THE departure of club stalwarts such as David Geary, Joey Cudmore and Matt Shipway among others hasn’t dulled the expectations of the Port Macquarie Sharks.
When last year’s Group 3 premiers kick-off their 2019 campaign on April 6, there will be a new man in charge.
Ben Kirkland has become a familiar face around the club since joining four seasons ago and he has set his expectations on a top three finish.
He believes the Sharks still have the quality of player to give their premiership defence a red-hot crack.
“It’s a pretty high standard to set, but you don’t want to be setting low standards because that creates bad attitudes,” he said.
“If you don’t reach those goals purely because of reasons you can’t help … as long as we’re competing and in the game, I’ll be happy.
“I don’t want us to be out of the game at all, it doesn’t matter what the scoreline is.”
The Sharks have had a slightly disrupted pre-season that saw former coach Jamie Dowse resign in early January.
While Kirkland said “it wasn’t ideal”, senior players had stepped up to provide direction for the playing group while a decision on the next coach was made.
It made his transition into the role as seamless as possible.
“We continued at training as we normally would because this time of year is mainly conditioning,” he said.
“We were lucky that it didn’t happen further down the track as we were going into pre-season or something like that.”
A leadership group that included James Kelly, Scott Grant and Kurt Molony along with Jarid Bruen and Josh Newbery tried to keep things as normal as possible.
Encouragingly, the Sharks have kept the majority of their forward pack for their premiership defence, but it is the backline that provided Kirkland with a real level of excitement.
The coach knows it will be difficult to claim back-to-back titles.
“Bringing young fellas in takes time and we’ve got to be patient with them,” Kirkland said.
“I get a big kick out of watching young kids coming through and playing with them and we’ve got heaps of them pushing through this year.
“Success may not come straight away, but I think it will just through enthusiasm and the kids wanting to be there for the right reasons.”
How well they take their opportunities when they arose on the field would play a significant role in giving the team the best chance of replicating their 2018 success.
“I’ve already said opportunities in games don’t come around very often, especially in first grade,” Kirkland said.
“Last year’s grand final we won 18-10 so we pounced on three opportunities that were given to us which isn’t many in 80 minutes of footy.
“The less errors and penalties you give away the more opportunity you have to score more points.”
While Kirkland is only focused on filling the coaching role for the upcoming season, he didn’t rule out having an ambition to do it long-term.
“I’ve got a young family so I’ll see how I enjoy it and if the club thinks I’m doing a good job I’d love to do it again, but that’s a fair way down the track,” he said.
“I’ll make my mind up at the end of the season.”
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