Sale Sharks captain Dan Braid admits he could not have asked for a better turnaround in fortunes since arriving at the AJ Bell Stadium almost 18 months ago.
The former Auckland Blues player touched down in Manchester on a short term deal at the start of 2013 with the Sharks battling to avoid relegation from the Aviva Premiership.
A series of hard-fought performances saw the team eventually finish tenth, with Braid having done enough to earn himself a longer contract before director of rugby Steve Diamond opted to install the flanker as captain for the 2013/2014 season.
And while a knee injury may have ruled him out of the final two games of this season, both club and player enjoyed a much more enjoyable campaign.
A sixth-place finish and the guarantee of European Champions Cup rugby came about on the pitch while Braid found himself nominated on a six-strong shortlist for the Aviva Premiership player of the season alongside Leicester Tigers’ Vereniki Gonea, Samu Manoa of Northampton Saints, Saracens’ Jacques Burger and Mike Brown of Harlequins.
It would be the latter that took the honour at the Aviva Premiership Rugby Awards on Thursday evening but Braid insisted it was still a season to savour.
“My last season with the Blues was poor, the new coaches coming in and being an older guy and the fallout from there,” said Braid.
“I came up here only on a six month contract really and I had to come here and prove myself.
“To help Sale avoid relegation and then be named captain of Sale and then having a good enough season to be nominated for the award, it’s pretty special.
“We are side without too many real superstars but we have surprised a lot of teams. We play a real team-oriented game and my nomination reflects how the team works.
“A lot of things have come right, consistency within the coaching side, guys coming back from injury and I’ve really enjoyed it.
“I have added a couple of little things here and there but I think a lot of things have fallen into place in different areas.”
Sharks performances did not go unnoticed by the England selectors either with the quartet of Danny Cipriani, Tommy Taylor, Henry Thomas and Michael Paterson all named in 20-man England training squad last Thursday.
And it is the efforts of fellow New Zealander Paterson, who qualifies for England through his grandfather, who has really caught the eye of Braid.
“His England call up is thoroughly deserved, I think he has been outstanding this season,” he added.
“I’ve seen the work he does, the unseen stuff on the field. He hits a lot of rucks, makes a lot of those tackles and gets through those numbers and its great the England coaches have seen that as well.
“He is an experienced player now and at the higher level, because everyone around you is very good, he does his job very well, he can do it as well as anyone.”
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Main image courtesy of Sale Sharks via YouTube, with thanks.