When he joined the club in June, Paolo Odogwu was something of an unknown quantity, but after record-breaking performances in the Singha 7s and already earning a starting berth in the first team, he is quickly becoming a fan-favourite.
The young winger joined the club from today’s opponents Leicester Tigers, and since being selected for his debut in this season’s first home game against Harlequins, he hasn’t looked back.
“It was always on my mind to be in the first team because I saw we had a few injuries when I first joined, so I saw that as a chance to take that third choice winger spot on the bench.
“I then got my starting chance and I took it. At Leicester I was in and around the academy because they’ve got so many players, I wasn’t going to get a chance and they weren’t going to take a chance on me.”
At 19 years of age, Odogwu trained with the academy when he first joined the club but was quickly promoted once the first team players arrived back from their summer break and is relishing playing with both young and experienced players alike.
“It’s a really good mix,” he explained, “especially having such a young captain. Josh was in my situation only three or four years ago, so he doesn’t put pressure on the young players, but then we’ve still got those older, more experienced players who are like captain figures.
“It’s really good having such an experienced back line. Sam James played a lot in the Premiership last year, and so did Will Addison. They’re both young but they’ve both got loads of experience already.
“There’s a great mix and the whole team gels really well because of it.”
Odogwu’s low centre of gravity and fast feet have already seen him beat a vast number of defenders in the Premiership, and the former under-20s international has noticed that the AJ Bell crowd always raise the volume when the ball is in his hands.
“I had a bit of a buzz with the fans who watched the sevens, but when I made that first break against Quins the crowd was so loud, I just thought I like this. Obviously I want to impress the crowd, because when you’re on the ball you can really feel the energy from them driving you on.”
Despite the Sharks losing to Gloucester in their last home outing, the winger is still keen to match last season’s 11-out- of-12 home record, saying: “We’ve got a different edge here at home.
“It’s not so much the fear of losing, but it’s wanting to win and wanting to keep that home form. Unfortunately we’ve lost that now but we’re still going to have the same mentality at the AJ Bell, and Dimes has been talking to us about having that same mentality away from home too.”
Having already represented his country at the U20 World Championship, Odogwu has said it was an amazing experience which filled him with confidence.
“When you see players that you’ve played with in the under-20s playing in the Premiership, like Joe Marchant, Johnny Williams and people like that who are in my age group, it gives me the confidence to think I could do that as well, because I know how good those players are, and I’ve played with them.”
With international youth caps under his belt, he also revealed that it didn’t take long to make the move to Sale Sharks after his first meeting with Director of Rugby Steve Diamond.
“I’d been playing for Loughborough Students on loan, and I scored a hat-trick against Fylde. A few weeks later I had to drive up from Birmingham to meet with my agent and Dimes, and he said that he hadn’t seen many of my games but he’d seen something in my performance against Fylde and that he wanted to sign me. It was a quick meeting!”
Earlier in the year Odogwu broke the record set by Wasps wing Christian Wade for most tries scored in the Singha 7s group stage, and despite already taking his opportunity to play Premiership rugby, he’s keeping his feet well and truly on the floor.
The youngster is settling in well at his new club, and is relishing his opportunity to face Leicester: “That’ll be a fun one for me. Hopefully I can just keep doing what I’m doing, but also get those chances in the wide channels that I haven’t had yet. That’ll come with our structure and our plays being on point.”
This feature was used as the centre-fold in Sale Sharks’ programme against Leicester Tigers on Saturday 1 October, seen below.