Wright happy to be Sharks' centre of attention

CHRIS BARCLAY
Last updated 05:00 22/03/2013
Matthew Wright
Getty Images
HIGH EMOTION: Matthew Wright (right) celebrates with Beau Ryan after scoring a try for the Cronulla Sharks against the Gold Coast Titans.

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Matthew Wright is not used to being a centre of attention - and it is not just the drugs scandal enveloping the Cronulla Sharks that has drawn attention to the Auckland-born utility back.  

Wright was on the receiving end of one of the hardest, and most contentious, tackles of round two NRL action when he was floored by a suspected shoulder charge by South Sydney's Nathan Merrit.  

A Sharks try went begging at ANZ Stadium on Monday night, and the Rabbitohs wing got off scot-free when his jolt knocked the Auckland-born Samoan 2013 World Cup hopeful to the turf.  

Wright shrugged off the hit. The 23-year-old has become accustomed to absorbing body blows since news broke of the Australian Sports Anti-Doping investigation.  

The ASADA probe, which is focusing on 31  players, including up to 14 from the Sharks, is not up for discussion as Wright finishes a swim session at Cronulla beach.  

But it is implied when Wright reveals his enthusiasm at playing the New Zealand Warriors at Sharks Stadium on Sunday - the Sharks third match of a season destined to be the most talked about in the club's 45-year history.  

An emotional home win over the Gold Coast Titans after coach Shane Flanagan was stood down and four support staff sacked in relation to players allegedly using banned performance-enhancing substances set the foundation. 

Then a 16-14 loss to one of the premiership favourites still gave the playing group some cause for optimism.  
''We're pretty happy with the start, especially with what's going on,'' Wright said.  

While they yearn for Flanagan to be reinstated, the first-grade squad is preparing under assistant coach Peter Sharp.  

''Everyone is enjoying each other's company, getting out their and doing their job,'' Wright said.  

''It takes your mind off what's happening. We're just happy to get out on the park and do it for the fans.''   

Wright is especially relieved to be playing, considering the Sharks' recruitment drive for 2013 targeted his positions.  

Despite debuting for the Sharks in 2009 in the centres, Wright has primarily been used as a wing or fullback while he racked up 59 first-grade appearances.  
Nathan Gardner's knee injury last year meant he spent the bulk of the season in the No 1 jersey, but Michael Gordon's arrival from Penrith ended his term as caretaker custodian.  

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Adding wings Jonathan Wright (no relation) and Beau Ryan to the roster was  an ominous sign, but the nephew of former Warrior Tony Tatupu got good news from Flanagan in the pre-season.  

He told Wright, who has also filled in at five-eighth and even in the pack, that centre was his specialist position.  

''I'm happy to be back there. You're getting heaps of ball and defending in a structure. I'm slowly getting used to it again; getting my lines right defensively,'' said Wright, who missed six tackles against the Rabbitohs.  

The learning experience also involves building a rapport with Ryan, personality-wise the polar opposite to the quietlyspoken Wright.  

''He's been talking to me and helping me about a bit,'' said Wright, who insists the Footy Show funny man has a serious side.  

''When it comes to footy, he's serious. Outside of that, he's a comedian,'' said Wright of a team-mate whose humour has been invaluable in recent weeks.  

Wright also has five-eighth Todd Carney, who scored 25 points at Mt Smart last season, and marquee signing Luke Lewis on his edge, so there is no shortage of experience alongside.  

''Just having those three guys there helping me makes my job a lot easier,'' he said.  

There is another bonus to playing in the centres. 

Gordon and the new wings are in charge of bomb disposal, although until the smoke clears every Cronulla player is effectively tip-toeing through a minefield.

- Fairfax Media

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