Craig Salmon talks to Sale sharks newest recruit Matt Sturgess, who lives in Longton
Rising rugby union ace Matt Sturgess admits he was made to ‘sweat’ before being handed a golden opportunity to realise his boyhood dream.
The Longton lad had reached that critical moment in his life when it was to be decided whether a future in the sport was going to be for him.
Marked out as a player with a huge amount of potential as a youngster, Sturgess rose through the junior ranks at first Tarleton and then Preston Grasshoppers to arrive on the radar of Premiership giants Sale Sharks.
Two years spent with the club’s academy set-up at the AJ Bell Stadium, culminated in the 18-year-old scrum-half being called in for ‘showdown talks’ to discuss his future at the end of last season.
Happily for him the Sharks were keen to tie the former Hutton Grammar School pupil to his first professional contract, although that didn’t stop his coaches from having a bit of fun at his expense.
“I wasn’t expecting to be signed on – I was hoping I would be,” said Sturgess.
“But I went in to a meeting room with a few of the academy coaches and they started describing all the weaknesses in my game.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘There’s not a chance I am going to get signed on here’.
“They were saying that my passing needed to improve.
“They showed me a few clips and were saying, ‘Why did you make that decision?’
“But then they just turned around to me and said, ‘We are in a position where we would like to offer you a pro deal’.
“I was like wow – I was trying to act cool and trying not to smile, but one of the coaches said to me, ‘You can smile you know’.
“It was a dream come true for me.”
It is certainly the realisation of a long-time ambition for Sturgess, who used to watch the Sharks as a kid from the stands at Edgeley Park, in Stockport, and then later the AJ Bell Stadium when the club moved to its present home in Salford five years ago.
“Growing up as a Sale fan makes it extra special,” Sturgess added.
“I used to watch the team when they played at Stockport, so I’ve grown up with the club.
“My dad used to know Richard Wigglesworth – who used to play for Sale and also played for England.
“So we were lucky enough to get invited into the players’ lounge.
“I got to meet internationals like Charlie Hodgson and Luke McAlister.
“It was a great experience especially for a seven or eight-year-old lad.
“It could be quite intimidating, but also really good being able to see the players up close.”
Although one boyhood ambition has already been realised, Sturgess is keen not to stand still and rest on his laurels.
He has already targeted an appearance in the first-team for the forthcoming season.
“I think the way it’s going, I am hoping to play a few first-team games,” he said.
“It’s a realistic goal, but a tough goal to be setting myself.
“I think setting the bar high is the best thing to do though.
“My main aim is to play regularly for the Jets, which is like the second team at Sale.
“Try to impress during every training session and give 100%.”
Shy as a kid, Sturgess admits his introverted nature possibly prevented him from getting noticed when he was younger, but as he has got older, he has started to come out of himself more.
However, turning up for his first training session this summer was still quite a daunting prospect.
“I am a little bit of a late developer,” conceded Sturgess, who studied at the sports specialist college Myerscough.
“I was always a bit shy when I was younger and when it came to trials and stuff, I was never able to play my best.
“I’ve only managed to get rid of that shyness later on when I turned 17.
“I know now that expressing yourself is the best way to be.
“But when I started pre-season training alongside the big names at Sale this summer, it was quite intimidating at first.
“I kept quite – I didn’t want to speak out of turn.
“But I have got to know them all now and they’re all down-to-earth.
“I have made friends with quite a few big named players who are in the first team.
“I am quite close to Byrom McGuigan and Josh Charnley.
“When I joined Sale, I enjoyed watching Wigan in rugby league so I knew Josh and he was such a big name.
“I was a bit in awe of him and I didn’t really want to speak to him, but now it’s sound, I am good mates with him.
“But the training is of a really high standard, so you have got to make sure you’re on the money – there’s no room for error.”
As well as his targets at club level, Sturgess is also hoping to catch the eye of national selectors.
His aim to win a place in England’s Under-20s squad and has been inspired by the progression of twins Ben and Tom Curry, who broke into the Sale first last season and were subsequently called up for the full England squad by head coach Eddie Jones.
“One of my main goals is to get involved with the England Under-20s because I was a bit gutted to miss out on being picked for the Under-18s.
“That’s my immediate goal and you have to take it one step at a time.
“Obviously, it’s every player’s goal to get picked for the full England squad.
“I think the Curry brothers have shown that if you impress at any age, you’re in with a shout of playing for England at senior level.
“Tom and Ben are just a bit older than me and have been called up by England.
“It shows that it can be done if you put your mind to it.”