The Southland Sharks will have a new face at the helm on Thursday night following the news that Head Coach Rob Beveridge and Assistant Coach Leyton Haddleton are both isolating due to the Government's Covid requirements.
Veteran Sharks player Andrew Wheeler has taken over coaching duties this week and will hold the coach’s clipboard on Thursday night when the Sharks take on the Nelson Giants at ILT Stadium Southland.
Beveridge believes Wheeler is the perfect man for the job.
“I have a tremendous amount of faith in Wheels. He’s a veteran of the team and has the passion and leadership skills to drive the team. But my expectation is that he won’t be a lone ranger. It’s up to everyone to step up in this situation,” Beveridge said.
“Leyton and I have done an enormous amount of work from isolation. I’ve done the training session plans and the individual and team scouts and Wheels has done an outstanding job reinforcing everything we need to do out there on Thursday.”
“We need to play with urgency and desperation because I believe this is a must win game for us and we need to turn up with the right attitude as a team,” he said.
Wheeler is in his eleventh season with the Sharks and said he had an inkling he would get the call when the team learnt of Beveridge and Haddleton’s unavailability over the weekend.
“Bevo and I had a conversation at the start of the year about working in with him and learning some of the ropes with a longer-term view, so I guess it’s a bit of an advanced step to step in with the two of them out of action in the same week. I’ve always been a guy who does what the team needs and this week it means I’m needed to steer the ship, so that’s what I will do,” he said.
“We came in Monday and made sure all the bodies were right after the weekend and we had a couple of boys coming back from a gastro bug, so it was about just making sure they were back at full health and yesterday (Tuesday) everyone was feeling better so we managed to get a really good session in which was great to see heading into Thursday when it is really on us to step up and take ownership of the things we need to do to win,” Wheeler said.
Whilst the situation presents obvious challenges, Wheeler is excited by the opportunity it also presents for both himself and the team.
“It will be good fun. It will obviously be different, but I’ve been around the game for over 25 years so I reasonably confident in my abilities to read the game and have got a good understanding of the systems we’ve got in place. It’s not about going out there and trying to do too much it’s just reading and reacting while staying within our principles as well and whatever comes up during the game we’ll manage and see how we go,” Wheeler said.
Wheeler will be assisted on the night by fellow squad member Connor Coll who will assume assistant coaching responsibilities as he comes back from injury. Southland Sharks’ General Manager Jill Bolger was proud to see two Southlanders stepping up when their team needed them and saw it as an outstanding development opportunity for both men.
“We have our Southland Under-23 (Wheeler) and Under-19 coach (Coll) in charge out there on Thursday night and I couldn’t be prouder of both of them. I’d love to see Southlanders get out and get in behind the boys. They’ve been dealing with a lot these last few weeks and I know it’s the Southland way to support our own when the going gets tough. We really need every voice we can get this week,” Bolger said.
Thursday night’s game tips off just after 7:30pm with tickets available at ILT Stadium Southland or online at ticketek.co.nz.