The Premiership Rugby Cup has been the breeding ground for plenty of Sharks’ biggest names. Players such as the Curry twins, Joe Carpenter and Tom Roebuck all cut their teeth in the competition before going on to star in the Premiership and, in the case of Ben and Tom, at international level.
This season’s version has been no different. Nye Thomas, Alex Wills, Tumy Onasanya, Tristan Woodman and others have had chances to impress against Bedford, Leicester, Caldy and Newcastle and their performances have given Alex Sanderson plenty to think about going into the Premiership season.
One less familiar name who also shone in the first two rounds of the cup was 20-year-old Leeds-born winger Obi Ene, who is celebrating this week after landing himself a three year deal to remain a Shark.
“I was at Newcastle Uni and had had a call up to an England U20s camp when I got a call from Sale to see if I wanted to come and train,” he said. “That was around Christmas last year. I think they were short of numbers for a cup game but I was injured and couldn’t play.
“Luckily I was able to go into Carrington when I was fit again and it’s been brilliant. I think initially I was just seeing as great experience but then when I was asked back for pre-season it all changed, and I knew it was a big chance and I had to rip into it.
“To get a contract now is just unbelievable. I probably didn’t expect it so soon but it’s a massive chance. I know the hard works starts now because I really want to keep pushing and improving to try and help Sale win some trophies.”
Obi’s rugby journey started at the age of nine when he joined Leodensians Rugby Club, in Leeds. He played at school and at the age of 16 he moved onto Roundhegians Rugby Club. From there he joined the Yorkshire Carnegie academy, but when that folded during the Covid pandemic, he was left with big decisions.
“I had been training with Leeds Rhinos and they were keen to offer me a deal but it didn’t include the chance to go to uni. I’m in my third year of a business, accounting and finance course now and that was really important to me.
“Fortunately I have the chance to do both now – rugby and uni. My Sale contract includes support through my final year before I go full-time next year.
“It’s been really surreal. Training with George Ford and Manu Tuilagi has been incredible and I’ve had chance to play against guys like Mike Brown in the Premiership Cup. I know I have loads to work on but I’ve been pleased with my performances and I’ve had good feedback from Alex and the coaches.
“I know I’m in an environment where I can really improve. Alex spends loads of time with the young players and all the coaches are brilliant at giving young players confidence and making us all feel like we’re part of the squad.”
So after a whirlwind start to his career, what are Obi’s objectives?
“I have to keep working hard because the coaches have given me some areas to work on,” he added. “Competing and winning back high balls is big for us so I need to get better at that. But when I’ve finished uni I want to start putting pressure on the back three lads in the team. I know it won’t be easy but I’d love to make the bench for a Premiership game and then it’s down to me to impress. In the meantime, I’m hoping to play some games on loan in the Championship or National 1.
“It’s surreal to think that a couple of months ago I was just a university student. Now I’ve got a contract at a Premiership club.”
Sale Sharks Academy Manager Fergus Mulchrone said: “We identified Obi off the back of a couple of England U20s training camps and invited him in for a couple of weeks around his university Christmas break.
“We thought it would be best to give him a longer trial period through pre-season to show us what he can do, and he did not disappoint. He worked incredibly hard to get himself in the best possible shape and ultimately earn himself a contract with the club.
“The coaches have been impressed with his development over the pre-season leading to some good Premiership Cup experience and we’re eager to get him into the national leagues or Championship to continue his development alongside his studies.”