Rugby League: Lee brings the beach life to Thunder road

Dave Hadfield says cultures will clash in Super League tonight
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AS THE only unbeaten side in Australia, Cronulla can justifiably claim to be the leading rugby league club in the world at the moment - and their influence will be felt here on the other side of the globe when Castleford meet Gateshead this evening.

Gateshead's chief executive, Shane Richardson, was the man who put Cronulla on an even keel earlier this decade, so it was only to be expected that he would look to his old club when he set about staffing up the Thunder for their first season in Super League.

Ben Sammut, Matt Daylight, Andrew Hick and Adam Maher all have stints with the Sharks on Sydney's southern beachfront on their CVs, but perhaps the most significant acquisition, in the short term at least, will be Danny Lee.

Richardson admits that when he arrived at Cronulla, his first, superficial impression of Lee was that he was already rather too big and slow to be of much use. Then the weight of evidence, so to speak, changed his mind. "We analysed what he actually did, match after match, and we knew he was the first player we had to re-sign," Richardson said.

Lee went on to complete over 200 appearances in the Sharks' front row - a rare achievement in a competition that chews up prop forwards and spits them out a couple of years later.

When Richardson got the go-ahead for Gateshead, Lee was again high on the list of priorities, even at the advanced age of 34. "He's one of those players where what you see is what you get," he said. "He's there, doing the hard work, week after week, Every club needs some of that."

Mind you, negotiating with Lee provided a few special problems. After two years with the Thunder, he plans to retire to his farm in New South Wales. "He has this exercise book," Richardson explained, "with the price of everything he needs for the farm in it and he'll say, `Shane, this is what I need to fence the property'."

Gateshead have only been able to pay for part of the fence, but the man they call "The Ox" is already showing that he is not due to be put out to pasture just yet. The pass he slipped to Kerrod Walters for the Thunder's first try as they beat Halifax last week was the work of a player with plenty still to offer.

At Castleford, the Cronulla flavour also permeates both the front row and the front office. Lee used to pack down with Aaron Raper, whose brother, Stuart, now coaches Cas after starting out with the Sharks. Even the marketing department at Wheldon Road was imported from Cronulla.

It will all add a extra edge tonight, and much could depend on whether Aaron Raper recovers from an ankle injury in time to play. Although he claims to have been disappointed with his performances, his know-how at dummy half has been a big factor in Cas sustaining their form after the disappointment of defeat in the Challenge Cup semi-final.