17 May, 10:36
Sale Sharks are one of the leading professional Rugby Union clubs in Europe and the pride of the North West. Historically based in the Manchester suburb of Sale, but now playing at Salford City Stadium, the Sharks compete in the Aviva Premiership, having played in England's top flight since 1994.
Since the game of Rugby Union turned professional in the mid 1990s, the Sharks have arguably been the archetypal success story, rising from the lower ranks to become a multiple trophy winner in the new Millennium.
Sale Sharks have won two European Challenge Cup titles in 2002 and 2005 but the highlight remains their 2006 Premiership title, secured with a thumping 45-20 win over Leicester Tigers.
As one of the leading sides in Europe, the Sharks boast a star-studded squad that includes internationals from all over the world. To pick out just a few, from England there are Mark Cueto and Andrew Sheridan; from Wales Dwayne Peel and Andy Powell. Scotland are represented by Richie Vernon and Alasdair Dickinson. Sharks had representatives from seven nations at the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
The Sale colours have also been proudly worn in the past by World stars such as Jason Robinson, Fran Cotton, Steve Smith, Steve Hanley, Bryan Redpath, Luke McAlister, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and Sebastien Chabal.
Sale Football Club, founded in 1861, played at various grounds in the Borough until settling at their present Heywood Road ground in 1905. The club proudly maintained an increasingly higher profile through the amateur years, providing a stream of players to county rugby in the days before League fixtures, when the County Championship had a higher profile than it does now. Round the World War II years and afterwards until his death in 1976, the club was successfully administered by Jim Birtles.
Big names in the club's history include Hal Sever, Wilf Wooller and, after the war, Eric Evans and Bill Patterson.The club captured in Middlesex Sevens title at Twickenham in 1936. Then followed Jim Roberts, Peter Stagg and the seventies' cohort of Steve Smith and Fran Cotton. Others - such as stalwart Richard Trickey - served club and county with devotion and no little effort, but were never to receive the full cap.A glance at the Heywood Road honours board reveals numerous representative honours, including regional teams and the iconic Barbarians.
Under the charge of Paul Turner, then John Mitchell, the club's fortunes boomed during the late nineties as the promoted club surprised many by rising to top four and, in 1997, reached a Twickenham final for the first time, going down 9-3 to Leicester Tigers in the Pilkington Cup Final.
Dewi Morris played a full season during the 1996-7 campaign, alongside several homegrown stars who were later to make a massive contribution to the club's profile. The name Sharks was adopted in 1999.
The club's fortunes were low as the Millennium passed, but started to rise when RL stars Jason Robinson and Apollo Perelini switched codes after the club became owned by Cheshire businessman Brian Kennedy in 2000. In2001-2, former team mates Jim Mallinder and Steve Diamond coached the club to second place in the Premiership and European success, capturing the Parker Pen Shield 25-22 against Pontypridd at Oxford.With Cumbrian wingers Hanley and Cueto scoring tries, Heywood Road wasn't big enough to hold the crowds wanting to watch the exciting rugby on view, and the club moved to Edgeley Park, Stockport in 2003.
The Rugby World Cup was paraded by Clive Woodward, coach of the triumphant England side, on the pitch in December that year, prior to a televised Heineken Cup game against Cardiff Blues. The latter Mallinder days saw the club at Twickenham again in 2004, losing narrowly to the Falcons in the Powergen Cup Final. That Summer saw the arrival of Phillipe St.Andre as Director of Rugby.Within a year, then club had won the European Challenge Cup again at Oxford, this time 27-3 against Pau, but this was the build up to the club's highlight: the 2006 Guinness Premiership title, gained with a 45-20 win against Leicester Tigers.
Beset by injuries and player absence on international duties, the club couldn't repeat the achievement over the following two years, although there were isolated glories in Europe. The club had high profile players - Charlie Hodgson, Jason White, Jason Robinson, the Fernandez Lobbe brothers to name but five - but the club missed out on play offs and finals.
St.Andre left for Toulon in 2009 and the Sharks' struggles continued for two seasons, with low placings prompting Brian Kennedy to recall Steve Diamond from January 2011. As Executive Director of Sport, he instigated a fresh approach, looking forward after a huge turnover in playing and backroom personnel at a re-vamped Carrington High Performance Training Centre.
Sharks ended the 2011-12 Aviva Premiership campaign in sixth place. The highlight was a 24-19 win at Gloucester which not only sealed the Sharks' final position in the table but secured a place in the Heineken Cup. The club was pooled with Cardiff Blues, Montpellier and Toulon in Europe's premier club rugby competition for 2012-13.
The final rugby action at Edgeley Park was the JP Morgan Sevens group tournament in July, with Sale Sharks qualifying alongside Premiership new boys London Welsh, who fielded short game specialists Samurai Warriors in disguise. Sharks bade farewell to Stockport after a nine-year stay.
Former Sharks' scrum half and captain Bryan Redpath returned to the area as Director of Rugby, but the club's opening days at their new Salford City Stadium started in disappointing style. The team had to wait eight games to record a Premiership win, which they managed on the first Friday of November. Victory against London Irish was sandwiched between successes against Cardiff Blues and Saracens in other competitions .
A management re-shuffle saw John Mitchell return to the area where he cut his teeth in coaching between 1996 and 1999. He'd served England, New Zealand, Western Force and the Golden Lions during the thirteen years he'd been away, and Sale Sharks approached the Festive Season of 2012 with renewed hope.