Cronulla Sharks boss Ricky Stuart pulled no punches earlier this month when interviewed about his thoughts on the upcoming NRL season; citing 2007 Premiers Melbourne Storm and the Parramatta Eels as their biggest threats this year.
Like most Rugby League critics, Ricky Stuart has picked the Storm. Well coached and virtually machine like in the past few years, they will certainly be well in the mix considering their current blend of players. However, Stuart citing the Eels might raise a few eyebrows. Parramatta are regularly in the mix for the Top 8, but Stuart feels their unpredictability and mixture of squad talent make them a potent NRL team again this year.
Similarly to the Melbourne Storm’s Israel Folau and Will Chambers, the Eels now boast two proven performers out wide in Kris Inu and Jarryd Hayne. Fortunately for the Eels they seem to have the quality and depth to cover for the loss of Timana Tahu to Rugby Union. A standout for the Eels in 2007, Tahu remained healthy and scored some stand out tries for which he has been noted over his illustrious career. The Eels will look to promote Hayne to the flanks, as Luke Burt returns from injury to re-establish himself at the custodian role.
While Ricky Stuart also touched on his teams inability to score points last year, he seems to be confident with their high ranking defence and feels that provides a much better platform for their campaign in 2008. Stuart’s line of thinking makes a lot of sense and tends to suit the current Sharks crop of players. Certainly not bristling with big names; smart and solid defence will be their best form of attack this year – frustrating their opponents and grinding out wins in the fashion they have become famous for.
It probably speaks volumes about the quality of Ricky Stuart as a coach in how he has moulded the Sharks into a solid defensive machine. Stuart was spoilt early in his career, inheriting the sparling talent at the Roosters and taking them to the title in 2002. After moving to head up Cronulla last season, considering the crop he has had to work with Ricky Stuart seems to have worked wonders.
While Stuart may feel the Storm and Eels are the big guns in 2008, he needs to probably focus heavily on the discipline at the Sharks before he worries too much about the enemy. In a much similar vain to the Penrith Panthers, the Sharks went head to head with referees too often and gave up too much ground to opposition teams each week. That kind of trend will really test the patience of coach Stuart and we might see him punching the walls of coaching boxes again very soon if thats the case.