Thursday, August 13, 2015

Buy of the year is Ennis, not Austin

A leader amongst a group once lost in the headlights, Michael Ennis.

Blake Austin has produced some stunning individual performances for the Canberra Raiders this season and rightfully, they have earnt him plenty of praise amongst league commentators as ‘buy of the year’. His efforts have contributed to some fantastic Raiders wins and seen him endorsed for representative selection with New South Wales, but while Austin has stood out in the lime-green, from a perspective of who added more value to a team, it’s hard to go past Cronulla custodian Michael Ennis.

Ennis’ contribution has been much bigger than Austin’s exploits on the field. His presence has had an effect on the mind frame of the team. His actions are directly influencing others. Arguably one of the most consistent hooker’s this year, Ennis competes on every play. He doesn’t just do his job or go through the motions; there is a real emotional sting in the way he competes. It means something to him. And you can see that rubbing off on the rest of the Sharks team.
“No longer is Gallen the sole engine-train trying to pull the carriages of Cronulla out of the valley of mediocracy”
His position as a leader within the group has allowed Paul Gallen to finally focus on his own game. No longer is Gallen the sole engine-train trying to pull the carriages of Cronulla out of the valley of mediocracy. In Ennis they have a general, someone at the front and center of almost every play setting the tone for the rest of the team, much like former Newcastle hooker Danny Buderus. Buderus ripped in for Newcastle, giving his all on every play. He was a consistent player and you could count on him turning up every week. Sure, Ennis might give away a penalty or two, but that’s the cost of getting on top of the opposition. He walks the line, flirts with the boundaries in order to get that slight advantage and edge. Whether it be mental slight or gaining a tactical benefit; it’s all part of Ennis’ strategy.  
At the Bulldogs Ennis was captain and held a greater responsibility if they won or lost. That pushing of the boundaries that he indulges in was something more ineffective than it was an advantage. At the Sharks and free of that captaincy weight, he too, like Gallen, can focus on himself. He doesn’t have to worry about pleading with the refs.
For a club on the rebuild, Ennis was and has been perfect. He is disciplined, confident, determined and sticks to the plan. He trusts the process. He knows Rugby League is a simple game and what has to be done to achieve success. He is not someone who looks at the past; he moves on and looks ahead very quickly. Perfect, for a club coming out of the most tumultuous years of its history.
He also takes enormous pride in mentoring younger players, sharing his experience with those coming into first-grade football. He helped Josh Reynolds develop from a talented prospect to a rigorous and committed origin-winning five-eighth. While it may not have been the tactical skills he helped Reynolds with, it was the demands of week-to-week football.
There’s no secret to why the Sharks are on the edge of the ever-valued top four. They’ve played hard, found raw and exciting talents in Jack Bird and Valentine Holmes, players like Luke Lewis and Chris Heighington have been the backbone of the side and benefitted from Ennis’ leadership. Ennis come into the club as a fresh face and free of the past. His attitude would have said let’s put it all behind us and get on with it.
You can look at buy of the year as what you got out of a player against their financial cost, maybe they were a ‘revelation’ for their side; or you can look at it as what a club most needed in order to become a better side. Cronulla needed a Michael Ennis to move them forward, and they surprisingly landed his signature in later 2014. What a significant boost his made to a club that was officially on the ropes just 12 months ago. His mature approach far outweighs the ‘loose-cannon’ that was Todd Carney.
Signed with Cronulla until the end of the 2016 season, Ennis will be a valuable figure and asset for the Sharks to have at their club. With so much talent in their junior stocks, his contribution will be invaluable. A guiding father figure for those youngsters ready to take the next step, for themselves and for the Sharks, Ennis is a must resign for the club beyond his current contract, even if it be as a replacement hooker. Cronulla’s best opportunity in years is upon them as the head into this year’s finals series and Michael Ennis is at the absolute forefront of that charge. Can the curse of the porch-lamp finally be broken?