Adrian Cartwright is adamant his Dubai Sharks side are good enough to earn a spot in the UAE Conference final and a shot at promotion to the UAE Premiership.
Sharks opened their 2016/17 Conference account with a 34-7 defeat at champions Sharjah Wanderers on Friday. Despite the scoreline and creating little in the way of try-scoring opportunities, however, Sharks defended stoutly against a side that won the league unbeaten last season.
In fact, most of Sharjah’s five tries were gifted to them by the visitors, and Cartwright feels there is a lot of potential in his squad.
“The aim for the season is the top three, then hopefully a spot in the playoff final, that’s what we want to be doing,” said the man who took charge halfway through a difficult 2015/16 campaign.
“We’ve certainly got the strength in depth across the club to be able to do that in the Conference. I’m pretty confident that is realistic, certainly for the first team.”
Sharks boast a player base of 150 across their three squads and Cartwright feels with a little more consistency in playing numbers each week, the club has the talent to go far.
“There’s a lot of competition for places,” he said. “We’re struggling in some key positions but I think the strength in depth in the squad is there, and the talent as well.
“We’ve had a pretty good recruitment drive over the summer. We’ve got a great set-up down at Dubai Sports City. There’s a great culture within the club. They socialise together as well as play together.
“When guys come in they settle in quickly and enjoy it and the club’s ever-growing. I think there are 150 players so there’s plenty there, it’s just getting them there all at the same time, that’s the battle. If we can do that then we can certainly compete.
“If I can put out a first choice 15 and a squad of 22 every single week then we would very easily compete. The strength in depth is the priority because the reality is we’re not going to be able to do that.”
It was a tough first season at the helm for a coach who only took the reins having begun the campaign in charge of the second team.
After starting last term with Dan Gawn and Richard Battley in joint charge, Cartwright suddenly found himself landed with the top job after both had to step down due to work commitments.
With that experience under his belt and having been in the UAE a year, Cartwright approaches the new campaign with far more confidence.
He added: “The difficult thing out here is the players are not university boys or locals, they’re pilots, lawyers, doctors, teachers, they’re here for two, three years at a time.
“It’s transient. They’re busy, professional people and they can’t commit to every single week and every single training session because they have jobs and families.
“The knock on of that last year was that we didn’t put out the same 15 at any point in the season so we didn’t have that consistency of structure.
“In terms of the level of rugby we play, I think we have some pretty talented individuals, but structurally everyone seems to have the same problem.
“What I’ve tried to do is develop a structure the club plays. It’s pretty basic so as long as everyone understands it, it should work, and hopefully that will offset the problem a transient society brings.”
Rather than being deterred by the margin of defeat to Nic Walters’ side, Sharks’ performance encouraged Cartwright.
“There were a lot of positives,” he said. “Structurally we were pretty good and defensively in the right place, and the communication is there, so big positives to take away.”
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