on the night.

They opened up a 12-0 lead early through tries to Leutele, new Bulldogs recruit Tupou Sopoaga and Peachey, with two additional tries to Leutele and Roqica giving the Sharks an impressive 20-4 lead at half-time.

Both teams fielded their top sides for the second half, but handling errors both ways during the third and fourth quarters ruined the game as a spectacle.

New Sharks recruit Beau Ryan plucked a Chad Townsend cross-kick out of the air on the right wing to score early.

Fullback recruit Michael Gordon did manage to show some touches of his obvious class, and while there was some concern when hooker John Morris was floored by a shoulder from Manly recruit Richie Fa'aoso, he quickly recovered.

Manly managed to "win" the second half (8-4) but lost the overall trial, 24-12 (there were no goal attempts), leaving rival coaches Shane Flanagan and Geoff Toovey unsatisfied, but otherwise relieved that no player had actually sustained any serious injury.

"The first half was quite good, but we made far too many errors in the second," Flanagan said.

In the earlier under-20s trial, young Fijian recruit Alipate Ratini's 70-metre try was the highlight of a game which the Sharks eventually lost, five tries to three.

The Sharks return to training before their last trial — against Newcastle — in Tamworth on Saturday week, February 23.

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