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Premiership Rugby

Sharks wing Cueto playing the waiting game

A Gallagher Premiership Rugby ball

"It's really good to get any sort of recognition for my play and this is really a pretty big award when you consider all the excellent players around in the Zurich Premiership," says the 23-year-old, just hours after receiving the honour.

"It's still a novelty as far as the club is concerned too, with Charlie Hodgson the only previous Sharks winner, so it's great for everyone up here."

But while the resulting £200 cheque and Magnum of Champagne he received from those generous folk at Zurich are more than welcome, the reward Cueto really craves is the chance to get back into the England jersey.

"That's a bit of a sore point at the moment – it's certainly the question that I'm asked most often," says Cueto, who's scored a total of 10 tries in the Premiership alone this season.

"It's annoying to be out of the frame, but I believe the best way to deal with this is by concentrating on my game at Sharks.

"If you let your head go down and start getting bitter about that side of things, it could start to affect your club game. So focusing on doing the business here is the main thing for me."

But surely, given the ‘touchy-feely’ atmosphere of the England set-up in the Clive Woodward era, where no stone is left unturned in the quest to harness the vast playing strength available to him, a proven try-scorer like Cueto has been informed of his standing in the general scheme of things and what he needs to do to get back into the selectors' good books?

Not so, insists Cueto, with just a little hint of exasperation in his voice. "I've been given no feedback at all from the England management about what my game lacks or what I need to work on and that makes it really frustrating," he says. "I'm obviously scoring tries and making my tackles – the main roles of any winger – and everything at Sale seems to be spot-on in the way we're playing the game and how I fit into the gameplan.

"I guess Clive Woodward and the England management have a different view of how the game should be played, but there's not a lot I can do about it. I just have to be patient."

Of course, Cueto has worn the red rose with some success already at Sevens and 'A' level. Most notably, he travelled to Argentina on the England tour in June 2002 after finishing the season as the Premiership's top try-scorer and looked a dead cert for a starting berth in the Test side to play the Pumas, following a try-scoring midweek performance against Argentina A.

But the cap was not forthcoming and while several young stars catapulted themselves into Woodward's World Cup plans as England pulled off an unexpected 26-18 victory in Buenos Aires, some nine months down the line Cueto is not currently even getting much of a look-in on the A-side.

"It was gutting not to make the Test team as I didn't think I'd done anything wrong in the early part of the tour, but it was a great experience to be involved in any capacity, even if my international career went a bit pear-shaped from that point on," he says.

A dynamic runner, the six-footer with the most devastating hand-off in the Premiership certainly appears to have all the requirements of the modern wing and forms part of one of the deadliest back threes in the British game, alongside England star Jason Robinson and Steve Hanley.

"It's our second season together as a unit and we really seem to have built up an understanding that fits in with the playing philosophy of Jim Mallinder and Steve Diamond," he says.

"Our forwards are playing out of their skins too, so the backline is really reaping the rewards of that, with plenty of quick ball to make use of."

The Sharks' all-action style has propelled them to second spot in the Zurich Premiership table, with the North-West club's standing helped in no small measure by the bonus points they've picked up along the way for scoring four or more tries in six games – more than any other side in the League.

Now, after a month off, the Premiership battle resumes for the Sharks with the visit of Northern rivals Leeds Tykes to 'Fortress Heywood Road' for a keenly anticipated match.

"It's a massive game on Saturday, not least because we haven't been beaten at home for a year-and-a-half and are desperate to keep that record going," says Cueto.

"We just scraped a 29-all draw at Headingley last time around after pulling a few late tries out of the bag, so it should be a great game as we're both very similar sides in many ways – we certainly both enjoy moving the ball around."

After finishing bottom of the Premiership last term, the Tykes have been the surprise package of the current season, Cueto singling out a number of 'danger' men in their ranks.

"Braam van Straaten is going to be a key figure – he can really punish you for any indiscipline, while they also have some great strike-runners out wide, like Dan Scarbrough and Diego Albanese. They also have very effective forwards, with hooker Mark Regan the real heart of their pack."

So, a tough northern battle in prospect and with the game attracting a sell-out crowd as well as being broadcast live on Sky TV, Cueto has another excellent opportunity to send the England management a timely reminder of his considerable talents.

By Justin O'Regan

Kick-off: Saturday, 14.30 GMT


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