General Stars Gone as Raper Wields the Axe

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Sharks coach Stuart Raper has delivered on his promise to wield the axe ahead of this week’s clash against the Eels, dropping players who “are in the side to score tries but are not deliveringâ€Â.

Speedy winger Darren Albert; who has been out of form of late, has been drooped to Premier League, while New Zealand international Nigel Vagana has been dropped to the interchange bench.

“I’ve had a talk with Darren and I feel his form has been down and going back to Premier League will give him a chance to regain some confidence,†Raper said.

In his time at the Sharks, Vagana has seldom delivered on the promise he displayed in his earlier tenure at the Bulldogs, where in 2002 he was the NRL’s leading try scorer with 23 four-pointers for the season.

The duo have been replaced by the returning David Simmons (knee) and Phil Bailey (cheek) who were both out of action for large portions of the Sharks’ six game losing streak. Both players were instrumental in the Sharks earlier winning streak, and could be influential come Saturday night against the Eels.

Raper is particularly excited at the return of Bailey.

“Phil Bailey is such an important player. He is a great communicator and a winner. Phil always wants to win and his attitude helps lift the sideâ€Â.

There was a bigger surprise though. Raper has also dropped Sharks State of Origin forward Paul Gallen to the bench along with Vagana, in a move that will surely act as a wake up call to those players in the side who feel their position is safe.

The relegation of Gallen was explained as a way to "keep Gallen out of the early action as he has played a lot of football this year". Gallen's replacement is local product Cameron Ciraldo.

“I have made the changes I needed to make for the benefit of the team and to try and get us a win. We are playing well without winning but we need to score tries and that was not happening. So with this team, I will be looking for that to changeâ€Â.

Though his halves have come under fire from the media and fans, Raper has defended Adam Dykes and Brett Kimmorley, saying “I don’t think they are where the problem isâ€Â.

Club chief executive Greg Pierce expressed his thoughts saying.

“I think because he is the captain and a key player that he tends to cop a lot of the blame. Much like key players at rival clubs, Trent Barrett, Andrew Johns, Darren Lockyer, they all get criticised when their team is not performing though not necessarily their fault. Brett is playing well for us, and it is just unfortunate that some people have never forgotten the upheaval that occurred when Brett came to the club. It is unfair on Brett but the fans are entitled to their opinionâ€Â.

Brett Kearney will retain his spot at fullback against the Eels after he turned in a solid performance last week against the Warriors.

Having wielded the axe, Raper is confident heading into this weekend’s must win game with the Eels, saying “I am very confident. I will always have confidence in my team, but they have incredible confidence in each other and can get the one win we need this weekend
 

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