Dylan Hartley has set his sights on helping Dubai Sharks join the top flight of UAE rugby after being appointed as the club’s director of rugby.
The Sharks, who finished sixth in the second-tier of the domestic game last season, have announced the former England captain will be joining the club.
The arrival of the 97-cap international, who captained England to the Six Nations grand slam in 2016, is a startling appointment for a team who were close to going out of existence four years ago due to a lack of playing numbers.
Since then, though, they have grown to become one of the bigger clubs in the country in terms of playing members at both senior men, women, and mini-and-youth team levels.
“Sharks are developing,” Hartley, 36, said. “We are aware of that, and we are realistic in terms of our ambition.
“I think every club should have ambition. I wouldn’t join an organisation unless we had ambition. We want to win. We want to do things and achieve, but there is a process to that.
“Long-term, if we think about playing Premiership rugby and competing there, that could be a realistic long-term goal for us. In terms of the short-term and where we focus now, it is on our youth. We have a great youth set up, with 350 kids growing to 400.
“Imagine if we could do such a good job with our kids and retain them, we could be playing on the big stage in a few years’ time because we are not looking for players, we have grown our own and are looking after our own.”
Hartley will be moving with his young family to Dubai, and dovetailing his role at the rugby club with Access Hire Middle East.
The equipment rental company, who sponsor the Sharks, leant them the use of 12 solar-panelled floodlights so they could play in the evening at their home ground at Dubai Polo Club last season.
Hartley is aware his new team have ground to make up on the likes of Dubai Exiles, Dubai Hurricanes, and the other larger Premiership clubs, but he says it can be done.
“It doesn’t happen overnight,” said Hartley, who first started discussing the role when he coached Bali Legends at the Dubai Sevens at the end of 2021.
“I have been involved with teams myself where you feel like it is going to get worse before it gets better.
“In this situation, we are not in a bad situation to start with. We are only going to go forwards and upwards as a club.
“That is how I see it, and that is how has been pitched to me, and I don’t think it is a pipe dream. I think it is truly achievable. If we look after our young players, we will have competitive men’s and women’s sides in a few years’ time.”
Mike Quinn, the Sharks president, says the club have come a long way since the point in 2018 when just a handful of players were attending training.
“It is not about one person, it is about everyone who gets involved,” Quinn said.
“We are what we are because of all the mums and dads and the coaches who help it happen every week. We have been on a bit of a journey, and now starts the next chapter of it.”
Charlie Taylor, the Sharks chairman, said Hartley will not be on the sidelines, coaching the first team, but will be adding his expertise to every aspect of the club.
“He is going to have time to settle in and it is not a case of him focusing on the first team,” Taylor said.
“He is equally wanting to play a part in the U4s, which is a new age group we will have next year, right through the age groups and help support the women’s team.
“He will get stuck in, deliver motivational chats for any of our teams, and will be a big presence and part of our community, rather than sitting behind a desk setting out a blueprint to rigidly follow.”